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Ramblings from the Restaurant at the Ragged Edge of Reason

It's Not a Typewriter (Office 2007/2010)

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by , 29th June 2010 at 08:06 PM (10820 Views)
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ID:	7599The two latest versions of Office handle paragraph breaks differently to Office 2003 and this seems to cause negative reactions from some users. Lately I have been exposed to a group of people who were new to the Office 2007/2010 way of spacing text and have discovered that they dislike the default settings.

I think that the issue is not so much based on usability but more based on inertia with regards to previously learnt behaviour. The standard behaviour of Office 2007 and 2010 is to create a new paragraph when you hit enter. This makes perfect sense in the context of a word processor where text is 'wrapped' automaticly to the margins of the page. This means that when you hit enter you want to insert a hard line break which ends the paragraph and creates a new paragraph on a new line. Why would you want to hit enter twice each time when the most common usage is to create a new paragraph?

This behaviour apparently drives some people nuts, usually those who are using the enter key to move to the next line when they should be using the built in wrapping or those wanting to export the work somewhere else.

These users often take some convincing that this extra automation is not there just to irritate them but actually does speed things up when used properly and encourages the correct usage of a word processor. You don't expect to have to hit enter at the end of every line, or need to add two spaces after a full stop, you don't even need to capitalize the first letter as the word processor handles wrapping, variable spacing and even sentence capitalisation if necessary so why expect to have to hit enter twice.

The standard reply is that sometimes you do genuinely want a new line without starting a new paragraph and for this there is Shift + Enter. For those times that you are using Word to create a document for another purpose like putting into a CMS system then yes the best option is to switch it back to 'No Spacing' style right beside the 'Normal' style (below). This could be seen as a flaw but it is set up assuming that you will be using the content directly in Office and usually that is quite a safe assumption.

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Back when I first deployed Office 2007 I even had some people request that it be changed school wide back to the old settings for all users - including Times New Roman as the default font. I resisted this as the new defaults did make sense and setting them to emulate the settings of the past versions seemed more harmful than helpful. By altering the settings it would have meant that the versions of Office at school would have acted differently than any copies that were in use at home or in use elsewhere. It would also have encouraged the same adherence to the way things were done rather than where things were going. Using the defaults also means that better formatting is the default rather than the exception. I feel that it is better to expose students to tools that encourage good formatting to start with in the hopes that they take some of it on board and, that it leads to an environment where white space on the page is not a cardinal sin.

In the end Office is optimized for general usage and when looked at as a word processor that can provide automation and correction in real time rather than a typewriter or text editor I believe that this design choice makes sense and was the right one to make. Plus after having this discussion with many ardent supporters of the old ways most of them have come to this same conclusion as well.


  1. vikpaw's Avatar
    Very well put. In fact it's so intuitive, i didn't realise!
  2. RabbieBurns's Avatar
    Good points raised. However 100% of the people who have moaned about this are admin staff who spend most of their time writing letters, the first 5-10 lines of which are an address, which doesnt need a space between each line.

    However, I will just tell them about ALT+Enter instead of messing around with ADM files and stuff.. Thanks SYNACK!


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