Why you’ve got to able to use Microsoft Office

image This post/rant started off as a comment on Richard Bailey’s blog, in response to a comment by Heather Yaxley. However, I thought it was worthy of promoting to a full post:

Heather said:

One final thought is that we may need to teach basic skills too. I’m constantly surprised by the lack of real ability many PRs have with Word, Excel and other software programs that were once taught and now are an expectation.

Indeed, I was stunned when using some little keyboard shortcuts with PowerPoint that my class stopped me and asked me to show them what I was doing.

It may all be in the help function – but not everyone knows the potential or bothers to find out. That’s true of social/new media too.

My response was:

I’m going to pick up on Heather’s point about people’s ability to use (or rather not use) Microsoft Office. Put aside anti-Microsoft prejudices and accept it is what most students will have to use, as interns or when they start work.

But most, despite listing it on their CVs can’t even use Word. They might be able to type something, but most don’t have a clue about using even basic facilities such as styles, setting tabs correctly (NOT pressing the tab key five times!), numbering etc.

When several people are working on the same document it is essential these features are used correctly, or it becomes a nightmare to edit and format.

The help facilities in Office are so extensive that there really is no excuse for not understanding those basic features.

So does anybody have any ideas why people don’t bother to use even simple things like styles? I’ve seen people laboriously wade through a 40 page document meticulously formatting and numbering each individual heading (the Format Painter tool is news to some). In the time they’ve wasted doing this they could easily have read the help pages and started doing it properly. The most frequent excuse I hear ‘I don’t have time, there is a deadline’ doesn’t wash more than once.

It will only to take an hour or so one night or weekend and you can become a Word ninja.


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://www.ourmanincameroon.com ourman

    I have to admit that to some extent I am guilty as charged. I can use all those Office packages but I'm still probably lacking in the finer details.

    I'm just giving it some thought as to why – and here goes: I think all these packages have slowly seeped their way into my work life during my 17 year career.

    At first they were pretty basic as was my understanding. We didn't even know how long they'd be around.

    No one ever trained me – or even suggested I train myself. Just one day I had to do a document using this in and I coped with it the best I could. I suppose I have been coping with it ever since.

    Not an excuse, just an explanation. However, you have inspired me. I'll use the Help feature more from now on.

    However, somebody, somewhere. Whether it is schools, colleges or employers should be offering proper training in Office applications. People will always claim that they can use these packages. If you want them to use them better than perhaps you ought to offer training.

  • http://www.greenbanana.wordpress.com Heather Yaxley

    The problem with help functions is that you tend to only use them when you are stuck (unless you are a saddo like me that loves finding out shortcuts).

    Because most people don't seem to know what is possible, they don't identify a need for help and just muddle through.

    Also, because the end product may look okay (printed or as a pdf), they don't realise there are easier and quicker ways to produce documents.

    I used to create easy-peasy guides for colleagues – especially showing them keyboard shortcuts.

    My personal hate is when someone doesn't know how to force a page break and so uses the "carriage return" (sorry, I am a trained typist starting on manual machines – when you had to calculate how to centre a line).

    I think Powerpoint is the worst though when people don't realise the benefits of style sheets. I've spent many an hour working on conferences putting every presentation into a consistent format using a style sheet.

    Even when this has been distributed in advance, few seem to know how to use it. Mind you, there are still those who think it is cool to have lines wizz in from off-screen often with a sound-effect.

  • http://leverwealth.blogspot.com David Phillips

    Ah, and here we have it, Heather's comment "unless you are a saddo like me that loves finding out shortcuts" is right in the middle of this.

    Its not sad, any more than learning how to sharpen a pencil or tie a shoe lace.

    I am now reacting to PR people who say that its technical, its got numbers in it, its not what I came into PR to do and all the pretence that this is about computer programming and quantum physics.

    Any engineer can set up a blog or click 'edit' on a wiki or embed a video into PowerPoint and it was never part of their training. So what is the excuse to processional communicators?

    If a good part of PR is about communication, then knowing how to use communications tools is part of the job.

    I am with you Bruce.

  • http://www.m-p-w.co.uk Matthew Watson

    Perhaps people just don't know that all these features and shortcuts exist. I thought I had a pretty good knowledge of Microsoft Office, but I'm still discovering new things, such as the reviewing toolbar. A few of the things you mentioned are new to me too. So I guess I need to spend a few hours this weekend getting my black belt in Word.

  • http://www.melstarrs.com/elemental mel

    Love the sentiments here, and totally agree. I'd love to find an idiot's guide to Word Vista – we've recently swapped from XP and I hate wasting time hunting out the things I knew backwards before… Oh, and an idiot's guide to setting up document templates I could give to colleagues…

  • http://www.craig-mcgill.com Craig McGill

    In all honesty, I'm one of the idiots. I can pull together a basic Powerpoint presentation but Excel still throws me. It's one of those 'when I get time, I'll learn more…' items but there's more pertinent stuff to be picking up.

    My get out clause there is that as long as other members of my team are able to take what I've done and polish it, then all is well.

    (also doesn't help that my kit at home is mac – and always has been – while nearly every PR firm known to man uses PCs.)

  • http://thoughtpros.com Tim Bailey

    There was a wonderful book called "The Mac is Not a Typewriter", (this is a review: http://www.techsoc.com/macisnot.htm ), that first came out in 1991. It was a response to just the issues Stuart has outlined. I wonder whether there is room for a series of pocket guides for Word, Excel, etc. in a similar vain?

    It is also worth noting that keyboard short cuts are consistent across applications, so that Control-C is always (well almost always…) the Copy command.

  • http://robskinner.typepad.com Rob

    I've come late to this discussion. But by a strange coincidence I Googled 'Windows keyboard shortcuts' just minutes before reading your post. Which must prove your point.

    In my defence, I went on a one day course in Word when I first used the program some 15 years ago. We spent a lot of time covering things like mail merges, which I was never likely to use, but I did learn a lot that was relevant. Most of which I've long since forgotten. It would probably be more helpful to get our resident Word experts to give the team a 30 minute masterclass on most helpful Word techniques – such as shortcuts and tabs.

    The other issue is that we're facing complexity in all aspects of our lives. Thirty years ago, the idea that a telephone would come with an instruction manual would have been regarded as crazy. Now our landlines and mobiles come with hefty guides. That's before you consider your car stereo, the DVD player, digital camera…

    Small wonder we're burying our heads in the sand.