How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Favorite Word Processor
by Guy Hart-Davis
Published by O’Reilly
256 pages, $19.95 US, $27.95 CA, £12.95 UK
“What fresh hell is this?”
—Dorothy Parker’s response to a ringing telephone.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the publication of O’Reilly’s Word 97 Annoyances by Woody Leonhard, T. J. Lee, and Lee Hudspeth, one of the most highly valued books ever written on Microsoft Word. Fortunately, Guy Hart-Davis has been tending the bridge during that time, and now he has compiled a book of annoyances associated with more recent versions of Word.
Hart-Davis’s response to Word brings to mind Dorothy Parker’s response to a ringing telephone. He acknowledges that Word’s capabilities have increased steadily with each new release. He acknowledges that Word today is “arguably the best word processor on the planet.” Yet he fears that, with each new release of Word, users are more likely to find themselves confronted by the following realization:
“Word is trying to help you, and its help is making things worse.”
Well, that’s the pitch, anyway. Actually, Word Annoyances is a fairly conventional (and quite a decent) book of tips on how to be productive with Microsoft Word. The “annoyances” angle is just that: an angle. For example, the tip on how to jump from one table or heading to the next is presented as a response to the following annoyance: “Why isn’t there a way to find the next table or heading?” This seems less an annoyance and more a case of a user simply needing more information about how Word works. No matter, since the book provides the information needed.
Even if it is no more than an angle, the annoyances angle makes for fun reading. At one point, Hart-Davis writes, “Arrgh! I’m asking to have a file opened, not my heart transplanted.” Similar expressions of exasperation can be found throughout the text, along with short, reasonably clearly written steps for relieving the exasperation.
Users looking for long, conceptual explanations of Word’s inner workings will be disappointed. This isn’t that kind of book. Instead, the book is geared to readers who want to take immediate corrective action without necessarily developing a thorough understanding of why the recommended action works.
One of the book’s strengths is its combination of breezy style and breadth of subject matter. The annoyances are organized into chapters on Installation, Repair, and Configuration; Creating and Saving Documents; Text Entry and Editing; Formatting and Layout; Numbering; Forms, Revising, Proofing, and Finalizing; Printing, Faxing and Scanning; Tables, Columns, and Text Boxes; Macros; OLE and Mail Merge; and MacWord.
The table of contents lists every single annoyance for each chapter, which makes it very easy to determine whether your pet peeve is addressed. The index includes a generous listing of Word’s functions and interface elements as well as key words from the various annoyances, so it’s very easy to find topics of interest to you, even if you’re uncertain how a given annoyance is phrased in the text.
The original Word 97 Annoyances book was a diamond-in-the-rough, with superb technical information but a scatter-gun approach that covered some topics in greater depth than others and skipped many topics altogether. By comparison, Hart-Davis’s book might lack the details that extremely advanced and extremely technical users are looking for, but it offers handy, practical advice on a wide range of topics of interest to the vast majority of Word users.