Death to Word?

Not the written word, of course… just the application. At least that’s what Tom Socca is calling for in an article he posted last week on Slate called “Death to Word: It’s Time to Give up on Microsoft’s Word Processor.” While this might be a bit extreme, I have to agree with Socca on a few points.

Word’s menu bar looks like the dashboard of a commercial airliner…not a tool for processing words. And although I think I’ve finally figured out how to maneuver my way around most of its forced defaults (like the auto-formatted outlines, bulleted lists, and incorrect grammar alerts), I could certainly do without many of Word’s “helpful” options.

Throughout its many releases in the past decade, I’m afraid Word has fallen victim to “feature creep.”  Its functionality has overtaken its usability; its many features actually slow people down and keep them from performing what should be a very simple task: creating a document.  Sure, I guess it’s nice that Word gives me seventeen different options for cover pages. But do you know how many times I’ve used them? Not once.

And “Smart” Art? I tried to create an org chart with Smart Art once (and only once)…. It took me over an hour, and the chart never did look quite right. Needless to say, I felt a number of things–and smart was not one of them. I’ve since then reverted to InDesign for such tasks. Despite the fact that InDesign is a much more powerful piece of software, it’s much simpler and it gives me a much higher level of control over my designs.

And while I’m on the topic of control… it irritates me to no end that I can’t insert pages or sections within a large Word document without tedious cuting and pasting. And can I just tell you how annoying it is to toggle between multiple files when I’m trying to manage notes, research articles, and the document I happen to be currently working on?

Microsoft Word is a prime example of what happens when a software application tries to please too many people with too many purposes.  Eventually, the design becomes barely usable for anyone.

So why do we still use it? Habit? Convenience? Because that’s just what we’ve always used and it’s too much effort to try something new? Because we don’t realize we actually have other options?

Several months ago, I finally decided to make a break from Word and began using something new–Scrivener. Scrivener is part word processor, part content/project manager. I wish I had discovered it at the beginning of my graduate work.

Scrivener Interface

It was designed by a writer for writers. (Talk about knowing your user group. I believe this is what Robert Hoekman would call “self-design,” only considering yourself or your team in the design process.)

Scrivener is functionally very simple–just look at that clean and minimal menu bar! No, it doesn’t have all the formatting bells and whistles of Word. I can’t create charts, graphs, or tables; and it’s not pre-loaded with a zillion different templates that let me create flyers, restaurant menus, household budgets, or resumés (thank God). But it lets me do exactly what I need it to do–create and manage text documents.

Scrivener - Document Layout

Scrivener lets me break my projects into manageable pieces and makes it easy for me to organize my work.

I work best when I can break my projects up into manageable chunks, and Scrivener lets me do that. Rather than forcing me to write in one long document, it allows me to create multiple sections (and subjections) within a paper. Each section stands alone as a separate file within Scrivener–and they are easily compiled into one complete document when I’m ready to work with the project as a whole.

I also love the fact that Scriver doesn’t force me to shuffle among multiple windows and applications when I’m working on a project. I can dump images, audio, video, PDF files (with my highlights) into the project and view/listen to them all within the Scrivener interface.

Scrivener - Notes and Resources

Scrivener helps me manage all my research and resources while I am working on a project.

Oh, and I should probably mention that Scrivener does allow you to export to .doc and .docx files. But after using something so clean and simple…it’s hard imagine why you’d want to go back to Word.

I admit that I haven’t been able to completely abandon Word yet (I still rely on it’s comment and track changes features when grading or editing), but for my own work, I definitely see the advantages of exploring alternatives. Sorry, Word, but I think Scrivener is here to stay.


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