The clone of documents war

A web project manager produces different kinds of documents including analysis, presentations, benchmarking, debrief, even wireframes. I work for many different companies and it happens that i am asked to use ready-to-use templates with institutional logos, colors and fonts.

This is where the battle begins. If it usually takes a couple of hours to produce the documentation, trying to make it fit into the template that was handed to me is often a titanic task.

The problem is that it is not, in most cases, a real template, but a clone of documents that have been emptied of content and with no trace of formatting guidelines.

Font type and size have not been made as document styles, but they have been applied to the text whenever necessary. And even if styles were used, they were only for the main text and (perhaps) for a type of header.

This approach is inefficient for several reasons:

  • every time you insert a new element, such as a title, you have to copy its style from the previous one
  • you lose the “semantics” of the document: headers should be as that because the information is specified in the document, while in these documents they are headers simply because the font is “bigger” than the one used for normal text
  • quality will degrade over time: the first two documents will comply with the standard in some way, the next will lose almost all the formatting
  • it is not possible to apply the styles at a later time, for example in the case of documents already produced; they have to be re-edited item by item

This occurs with Word documents, but not only. Powerpoint and Keynote also suffer the same problem. Rather than invest a half a day to create the master slide which can then be applied in each presentation, it is considered a simpler approach to create a presentation with some slides which are then copied and pasted over and over again.

Whenever I can I ask for the clients their “template” before producing documentation, so that I can check how they are made. If the quality is not satisfactory to me, but the number of documents that I plan to write is small, I still use these templates to produce the documentation.

But if have to write many documents, I usually prefer to invest some hours to completely rebuild the template. The operation usually takes me a couple of hours (in case of a presentation a little more), but it is time well spent, especially for me.

On the surface, compared to the template that was handed to me, nothing changes. But the work of producing the documentation is surely reduced.

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