Word 2004: Changes paragraph font when inserting return char after automatic bullet

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
August 10th, 2007 • 12:46 pm

Ah, Microsoft. What would we do without you? Your ways of irritating us are so plentiful…

I never use Word’s automatic bullets feature myself, but of course, I frequently have to edit Word documents created by other users, which do use automatic bullets, so I have no choice but to deal with them sometimes.

And of course, each time this happens, it confirms me in my decision not to ever use the bloody things myself.

Here’s yet another example of the multiple ways in which Word’s automatic bullets manage to make life unbearable.

I have this list of items, with an automatic dash in front of each item:

Item in Garamond with bullet in Courier New

As you can see, the list items are in Garamond, but for some reason the automatic dashes are in Courier New. I doubt very much that the author of this document did this on purpose (use Courier New for the dashes on purpose). More than likely, it’s something that happened when this Word document from the PC world was opened by Word 2004 on my Mac. My experience with automatic bullets over the years indicates that Microsoft stores the “bullet” character itself (the dash here) in a non-standard way, and that a simple switch from the PC to the Mac can cause Word to lose track of what font the bullet character is supposed to be in.

I know this, because I frequently get Word documents from other people which contain bullet lists with “?” as the bullet character. Somehow, I just don’t think there is a single Word user on this planet who would use “?” as the bullet character intentionally. (My apologies to ancient Greeks if they ever did.)

Now, if I didn’t have to edit this document, the fact that the dash is in Courier New wouldn’t be too much of a problem. After all, a dash in Courier New does not look much different from a dash in Garamond or in any other font. It’s just a line. (The exact length and weight might vary from font to font, but it doesn’t really matter here.)

The trouble is that I do have to edit this document. I actually have to translate it, so I have to replace each item in this list with the French equivalent. And of course I also need to preserve the same formatting, with the same automatic bullets. So here’s what I do:

Cursor after automatic bullet

I place my cursor at the beginning of the list item that I want to translate, and then I press Return to insert a blank list item above the item I need to translate. (I need to keep the English visible while I translate it.) Then I press the Up key to put my cursor at the beginning of the empty bullet item:

Paragraph in Courier New

Look at what the font field in formatting toolbar above the text says: I am now in Courier New!

So you know what’s going to happen if I start typing my French text now, don’t you?

Paragraph in Courier New

The text is in Courier New!

Grr, grr, and double grr.

It’s bad enough that a bug in Word 2004 causes the dash to be in Courier New in the first place. But what does the font formatting of the automatic bullet have to do with the font formatting of the text of the list item? The latter should not have any impact on the former, and certainly not after such a simple text editing action.

This is just so irritating. Because translation is my work, and I constantly have to deal with Word documents created by other people, I encounter this type of problem all the time, of course. It probably doesn’t happen in Windows, so Microsoft won’t even do anything about it, because the Windows people don’t care, and the Mac people are basically either incompetent or powerless.


12 Responses to “Word 2004: Changes paragraph font when inserting return char after automatic bullet”

  1. danridley says:

    Oh, the WinOffice people don’t care about Windows users either. And they also appear to be incompetent. And yes, this bug happens on Windows too.

    It’s even more fun when the bullets are in one font, the text is in another, and the enter-up-arrow technique leaves you in a third (the normal.dot default font). That behavior seems to be new in Office 2007, so maybe we’ll get it on the Mac in January!

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Can’t wait for it! ;-)

    I guess I should have checked myself in Word 2003 under Windows XP in Parallels. Just can’t bring myself to doing it systematically…

    And yes, this sadly confirms the generalized level of incompetence at Microsoft. I mean, if it also affects Windows users, there is simply no excuse. It’s not like it’s a brand new feature and they haven’t had time to work out the bugs.

  3. danridley says:

    You may have discovered this already, but I do have a cheap workaround for this one too.
    Put your insertion point after the first character, instead of at the beginning of the line. Then press return, re-type that first character, press the up arrow, then delete (backspace). Then start typing. The font should be correct.
    I.e., in the document in your screen shot you’d place your insertion point between the T and h in “There,” then press return, shift-T, up arrow, delete.
    I haven’t actually tested this in Word:mac, but it works for both the 2003 and 2007 variations of the problem in Windows.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    Yes, there are a variety of workarounds. You can also insert a manual line break (shift-Return on the Mac) instead of a return char and type above that and then delete the line break along with the portion you no longer need. This way, you are actually editing the existing list item instead of inserting a new one, so you are not breaking the flow of the automatic list and losing the automatic list formatting, and you are still able to edit in a way that is not too visually confusing.

    The bug remains an annoyance, of course, even with the workarounds, because inserting a return char is simply the most intuitive/obvious thing to do.

  5. matthewk says:

    It’s a poor piece of interface behaviour. However if you highlight the text and choose “Bullets and Numbering” under the Format menu, then click the Customize button, it allows you to set the font of the bullets. Then when you edit by inserting a paragraph in front of the text to translate, it will preserve the font setting you stipulated.

    Painful and you shouldn’t have to do it, of course. But I hope that helps.

  6. Pierre Igot says:

    Ah yes, but you see, not only would it be painful, but I also would not dare to actually change the font setting of the bullet itself, because who knows what would happen to it when I return the Word document to his/her original PC-using author?

    That’s the thing with Microsoft software. There are so many things that can and will go wrong that you cannot trust that things will work as expected, and I certainly would not want my client to have to change the bullet font back to his/her original choice if he needed to do that to obtain the desired result.

    Otherwise, what is essentially a bug in Microsoft’s software would end up having a negative impact on my client’s perception of my work. And that’s what Microsoft’s engineers seem to fail to realize, i.e. that their very crappy software can have a very real impact in the real world of real work, and bugs in their software can end up harming people’s reputation.

    And I am not being excessively paranoid here. Because of Word’s numerous flaws, we effectively have little control over how our Word documents will look on other people’s machines. That is why I always avoid Microsoft file formats when sharing files that do not need to be editable. But when they need to be editable and when they came in Word format originally, I have no choice. Sometimes I am so afraid of how my edited Word document will be perceived by the client that I actually send back to him not just the edited Word file, but also a PDF of the Word file as it looks on my machine, so that the client can compare the two and see what the document is supposed to look like. What does that tell you about how trustworthy Microsoft’s software is?

    I myself am guilty of judging other people negatively based on the poor quality of their Word documents, because it’s not always easy to distinguish the document flaws that are caused by bugs in the software from the document flaws that are caused by bad user behaviour. So I strongly suspect that other people do the same.

    And that is, in essence, why Microsoft software stinks.

  7. matthewk says:

    That’s a bit childish, to conclude that Microsoft software stinks because of a formatting awkwardness which is difficult to rectify. Why not contact the Office 2008 development team? I sent them some pretty detailed criticism of metafile imports in Office 2004 – they were most interested and asked for sample files, etc. I hope it helps make a better product. There’s no reason that Microsoft stuff has to suck, and on an individual basis I think the people there are doing the best they can. If you know of a problem, it’s far better to try to rectify it than lamenting the problem’s existence and using it to condemn an entire software house. I loathe Windows’ aesthetics and lashed-together functionality, but I would really like to see a well-implemented Office suite for OS X. For instance, the iWork apps do a FAR superior job of preserving diagrams and chart formatting when importing Office documents, and they are nicely functional for the most part, and yet Apple can’t even get them to anti-alias type properly. So I keep reporting bugs and hoping that one day something good will result.

  8. Pierre Igot says:

    Why are you assuming that this “formatting awkwardness” (a bug in plain language) is “difficult to rectify”? There was a time where I would have given Microsoft’s engineers the benefit of the doubt, but we’re way past that stage. There are innumerable bugs of this type everywhere in Word, and there are no signs that Microsoft is making any effort to squash them.

    As for sending feedback to Microsoft, see this. I’ll start sending bug reports to Microsoft again when they have a proper bug reporting facility. Obviously you haven’t been reading this blog for very long. Otherwise you’d know that I always submit bug reports to the developers of the applications where I find flaws and bugs. The only software company I have given up on is Microsoft, and I believe it is for good reason.

    If Microsoft’s engineers are doing “the best they can,” then the best they can simply isn’t good enough. I too would like to see a well-implemented Office suite, but I am afraid it’s never going to happen unless there is a significant paradigm shift in the software industry. You might be able to claim small victories here and there, but the overall picture is not going to change.

    Regarding anti-aliasing in Pages, see this. It’s not an excuse, but at least it’s an explanation.

    I am constantly reporting bugs on iWork applications to Apple via Bug Reporter, and at least I am getting some feedback from Apple developers on those.

  9. matthewk says:

    My apologies, I went off at a tangent without having looked into your previous postings properly. I still think it’s a bit glib to pan MS software “in toto” but I should have realised that if you care enough about these issues to post them, you’d be drawing them to the attention of the developers as well. As I said, my experience with direct feedback to the MacBU there was positive, but it remains to be seen whether it has any effect on the product. Given the awfulness of their DocX conversion “tool” it’s perhaps doubtful.

    Anyway – apologies again.

  10. matthewk says:

    Oh – and I gave feedback by e-mailing one of the posters on their MacMojo blog. She responded to my comment on her post, and gave me an address to contact her with sample files.

  11. Pierre Igot says:

    Yes, I have occasionally been able to exchange a few e-mails with some people at the MacBU. But like you said, it doesn’t mean that the feedback has any effect on the final product. And there’s certainly no indication that they are genuinely interested in the feedback.

  12. Don’t worry, you aren’t Microsoft’s priority « A Couple Bits says:

    […] It’s a gigantic, glaring indicator of what’s on the minds of Microsoft’s execs when their first priority in releasing product information is addressing enterprise concerns. I don’t mean to imply that I think Mac Office ‘08 won’t have improvements for end-users. I think it most certainly will. But I wonder if in the anals of the MacBU they read posts like this one from Betalogue and say, “You know, we should fix that, because it’s the many little fixes and flourishes that make many people appreciate our product.” […]

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