Monday, January 19, 2015

Word Processor Advice Wanted

I have been trying to get the third edition of Machinery of Freedom done and have encountered problems coming from what appear to be bugs in Microsoft Word 2011 Mac. They include:

My sections have the headers set up as different first page, different odd and even pages. The program shows odd numbered pages as even, even as odd. This isn't a big problem in itself, since I can always adjust formatting accordingly, but I suspect it is evidence of a bug that is causing more serious problems.

The program sometimes inserts an invisible page, so that page number 16 is followed by page number 18. If I save as pdf, the invisible page shows up as a blank page in the pdf.

The program insists that the page number for a page I want to number 4 must be either 3 or 5. If I adjust the starting number for the page by 1, the number that appears changes by 2.

It's possible that with enough kludges I can work around all these bugs, although I have spent quite a lot of time so far trying without success. But I'm worried that even if I manage to produce a pdf to send in that appears correct, some one of the bugs will keep biting me. For one thing, judging by past experience, the proof copy of the book will have multiple errors that need fixing, despite all my efforts to get it right in advance, and every time I change anything ...  . Hence this post.

1. Is any of my readers sufficiently expert in Word to diagnose the problem from my description? I will be happy to send the first chunk of the book, which shows the problem, to anyone who is. 

2. Alternatively, do people have suggestions for an alternative word processor that I should switch to? Desiderata are:

Can import from Word keeping most of the formatting reasonably close to the same.

Does indexing and table of contents. It would be a big help if the words marked for indexing in the Word document stayed marked when the file was imported to the new word processor. 

Lets me format page numbers and headers in a way that alternates which side of the page the number is on, so that it is always on the outside edge.

My final recourse would be to simplify my layout until it is so simple that Word can get it right, but I would prefer not to do that if I don't have to. The current layout is designed to look reasonably similar to the second edition, although not identical. 

On another topic ...  . If Anarchei is reading this, would he please get in touch? As I explained in a comment on an earlier post that he may have missed, he and one other person did the covers I liked best and I want to correspond with both of them about the possibility of improved variants.

P.S. I eventually solved the problem, in part by noticing that "Format Document" had a "section start" option and tinkering with that.  As best I can tell, all bugs are now out of that particular document. I sent the pdf in to CreateSpace and am now waiting for my proof copy.

Thanks to everyone for suggestions.


Anonymous said...

This advice might be of no help, since it would involve both a non-trivial learning curve and possibly the need for substantial adjustments to "import" your current document, but if you really want a documented formatted right, the answer is a LaTeX editor.

David Friedman said...

Does a LaTeX editor do table of contents? Index? Headers with page numbers?

Tom Crispin said...

I second the suggestion of laTex.

It does everything, but requires more effort on your part.

Even if you choose not to use it, it would be worthwhile checking the wikipedia entry:

Robert Ayers said...

I haven't created any large documents in Word, but it sure looks to me like the symptoms are all of one bug/feature. It looks like somewhere the document specifies "all chapters start on even page". And that Word is trying to maintain that. Hence blank pages and an insistence that a particular page always has an even page-number.

Daublin said...

Latex will do all of those things in stride. More broadly, I agree with the earlier poster that it's an option for high-work and high-quality output. Debugging Word will take vastly less time, even with your latest round of problems.

I am not sure whether it's worth using a specialized Latex editor. It can be quite helpful to see exactly what's in the underlying text file.

If you stick with Word, I've heard people have luck saving their books as separate chapters. You can specify each chapter to start on a different page. I don't know how you do a ToC under these conditions, but there's probably a way.

Francesco said...

Writing a book in Word sounds painful. I would suggest checking Scribus out, an open-source desktop publishing application which is less intimidating than LaTeX.

Tip: to import a .docx into Scribus, first open it with OpenOffice/GoogleDocs, save as .odt, finally import this into Scribus.

Dan said...

Converting a completed book from Word to LaTeX sounds painful.

Unknown said...

You might investigate LibreOffice... this is an open source fork of OpenOffice. Be forewarned that while similar to Word in many respects... it may also give you fits in various formating tasks... not unlike Word. But worth a try.

Jim said...

I'm using Word 2013 on a PC and it does everything you describe perfectly. So did the previous Windows version.

Make sure you turn on "Show Formatting" to show any spurious page/section breaks that might have been entered accidentally.

Another thing to try is to copy the entire document, then paste it into a new document.

Unknown said...

I've published multiple book-length projects in Word. Send it to me, I'll fix it.

Lawrence Kesteloot said...

I have heard that Microsoft does not prioritize Mac versions of their software as highly as Windows versions, so I'm guessing that switching to the Windows version would fix the bugs (like Jim said). The easiest (but perhaps not the cheapest) solution would be to run the Windows version of Word on your Mac. I've never done this, but you can probably use something like Parallels or Bootcamp.

David Friedman said...

I downloaded LibreOffice, loaded the file into it. It came across pretty cleanly. The bugs were still there, but I think I have now removed them in Libre. I'm having some problems figuring out how formatting of the index works, but hopefully I can figure that out. My guess is that once I learn it I will like Libre better than Word, but it's hard to be sure.

Jonathan said...

I've been a technical writer for about three decades, writing manuals for large companies in the computer industry; and in my experience most technical writers regard Microsoft Word as a tool for amateurs. I have occasionally used it to write manuals in the past, but I wasn't happy about it.

Your problem is what else to use. For the last decade, I've been using an in-house system based on XML that isn't available to the public. Before that, I used FrameMaker, which is designed for heavy book-length publications, and does a fairly good job, although its more advanced facilities require some learning effort. A disadvantage is that it's basically old technology; and Adobe, having bought it from another company, seems to have had difficulty in modernizing it. But it's worth considering. Adobe's own preferred product is InDesign, but I think that's more aimed at magazines, pamphlets, brochures, etc. I haven't tried to write a book with it.

LibreOffice is free, which is interesting, but it's basically a copy of Word and probably has bugs of its own.

To be honest, I don't know of an ideal solution for writing books these days. If I were doing it, I might choose FrameMaker, being familiar with it already; or experiment with InDesign, which I've used for smaller documents.

It's also possible that Word is adequate these days. My judgment of it is based on experience of old versions.

Jonathan said...

P.S. After looking around on the Web a little, I see that InDesign can be used for full-length books and seems to include full support for indexes.

Some people like to write the text of the book initially in another program (such as Word) before transferring it to InDesign for layout. Others are comfortable working in InDesign from the start.

I've seen a recommendation to use Scrivener for initial writing, rather than Word: it's a program designed specifically for book preparation and includes extra facilities to help authors. I haven't tried it myself. I see that it was written for Mac OS, but there is also a Windows version.

David Friedman said...

Judging by my experience, Word is adequate in terms of features, not all that hard to use, but, at least in the version I'm working with, noticeably buggy. So far LibreOffice hasn't bit me.

I have InDesign but no experience using it. I'll take a quick look to see if it would make sense.

Jonathan said...

By all means use whatever works. LibreOffice should be relatively easy to use, coming from Word, as it's a copy of Word, using the same basic concepts. Any other program will use somewhat different concepts and will require some learning.

I used an earlier version of OpenOffice (the ancestor of LibreOffice) to maintain some tables of information, and was alarmed one day to open a document and find that one whole column of a table had mysteriously disappeared. I'm sure I didn't delete it. So I regard the software somewhat warily for that reason; but it was only one occurrence and there may be some explanation for it.

I had some difficulty in the past in finding good documentation of OpenOffice/LibreOffice; perhaps I didn't look hard enough.

I've found InDesign not difficult to use for short documents, although there are some new concepts in it that have to be learned. Not having used it at book length, I'm not qualified to give it a full recommendation, but it seems to be Adobe's primary desktop publishing product.

Toby said...

I believe LateX is the standard in academia for economics, and if I am not mistaken, also the natural sciences these days.

There is a lot of information on how to format books in LateX freely available via wikibooks and there is also a dedicated stackchange website to LateX.

In addition, there are programs that can convert word documents to TeX and there are TeX editors that are quite userfriendly. I for example use Texstudio. There are also plenty of templates for books online.

I think if you're not familiar with Tex then you can probably pick it up quickly enough and copy and past the text of your book part by part and be done with the formatting and such in a day or so with all the features that you desire.

Tibor said...

Toby: I'd say it is mostly a standard in maths and physics. However, I know economists and biologists who have never used it. I know of no mathematicians who don't use LaTeX, though - as it is mostly tailored to the needs of mathematicians.

I use it for more or less any writing that is longer than a couple of lines. One can learn the basic code in a couple of minutes (although if you want to make very specific changes to the few basic formats, it can take you a while) and the output looks very professional without any effort.

LaTeX can make a table of content automatically by one command, index is also easy to do, the same goes for headers. There are tons of LaTeX tutorials online and also a stackexchange dedicated to it.

Also, this might be helpful for converting things from WYSWYG editors such as word to LaTeX:

dWj said...

The only thing I have to add to the above is to quibble with the comment that debugging LaTeX is always harder than debugging Word; at the very least, I generally feel when debugging LaTeX that I am fixing my own mistakes and when I'm debugging Word that I am trying to fix mistakes that Word has introduced, and often I am unable to do so and give up. (No, you stupid software, that is not part of a numbered list. Quit putting that in italics. ...)

Jonathan said...

It's interesting to see these TeX supporters popping up here. I remember hearing of TeX long ago (it dates from 1978), but I've never used it, because in my work I use the software specified by my clients, and they've never mentioned it. I have nothing against it, it may be a good solution, but the companies I've worked for either don't know of it or aren't interested. There's a lot of interest in XML these days, and TeX doesn't fit into that, as far as I know.

Jonathan said...

Maybe another reason I don't hear about TeX is that it predates Unicode, which is pretty important these days. I see that there are workarounds available to use Unicode with TeX, but nothing like it was envisaged in the original design.

The companies I work for are international, and normally translate everything I write for them into about twenty languages, including various Asian and East European languages, so Unicode is fundamental and should really be designed into the system. However, if you're planning to publish only in English, this isn't a consideration.

Unknown said...

Jim (above) suggested copying the entire document, then pasting it into a new document. If you select all but the final paragraph mark in the document and then paste that into a new document, you may solve your problem. Word embeds a great deal of formatting in the final paragraph mark

Unknown said...

Scrivner seems to be the way to go. Certainly for fiction, but likely for other writing as well.

Tibor said...

Jonathan: I think that LaTeX is a great solution if you want a professionally looking document and you are not a typography professional or don't want to pay for one. Also, invaluable if you write maths or physics (which is why it has become the standard in those disciplines today).

Kevin S. Van Horn said...

There is a program called LyxConverter that you can use to convert Microsoft Word documents into LyX format. Here is the URL:

Lyx is a WYSIWYG front-end for LaTeX.

As others have mentioned, LaTeX is very good at things like tables of contents, footnotes, indices, etc. It focuses more on document structure than a typical word processing program, with presentation -- how that structure is displayed -- largely orthogonal to structure.

Richard Ober Hammer said...

During the 1990s I used both MS Word and MS Publisher to produce a magazine. Generally it seemed like each could do almost anything I wanted in terms of layout, but typically it was frustrating, it was hard to learn how to make it do what I wanted.

The two MS programs were different in many respects, seemingly having been developed by two teams with different leaders and different standards.

Also I report that MS Word changes, sometimes radically, from version to version, so some that you learn on your current version may be lost when you update to a new version. I will not try to help you from my older version for Windows.

Are you using, David, the command to show control characters? So that new-line characters are shown in your draft as you are editing? This is important and may explain why your are getting new pages where you do not want them; you may have many new-line characters in your text which are not appearing on your screen as you edit.

I would not be surprised if many of the difficulties you describe can be changed with settings available in Word, settings which you have not yet discovered, settings which MS Word's help function will not help you find, but ...

Lately I've gotten my best help for Microsoft products by well-crafted questions in Google. I just Googled, for instance,
"MS Word 2011 for Mac header odd page number", and found several documents that might be helpful to you.

Anonymous said...

Word works beautifully if you know how to use it. Display paragraph marks and observe the section breaks. I suspect you have section in there that are formatted against what you intend. Each section or the whole document can be assigned parameters using the Page Setup Window Layout tab. Note the "Apply to" drop down will assign the parameter setting to that portion of the document. The Sectin Start drop down offers the opportunity to start on odd or even page. Assign page start as you requires. Good luck

Jonathan said...

"Word works beautifully if you know how to use it."

Most programs work better when used by an expert. Unfortunately, most users aren't experts, and are never going to become experts -- especially as programs tend to have short lifespans.

I suppose the ideal program should respond forgivingly to an inexpert user.

Anonymous said...

Response to Jonathan:
FrameMaker? No way. it is expensive and clumsy. I learned book writing with it and thought it was great. I was forced to move to Word and I prefer Word any day of the year. If you want to compile a book you need to laern how to use the tool. Same is true with Word it does everything Framemaker does and them some without all the stupid formatiing windows. It is difficult to go back to FM it is nothing like Word at all.

Jonathan said...

As I said, FrameMaker is basically old technology. However, at the time when I was using it for work (more than ten years ago), both I and my colleagues found it a more reliable tool than Word for working with documents of several hundred pages with plenty of graphics.

I'd hesitate to recommend FrameMaker now, especially as I haven't used it recently. InDesign is surely more up to date and may be a better choice. And I don't use Word enough these days to say how good or bad the latest version is. I had some bad experiences with older versions.

FrameMaker is more expensive than Word, yes, and Word is more expensive than LibreOffice (a very similar program).

Anonymous said...

What you need is a copy of Wordperfect. Then use CorelConvert to convert your files to WP format.

Jonathan said...

I used WordPerfect for DOS heavily for several years around 1990, when it came from WordPerfect Corporation, and I liked it. But WordPerfect Corp was slow in adapting to Windows; while it was fumbling, Microsoft stole the market with Word: a less capable product at the time, but better adapted to Windows.

I've never really used WordPerfect for Windows. In 1994 I started working for HP, which chose to use FrameMaker.

Alan Geal said...

I recommend initial composition in OpenOffice (or LibreOffice) exported to Scribius (

Scribius allows almost Adobe InDesign levels of sophisticated control over layout.

As a lightweight but highly capable editor Brackets you could try, an Adobe Open Source project (