Yes, You Can Use Microsoft Word to Set Type That Looks Professional

January 2004
by Aaron Shepard

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Can a program like QuarkXPress, Adobe PageMaker, or Adobe InDesign produce better-looking copy than Microsoft Word? Certainly, when users know what they’re doing. But most often, they don’t.

According to research cited by James Felici in his Complete Manual of Typography, 90 percent of the people who use such page layout programs never change the default settings, and, as Felici points out, these settings are never much good as they are. For instance, InDesign’s main typographic advantage over Word is its automatic letterspacing feature–which InDesign’s default setting turns off.

People also often ignore features in Word, and this, I believe, is what gives the program such a bad name in terms of typography. Yes, if you simply open a new Word document, type away, and use what you type as your finished page, the page will look awful. But if you know what you need, and if you delve deeply enough into the program, you can produce type that only a trained eye could distinguish from the best Adobe or Quark can offer.

So, here are a few tips for producing type with Word that no book reviewer will scoff at. (I checked descriptions of Word commands and features on several versions of Word for PC and Mac OS 9, from Word 97 to Word 2002. If your version differs, refer to Word’s Help function.)

Study up. Get a copy of The Complete Manual of Typography and actually read it. (Robert Bringhurst’s ElementIBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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