June 24th, 2004 • 12:13 am
I can’t believe this. Ever since I upgraded to Word X back in 2002, I have been experiencing a problem with my styles that I thought was due to some kind of corruption. In fact, this problem was the main reason why I decided to rebuild my templates from scratch after installing Office 2004, rather than using my existing Word X templates.
I have just discovered, however, that this problem is not due to some kind of style sheet corruption, but is in fact intended by Microsoft! Indeed, even though I had painstakingly rebuilt all my styles from scratch, I noticed earlier today that the problem was still there. So I did a bit more testing, and the only possible conclusion is that this is a behaviour intended by Microsoft. Argh!
Here is the problem in a nutshell. My default style for body text (called “Body”) has a number of character and paragraph formatting settings, including a setting of “12 pt” for “Space after“. In other words, in the body of my documents, all my paragraphs are formatted with a space after of 12 pt. This is my way of avoiding the use of double paragraph marks (a.k.a. double returns), which are a nightmare in terms of page layout, because you can end up with an empty paragraph at the top of a page, immediately after a page break, and that looks very ugly indeed.
I know full well that the vast majority of Word users continue to use double paragraph marks to create space between paragraphs. But just because the majority of Word users do it, doesn’t mean it’s right. it’s wrong, because it defeats the purpose of the paragraph mark (which is to mark paragraphs, not empty spaces between paragraphs) and because it creates problems for graphic designers.
In addition to this space after of 12 pt in my “Body” style, I have heading styles that are based on the “Body” style (which means that they inherit the space after setting of 12 pt) and have, additionally, a “Space before” setting of 12 pt as well. Why is that? Well, because visually it looks better if there is some extra space at the end of a section before the heading that marks the beginning of the next section. Instead of applying a “Space after” setting of 24 pt manually to the last paragraph of a section before starting the next section, I find it more logical to include a setting of 12 pt of space before in the style definition for the heading style. This 12 pt of space before in the heading style, combined with the 12 pt of space after of the previous paragraph (which is in “Body” style), creates a total space of 24 pt before the text of the heading.
And that’s where Word 2004 (and Word X) start acting up.
For some reason, starting with Word X, Microsoft has decided that, if a paragraph (B) formatted with a space before of 12 pt is preceded by a paragraph (A) formatted with a space after of 12 pt, then Word should ignore the 12 pt of space before of Paragraph B and only apply the 12 pt of space after of Paragraph A.
If you remove the 12 pt of space after from the formatting of Paragraph A, then miraculously the 12 pt of space before of Paragraph B reappears, and the total space between A and B remains at 12 pt. If you want to have 24 pt of space between A and B, you actually have to either apply 24 pt of space before to Paragraph B, in which case Word will then keep 12 pt of the 24 pt of space before and add them to the 12 pt of space after of Paragraph A, for a total of 24 pt of space between A and B.
This is unbelievable. Beyond the fact that it totally screws up my own way of using styles to create space between paragraphs, headings and sections, it is a behaviour that is completely beyond the control of the user. It’s a typical example of the numerous behaviours in Word that try to outsmart the user and end up making the user’s experience totally confusing. After all, what is the user supposed to think if, when he applies a formatting of 12 pt of space before to a paragraph, this formatting doesn’t seem to work? “Did I do something wrong here?”
This is the kind of stuff that just enrages me. What am I supposed to do now? Rethink my entire way of using styles? Just go back to using Word the dumb way, with double paragraph marks and everything, like everybody else? And what will then happen if I send one my documents to someone who still uses Word 2001 or a previous version? Will there be 12 pt of additional space when he opens the document in his version of Word? This means, of course, that I have no control over what the document will actually look like and how it will paginate. And I bet Microsoft didn’t include that particular criterion in their new “Compatibility Report” in Word 2004!
I am furious.