Best Practices for MS Word Authoring | Content Management for Publishers

Posted by Marianne Calihanna on Jun 20, 2012 9:27:00 AM

consistency is kingWhen implementing RSuite CMS, our content architects and engineers help publishers ensure that the transformation from Word to XML is seamless and easy. The following best practices were developed that can be used in any publishing workflow to ensure content is consistently styled.

The following guidelines are based on a Word-to-XML conversion process using DITA For Publishers, which transforms embedded Word XML to true XML by taking advantage of style-to-tag mapping. All publishers can benefit from this approach, even if an early-XML workflow is not yet on the radar (though it SHOULD be!). What you get out of using real templated Word documents is consistency. Whether it's to generate XML or deliver to an offshore production service, consistent styles make downstream processing easier and allow for automation.

Best Practices for MS Word Authoring by Harvey Greenberg and Paul Eisenberg


  • MS Word 2003 and above use docx as default format.
  • A docx file is actually a zip – you can rename foo.docx to, unzip it, and see what’s there.
  • Word to XML conversion process using DITA4Publishers transforms the embedded Word XML to “real” XML using style-to-tag mapping.DITA For Publishers
    • Content that does not have a style accounted for in the mapping is ignored.
    • Only styles are processed, not format overrides.
    • This applies to character styles as well as paragraph styles.

Templates in MS Word

  • Whereas “template” often means a starting document, in MS Word a template is a dotx file.
  • All documents are attached to a template – the default is normal.dotx.
  • Templates may be stored in the user-defined template location (Word | Options | Advanced | File Locations), or in a workgroup location (generally a shared network drive).
  • Best practice is to use a template specific for the project.

Viewing, Applying, and Creating Styles

  • Best way to view styles throughout the document is using Draft view with style pane; this needs to be set in Word | Options | Advanced.
  • CNTL + SHIFT + S will pop up style dialog appropriate to cursor position; both para and character styles will show up.
  • To create new styles, process is:
    • Create or open document to which your template is attached.
    • Make and test changes, being careful to always select option that applies changes to all documents based on the template, as opposed to current document
    • Exit Word.
    • Reopen Word, create new document based on your template, and see if changes took.

Some Tips and Tricks

  • Templates may contain boilerplate text as well as styles; you can provide starting title, standard sections, etc, for authors to change.
  • You can assign keyboard shortcuts and also change the quick style bar.
  • A style can automatically assign style for the next para (e.g., Title can create Heading 1).
  • A shortcut to a macro that does Edit | PasteSpecial | Unformatted Text is your best friend
  • Probably best to avoid use of the default “Normal” para style, because it may not be clear whether para should be normal or you just didn’t take any action; perhaps use something like BodyPara in its place.
  • Do not use empty paras for spacing; assign spacing via the style.
  • Adding formatting to the styles so that the author can tell immediately that a heading is a heading and a list is a list, etc, is good.
  • Trying to replicate the look and feel of the product is wasteful and can distract authors from the task at hand, which is good content.

I hope these best practices will be useful in your publishing workflows. To learn how some of our publishing clients are implementing this, download your free white paper: "How Successful Publishers Deliver Content: RSuite CMS and DITA For Publishers."

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Topics: content management, CMS for publishers, Word Authoring

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