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Business Analyst Tip: Template Usability

Many of us produce document templates using Microsoft Word. In addition to the heavy lifting–the content–you should consider the usability of the templates. My basic approach with templates is that they should take care of the bells and whistles once so each user doesn’t have to. Applying the tips below really doesn’t take that long, but it sure is appreciated by everyone who uses the template.

Margins

I’ve put this first because it’s good to think about the margins you want to use first. That way you don’t have to reset any tables to match the margins if you change them. How do you anticipate the document will be used?  Will it usually be used online?  Will it be printed and put in a binder?   If printed, will it usually be printed double-sided?

Most of the documents I produce are used online, or printed for temporary use. Normal margins just use a lot of white space. I typically use narrow margins. But, other settings might be better for your expected usage.

Explanatory Text

Most templates have text explaining how to use them. This text is not intended to be visible in the final version of the document. Make a style specifically for the explanatory text. Then, you can easily select all explanatory text and hide or delete it. To select all explanatory text, just click on a paragraph with the explanatory text style and select Home>Select>Select Text with Similar Formatting.

Be sure and start a new paragraph using normal style after paragraph(s) of explanatory text. Have you ever used a template that doesn’t do this?  You have to keep setting the style every time you use the template. Irritating.

Tables

If you have any tables in your template, consider how they’ll be used.

Might they span more than one page?  If so, you probably want to set the table such that heading rows repeat on each page. Additionally, consider whether or not you want to allow the rows to break across pages. If not, set the table so that they don’t. Make the choices you think will be used the most, so that less people have to change them.

Are the tables horizontally spaced for optimum use?  I’ve used templates with tables for revision histories that give the same column width to the date of change as they do to the description of the change, leaving a lot of white space in the date column and not enough room to describe the change. I have to adjust the table every time I use the template.

Header and Footer

Put the minimal useful information in your headers and footers—document name, project, and page number are usually desirable. Include any standard confidentiality wording that should be in documents created using the template.

 

 

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