Written by: Michael Hadleigh
Some things are so common, we tend to forget how bad they really are.
For the French, it’s taxes. For the Americans, coffee. For the English, it’s the weather. For graduate students who need to get a paper done by a deadline — it’s MS Word. Really? Yes. It’s so common, and so part of our lives, that we tend to forget how bad it really is.
For me, MS Word stopped being taken for granted and started being bad about two years ago, when I discovered an alternative word processor name Mellel. Like all things in life, it’s not perfect, but it helped me to understand I was in an abusive relationship with MS Word.
Here are some things I don’t need to suffer through anymore.
1. Wasting my time waiting…
I have a Macbook air, it cost me 1,000$, and it happens to have 2,000,000 times the computing power of the guidance computer that put a man on the moon. So if you think about it, it’s weird that this powerful piece of machinery can’t handle a document.
You know the feeling. You just added another citation or a new bibliography entry, footnote or cross-reference and then the document stalls. It feels like MS Word needs to sort things internally all the time, or whatever. If you are a serious writer, the seconds, pile up to minutes and hours of wasted time.
It’s not your Mac that is finding it hard to process the document paper, it’s the software running on it.
2. You’ll never see this document
You know the story.
You wrote a paper. For weeks, every morning, you woke up, drink your well brewed Java, and got down to it. It’s 31,000 words long. You will submit it in in two days and enjoy a weekend free from worries.
But one horrible morning, the document does not open. Not only that, all sorts of hell breaks loose, it crashes your erstwhile trusty MS Word, and finally opens up, but displays 0 characters.
If you’re careful and diligent, you may have kept a backup copy, so you may have lost only three or four hours worth of work. Other times, you’re not that lucky, and the document is truly lost. Rough weekend.
3. Wasting time teaching MSWord what I want over and over again.
So, you decided you can’t really trust your word processor to handle your entire manuscript as one document. Smart move! But also a time consuming and confusing one.
Every editing decision needs to be implemented many times over many documents — and sometimes it simply can’t. It’s a nightmare for cross-references, bookmarks, citations, footnotes, and just about everything else you need to refer.
Not so with Mellel. It can handle long documents with ease. And even if you decided to split your work, there’s no problem: you can set everything to ‘unite’ automatically when you re-combine the document, and you can easily apply the same styles.
4. The style brush forces you to manually paint every corner of the document.
In my golden MS Word days, I used to use the Style’s Brush all the time. I used to style one paragraph to look sort of OK, then copy the attributes with the brush, and past it over. And so paragraph by paragraph, page by page… All were copied and brushed.
That’s fine if you’re writing a short note, and is OK for a five-page-long document. But it gets very old very quickly.
With Mellel, I can use styles as they were intended to use: to save time formatting text. Truth is, I could have used them with MS Word too — but with Mellel they actually work. Consistently. If I need to change something, I simply change the style, and the rest of my document follows.
I must admit it was hard to kick this old habit but totally worth it.
5. Finding Nemo. Again. And Again. And Again.
Albert Einstein once said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Well, for me doing the same thing over and over again expecting the same result is kind of insane as well. Because that’s how MS Word works.
When I’m editing documents, I often need to implement the same changes – get rid of double words, redundant spaces, make sure no sentences end in certain words and so forth. A whole long list of publishing guidelines. With Word, I had to create them from scratch over and over again, and run them one after the other – so there I was, doing the same thing over and over again, losing my mind. And then came Mellel.
With Mellel, all I had to do is create my common find actions once, save them, and then create just one find set that includes them all. Now, all I have to do is load this fine set, click one button, and BOOM – my document is ready. I cannot begin to count the number of cats-playing-the-piano videos on youtube I was able to watch since discovering this feature. So much free time! Yay!
6. I just wonder how things will look this time
You work on your manuscript, save it, close it… and the next day you open it, and it’s not exactly the same as it was before. Something has changed. You can’t really tell exactly what has changed — but it did.
This is what’s called the MS Word trick: The basic file format that’s at the basis of every MS Word document is supposedly well-defined and open so that every software developer can open and save files in RTF, DOC or DOCX format. But Microsoft keeps a couple of cards up its sleeve.
A few shortcuts. Some tricks only Microsoft knows when opening MS Word files. This trips every other application and causes them to look bad in comparison with MS Word. But it also tends to trip MS Word itself from time to time. Hence, every time you open your document can turn out to produce a little surprise.
7. Cross-reference shouldn’t be tedious
If you ever wrote a paper or a contract you probably stumbled upon cross-references — you know, those tiny bits of text that refer to other bits of a test: see page 12, See note 20 on page 45.
Well, MS Word enters cross reference and then it leaves them to be — and doesn’t change them at all until you force it to do that, by “updating” the document. Updating takes time, and after you update you don’t always get what you want, but that’s life, right?
ֿTo start, with Mellel alien sci-fi technology updates, cross-references live! If you move something, then the reference to it will change as soon as you move it. Even better, cross-references can contain multiple elements, and you can even set it to be contextual. So a reference on page 45 to something that occurs on the same page or the next page can become “Above” or “Below” or “On the next page” — and change again if you add text in between those.
And there is ease of use, which is really the bottom line: Implementing 412 cross-references in MS-Word took me 239 minutes, the same work in Mellel: 52 minutes. Try it for yourself.
8. Automate this
Titles are a delicate matter. You want them to appear in the document a certain way, display with the Outline a different way, appear in the Table of content a third way, Set the chapter numbering smaller than the title, automatically add a page style break before headings, and so on.
To that, MS Word has a simple yet elegant answer: no, I can’t-do it. As a point of principle. Mellel can do all of the above, and more.
When the printing press made the first entrance to history at the end of the 15th century, it wasn’t welcome by everybody.
In “In Praise of Scribes”, Johannes Trithemius a monk, attacked morally inferior printed rugs (papers came only later) that can survive no more than “two hundred years” compared to handwritten animal skins that can survive a millennium.
In the 80s when it started to become clear that word processors would make the typewriter obsolete, they got a similar reaction. Author Fay Weldon praised the “mystical connection between the brain and the actual act of writing in longhand”, another poet called computers “grisly gulag of beige plastic”. We know how that ended.
Peoples’ reaction to a new technology is usually disbelief, awe and sometimes even fear. It’s hard to believe that things can get so much better, so easily. I get that. Now get over it, and get yourself Mellel.