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Microsoft Word and Other Technologies Authors Need to Master

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

I got an email about downloading a zip file for a manuscript I was scheduled to edit. But alarms went off for me when I saw that it was 2GB for a 30,000 word Microsoft Word document. Something was terribly wrong. That's about a 1,000 times (not an exaggeration) larger than a document of this length should be. I was even afraid to open it. At first, I thought it might be a Mac to PC issue. But I've been able to open lots of documents created on Macs over the years.

So I hopped on a screen sharing Skype call with the author to figure out what the problem was. Apparently, the document was being saved in iCloud storage and the author was having difficulty locating it on her Mac. So she may have been uploading a whole lot more than just the manuscript. Yikes! Luckily, I didn't download it.

During the call, we walked through the upload and we were in business!

But this incident highlighted some technology issues that authors need to master to work with editors, proofreaders, book cover designers, and self-publishing platforms.

The Author Technology Checklist

A working knowledge of the following technologies is a must-have for authors!

  • Microsoft Word or other Word-compatible word processing program.
  • PDF creation and reading program.
  • Skype or other screen sharing system.
  • File storage and transfer technologies.

Microsoft Word

For book manuscripts, Microsoft Word is the primary word processing program that authors should use and master. It is used at all levels of the publishing world for manuscript creation, editing, proofreading, formatting, and transferring text material.

Why is it almost the de facto standard?

  • Extensive text manipulation and formatting capability. Paragraph indentation, headers, footers, page numbers, margins, page layout... the list goes on and on of the ways Word can help with manipulating text.
  • Cross platform compatibility. I've found that Word documents created on Macs can usually be read on Windows-based PCs. So flipping the document between a PC-based author and a Mac-based book cover designer is usually a not problem.
  • Ability to Export to Other Document Types. If a Word document is unreadable by another party, the original can be saved (exported) in a different format which may be readable. Alternate document types that could be used include text (.txt), Rich Text Format (.rtf), and PDF (.pdf).
  • Editing and proofing tools. For editors and proofreaders, getting a Word document allows them to make corrections or suggestions and track all changes. As well, any changes can be accepted or rejected by the author when tracked. Alternate views allow both editors and authors the opportunity to see original and edited versions.
  • Spelling and Grammar Check. The spelling and grammar checking in Word are quite competent. But don't rely on them totally! They can't replace a human editor or proofreader. In almost every manuscript I edit, I find myself occasionally questioning the Word "robot" decisions.

The only thing that I've found challenging in Word is image placement and text wrapping. It is not a design layout program!

Other Non-Word Word Processing Programs

But what about other word processing programs such as Mac Pages, Google Docs, and Apache OpenOffice Writer programs? Many of these non-Word products have the capability to save a document in a Word-friendly format. Check your program's documentation for instructions.

If a Word-compatible document fails in Word, these programs also usually have the capability to save in other usable document types such as text (.txt), .Rich Text Format (.rtf), and PDF.


PDF stands for Portable Document Format. Adobe Systems invented the format to address many cross platform issues. Today, the PDF standard is handled by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and there are many PDF creation and reading software programs. Many software programs (such as Word discussed above) integrate PDF creation.

PDF is great for seeing a document as it might be printed. This is exceptionally helpful when working with graphic designers on book layout and cover design.

It is also useful for reviewing a clean edited manuscript received from an editor. However, it is very difficult for an editor AND author to work with a PDF during the editing process. Unlike Word, the editor cannot easily make edits to the text in a PDF. So the editor is limited to "drawing" or adding comments about what needs to be changed. Then the author has to go in an make the changes himself in the original unedited Word or word processing document. This is extra work! Better to send an editor a Word, .txt, or .rtf document.

Also, even though graphic designers can typically grab text from a PDF to drop into a book layout, it may take longer and have unreliable results.


Cloud File Storage Systems

Sometimes manuscripts can be bigger documents that are unable to be emailed. As well, emailed manuscripts may not be secure. Cloud file storage to the rescue!

Cloud file storage systems include Dropbox, Box and others. Authors, editors, and designers can be invited to membership in shared folders where documents are uploaded and downloaded. Alerts are often sent to folder members when changes to the documents are made. This cuts the email clutter and makes sure everyone is on the same page (literally).

Skype or Online Chatting Programs

Skype is a video and audio calling program now owned by Microsoft. Users can make video calls to each other and share screens. This can be very helpful, especially during the book layout and design phases of book production. And, as the opening example showed, it can be a problem solver by allowing callers to see what the other side is seeing via screen sharing.

In addition to Skype (basic service is free), there are many paid and free video chatting programs to consider including Zoom meeting, Google Hangouts, and GoToMeeting.

Best Tech Practices for Authors

  • Keep your manuscript documents in one folder on your computer or cloud storage system. That way you don't have to dig around for them on your desktop and buried folders or, God forbid, lose them!
  • Learn to use your word processing software before you start finalizing your manuscript. To get acclimated to a new software program while you're trying to finish up your manuscript causes stress and wastes time.
  • Test the technology with your book development partners. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to resolve a technology issue while you're trying to resolve a bigger issue during book development and production. Know what programs and platforms each party in the process is using to avoid surprises and delays.
  • Avoid the temptation to email everything. As discussed earlier, emailing documents is not advised. Establish communication procedures and boundaries with book development partners to avoid the temptation to fallback on a myriad of emails.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 19, 2017:

Larry, I think a lot of writers are Word/PDF proficient. Excel not so much. Since I do a lot of analysis and tracking, I couldn't live without Excel! :) Worth learning. But look at the cost-benefit of learning it. Unless you just enjoy learning new things, make sure you're learning it for a purpose. That purpose will help you learn better and integrate into whatever you're doing. Thanks for chiming in! Have a great weekend!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on May 19, 2017:

I great with word and PDF. Where I find I'm so lacking is Excel. It has really hindered me at times.

Wonderful overview!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 19, 2017:

Billybuc, even navigate is progress! Thanks for stopping by and have a beautiful weekend!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 19, 2017:

Navigate I can do; master, not yet. I do recognize the truth in what you say, so the education continues for this old man.

Happy Friday, Heidi!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 18, 2017:

Flourish, I don't know what I'd do without Word (and Excel)! I've done some collaboration with Google Drive. But I have to admit that, for me, it's just still too awkward. Because I have multiple Google accounts, I've found getting access a hassle since I have to keep switching accounts. I find it just a mess. I'm sure it'll get better over time. My favorite collaboration tool is Box. Thanks for chiming in and adding that question to the conversation! Cheers!

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 18, 2017:

I did my dissertation (way back) on MS Word, and even without all additional the bells and whistles that it has today, it was indispensible. I'm wondering what you think about using a Google drive with appropriate permissions granted for those who edit, comment, etc.?