When somebody just makes a document look the way they want it to and then saves it as a .dotx file!

Just because a file is saved as a document template doesn’t mean that it is one. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been sent a ‘template’ document with no styles set up, paragraph numbers typed manually, no automatic captions and no multi-level lists configured. Just a bunch of text with direct formatting and spacing within the ‘template’ achieved using tabs, the enter key and the space bar.

Document requirements vary greatly; there are simple documents which just need simple templates, then there are more complex documents that need more complex templates, but what they all need is styles. If you haven’t got any styles set up, you can’t call it a template.

Of course sometimes we see the opposite problem, where a template has been around for so long, and been tinkered with by so many different people, that they have hundreds of styles. This is equally bad, as nobody picking up the template to use it, will have any idea which styles they should be using, where.

The whole point of a template is to make creating documents easier and more consistent. Any template with more than 40 styles is pushing the boundaries. Ordinarily, in most circumstances, less than 30 is perfectly sufficient.

In addition to the most basic requirement of styles, most templates will also need or benefit from:

  • paragraph numbering set up correctly (using list styles linked to heading styles)
  • outline levels configured (if not using built-in heading styles)
  • bullet and number lists (created using multi-level lists)
  • table styles configured
  • headers and footers (avoiding “same as previous” – it can only lead to heartache)
  • automatic captions
  • a table of contents set up

So, if somebody presents you with a so called template, and it either has no styles at all set up, or over 40, be wary! It may be worth considering a new one.

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