How to Use Web Pages as Outlining Tools IV

(Continued from How to Use Web Pages as Outlining Tools III.)

The trouble with Word is well expressed in author Charlie Stross’s blog post “Writing tools”. He explains why Word is not ideal for writing his science-fiction books, and why it’s bad even for other tasks. Later on in the discussion, commenter Alex writes:

My partner is nontechnical and constantly has to deal with collaboratively edited, heavily formatted MSWord documents in academia, and it’s truly astonishing the degree of pain involved. Not only would a version control system help (although, vertrol is a bit like These People Just Need A Honky – everyone who does it thinks it’s the solution to everyone else’s problems), but MS Word is just so painful. It’s riddled with some of the worst usability antipatterns you can imagine, especially that it tends to change things because it’s designed to assume that you should want them. And it’s hellishly implicit; you can’t just hit the right keystroke command and remove the bloody annoying spare section break. You often can remove one of those graphically, but not always.

That’s my experience exactly, and I’m glad to know it wasn’t just me being careless.

Later still, commenter Andrew G says:

Back in my first year of college I forgot how to use Word. I had been spending a lot of time teaching myself HTML, and working on web pages, and hadn’t written anything in a regular word editor for a while.

Then I had to write a paper in class, and at the last minute realized I couldn’t remember how to format text the way I wanted.

So I pasted the whole thing to notepad, added in the HTML formatting, and displayed it in a web browser before printing it for class.

I agree with Andrew G. When I’ve needed to make posters, or letters, or slides, I’ve often chosen HTML rather than Word. Suppose I want to make an unordered list. I know that I have to type:

<ul>
  <li>first item</li>
  <li>second item</li>
  <li>third item</li>
</ul>
I can see exactly where the list items begin and end, and I have confidence that my web browser will format them in a sensible way. I also know that if I press Enter in the middle of an item, I can rely on my browser not to go into a frenzy of spurious item inserts. Unlike the behaviour described in section “#9: Word automatically adds numbers or bullets at the beginning of lines as you type them” of TechRepublic’s “10 annoying Word features (and how to turn them off)”:

There are two flavors of this potential annoyance. First, if you start to type something Word thinks is a bulleted list (using asterisks, say) or type 1, a period, and some text, it may convert what you type to bulleted or numbered list format when you press Enter.To prevent this, go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and select the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Then, deselect the Automatic Bulleted List and/or Automatic Numbered list check boxes and click OK.A related aspect of this behavior is that once you’re entering automatic list items, pressing Enter will perpetuate it — Word will keep inserting bullets or numbers on each new line. To free yourself from this formatting frenzy, just press Enter a second time, and Word will knock it off.

So HTML is what I decided to do for the outline I needed to make.

(Continued.)

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