It’s OK to Create Books in Microsoft Word

As a technical writer, I’ve used a lot of different programs to create books. For years, FrameMaker has been the standard for technical publications, as well as a variety of other types of books. One the opposite end, Microsoft Word has a reputation for being the least loved solution for anything more complicated than a novel. It gets used because everyone has it, not because everyone wants it.

In many ways, this reputation is deserved. I’ve used Word since version 4 for the Mac back in 1989. In the old days, it had so many problems with glossaries and footnoting that it made you want to pull your hair out. Its table of contents feature seemed to have a mind of its own and adding graphics was a recipe for disaster.

Believe it or not, Microsoft Word has come a long way in the past few years. I still wouldn’t use it for the thousand page monsters I used to build for Intel, but frankly those beasts even made FrameMaker have fits. More importantly, FrameMaker is powerful, but nobody ever bothered to make it easy to use. The learning curve for FrameMaker is ridiculous. Frankly, they could learn a few lessons from Word 2010, which has done an excellent job of  putting powerful tools at your fingertips.

That doesn’t mean you won’t have a lot to learn if you want to do a book properly. I suggest you start with How to Format Books in MS Word, a nice introduction to the concepts over at the Technical Communication Center.

4 thoughts on “It’s OK to Create Books in Microsoft Word

  1. Yes, it is ok, but very far from perfect. And I’d have to disagree with you about the current version. I’ve used Word for at least 20 years, and the version in Office 2007 is awful, awful, awful. I’ve had to entirely relearn where everything is, and how to use it. Why should MS be able to force me to relearn everything at my expense (actually my employer’s)? MS designed all that in some deluded belief that they could get into a race with Adobe, rather than leaving a good tool well alone.
    Word is great at creating documents, but it’ll never be or be able to do, what Adobe does, and it shouldn’t try to compete.
    I’m lucky, I got out of that mess by setting up a wiki and writing all our user info in there, in a HTML/WYSIWIG editor, it’s a million times easier and brings a smile to my face instead of tears to my eyes. :)

    1. Hi Mick,

      I understand that the change from 2003 to 2007 was significant and required some new skill acquisition, but to me the improvement in the interface made it worth it. I am actually working on Word 2010, which follows most of the 2007 improvements with a few minor improvements.

      I am a big fan of wikis, and would argue that they are a better choice than a book in many situations. When it comes to books though, I don’t think FrameMaker has made any significant improvements over the past ten years. It is the same painful interface as ever. The only advantage you have is that, because it never changes, you never have to learn anything new.

  2. OK, well that’s good news then, although saying ‘some new skill acquisition’ is putting it mildly. :) And I agree about FrameMaker, I’ve used them a little in the past and found there was so much to learn to get even a basic doc created that I was glad that most of my work was done in Word.
    The wiki is the best thing that’s happened in a long while. Just the amount of connectivity you can have makes them worth their weight in gold. Cheers.

    1. Hi Mick,

      I guess we had different experiences with the changes to Word. I didn’t really find the redesign to be a major challenge. Yes, the interface changed significantly, and there were a few favorite tools that were harder to find, but for the most part I found the new interface to be much more intuitive, so I embraced the changes and got up to speed quickly. Of course, I had a reputation as the Word guru on my team, so my pride was on the line.

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