Style by Microsoft

Recently a colleague said to me, “Look at this manuscript. All the ordinal numbers are superscripted.” What he meant was that “1st,” “2nd,” “3rd,” and so on had the “st,” “nd,” and “rd” in superscript. Then came an interesting question: “Do you think I should leave them that way?”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never in my life been tempted to set ordinals with superscript, so my answer was basically “Are you kidding?” Later I started thinking about where the superscripts had come from: Microsoft Word’s AutoFormat feature. And that led me to ponder a broader question: Are editors beginning to let Microsoft Word dictate editorial style?

It’s tempting here to get off on a discussion of how the means of production influences the things produced, but instead may I just say that if we let Word dictate editorial style, we’re in trouble. In my opinion, such “helpful” features as AutoFormat were created mainly as one more whizbang feature for Microsoft’s marketing staff. The value to everyday users is negligible or worse. So I thought it might be helpful to identify “style by Microsoft” items to watch out for. Here’s my list:

* The aforementioned superscript ordinals. You can learn how to turn off such items here:

* Superscript note numbers in footnotes and endnotes. You can learn how to change these to regular numbers here:

* Automatic capitalization of articles, conjunctions, and prepositions when using Format > Change Case > Title Case. Our Editor’s ToolKit program solves this problem with its “Make selection title case” feature. You can learn more about Editor’s ToolKit here:

* Opening single quotation marks rather than apostrophes. For example, if I write “‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves,” I want the character in front of the “T” to be an apostrophe, not an opening single quotation mark. Our FileCleaner program (also included with Editor’s ToolKit Plus) will correct most such problems:

* The tiny, ugly ellipses “character” (ASCII number 133 on PC, 201 on Macintosh). Brrr. If you need ellipses, properly spaced periods look vastly better. Again, FileCleaner will fix the problem.

* Arial and Times New Roman. Everywhere I look, I see documents with headings in Arial and text in Times New Roman. Just because Microsoft uses these fonts as its default doesn’t mean *you* have to. Go ahead, modify the styles in your Normal template. Be different! Be daring! Be tasteful!

Have you noticed other examples of “style by Microsoft”? If so, please let me know, and I’ll include your nominations in next week’s newsletter:

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For more on Word’s annoying eccentricities and how to turn them off, see Elizabeth Burton’s article here:

Also, if you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out Jean Hollis Weber’s book Taming Microsoft Word 2002. It’s a great resource, well worth the modest price:

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