Software, Tutorials/Tips

OpenOffice.org: The Need for Style

OpenOffice.orgOffice applications like OpenOffice.org can bring out the worst in people. The same people who wouldn’t dream of driving a car without a few lessons will start pounding away in a word processor as though it were a typewriter, ignoring basic features like styles and templates. In the end, they may produce the documents they want, but only with far more effort than is necessary. They might as well be pushing a car instead of turning the ignition key.

Nothing stops you if you really want to format manually, any more than anything prevents you from using the soles of your shoes to slow down a car instead of the brake. OpenOffice.org does nothing to stop you from indenting each new paragraph in Writer or setting each number format in a Calc cell on its own. For small, unusual documents, manual formatting may even be quicker.

But to insist, like some people I’ve heard, that any alternative is too hard to learn, or an attempt to restrict users’ freedom simply makes life difficult for yourself. Using styles takes a different perspective and may require more initial planning than manual formatting, but it makes reformatting much easier. It also makes tools like outline numbering or generating tables of contents far simpler to use.

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That is true of any office application, but it is doubly so in OpenOffice.org, which is far more organized around styles than most of its counterparts. If you really want to get the most from OpenOffice.org, you need to start using styles, and know what they can do in each OpenOffice.org program.

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STYLE BASICS A style is a collection of formatting instructions that you set once and then apply as needed throughout a document. For instance, in Writer, you might create a title style for italicizing the names of all the books mentioned in your document. If you decided to put the document online, you could change all the italicized book titles to a bold font for easier reading by changing the style, instead of going through the document and changing each title individually and maybe missing one or two instances. Continue reading.

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