When it comes to getting words onto (digital) paper, word processors like Microsoft Word and Google Docs have been the longstanding choice for many writers. But being first can sometimes have its drawbacks
No tool is the best for all uses. Especially if you value your content management and your writers’ sanity.
Word processors have been around for a long time and they cornered the market on accessible writing tools that anyone could use. But, that’s kinda the problem.
At a certain point, “usable” isn’t enough. We need tools that enhance our ability to write, manage, and deploy content to modern platforms, not a tool that just kinda works.
Processors Were Designed Around Physical Paper
Literally. Actual paper.
When’s the last time you printed something? Same.
Technology has advanced at breakneck speed: cloud storage, modular content, and omnichannel publishing have replaced printing text on paper.
Having an authoring program that still formats content for an 8×11 piece of printer paper doesn’t translate well to the demands of today. Content needs to be fed into diverse web frameworks, chatbots, and the like. It may play nicely with publishing PDFs, but it’s been a while since a mere PDF was enough.
Still, regardless of its relative lack of modern progression, the software Microsoft Word remains ubiquitous across techcomm because it’s conveniently there. There’s also the fact that over the last 30 years, businesses across the world have been culled into using these tools because they couldn’t find an adequate alternative.
Now we find ourselves at an impasse. On the one hand, so many people use tools that have stagnated but work. On the other hand, these tools have no incentive to innovate because they’re already on top! The biggest players in enterprise software won’t risk an overhaul of something widely used because they don’t need to.
We go a little more in-depth on proprietary software, or closed standards, in this article: What is the Best Standard for Documentation?
Word Processors Try to Have an Answer for Everything
Jack of all trades, master of many. But not this one.
Let’s consider the breadth of products in the Microsoft Office Suite. Microsoft Word was among the first to populate the OG lineup of a handful of programs, but now the list resembles a nightclub entry list.
As far as enterprise software is concerned, Microsoft really does try to do it all. This is why Microsoft is a tech industry pioneer. However, the greater the number of trades, the more difficult it is to master them all.
So it goes with Microsoft Word. Over the years, there have been many updates aimed at making everyone happy, but these updates haven’t addressed some of the primary concerns for techcomm professionals.
Which leads to my final point.
Word Processors Are Designed for Themselves
A word processor that’s never stopped being a word processor.
And it won’t stop being a word processor because, if you recall earlier, it has no reason to change. The massive organizations of the word processing world only change for the purpose of ensuring their own preservation.
Acting in their self-interest isn’t wrong nor is it unusual. But, if their software’s success is predicated on its own propriety instead of the actual capabilities, that incentive structure isn’t in your best interest. For example, content made in Microsoft Word is wrapped in its own proprietary markup. There are no Microsoft Word APIs that can communicate with multiple publishing channels.
There’s just… Microsoft Word. You build content based on their rules but you don’t escape those rules when it comes time to ship your content. The ‘ol fingers-crossed-send-and-hope that your content doesn’t break during its journey from Microsoft Word to wherever you need it to be.
The Role of a Word Processor?
We’re not sure what that role is, and that’s the problem.
Let us be clear, we are not saying that these tools don’t work. We are, however, saying that over the multiple decades of its existence, word processing tools have not necessarily focused on technical documentation. That’s not a bad thing, but that is relevant.
Many of these tools are steeped in proprietary markup that makes transporting and publishing content tricky.
Fortunately, for users of Microsoft Word or Google Docs, we made it a little bit less of a hassle to move to structured DITA content. We developed a converter that turns Word Docs and converts them to structured DITA XML in just minutes: [VIDEO] How to Convert Your Word Docs to DITA
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