A Little Reminder on Backwards Compatibility

Microsoft is at it again, releasing new versions of its Office suite of products. So new users will have Word 2019 and Excel 2019, for example.

And on the Excel side there are a few exciting (to me, because I’m a nerd) changes they’re making. A lot of it around IF functions. Here’s the link to what’s new in Excel 2019 and the link to what’s new in Word 2019 for the curious.

The key issue here, though, is backwards compatibility. Just because you may have the latest and greatest does not mean anyone else does. And using one of those new functions if you’re going to be sharing your files with someone who isn’t upgraded to the latest version is going to mean they can’t use what you send them.

So by all means, upgrade and try the new functions in Excel. But if you intend to share that document with clients or counterparties, be sure that they can use the file you send them.

Let me give you a personal, very painful example of how I learned this lesson the hard way.

Back during the big mortgage crisis I had a consulting client who had a large residential and commercial loan portfolio. And I ended up in a role where I was helping someone who was an expert in calculating a bank’s allowance for loan losses automate that process using Excel. The goal was to create an Excel workbook we could then hand off to the client so they could make that calculation going forward whenever they needed to. When we were done, all they’d have to do is put their current data into one or two worksheets and everything else would be calculated for them.

It took about a week for me to put the workbook together because there were a lot of moving parts, but I finally had it ready to go and handed it over to them to test.

(Now, I should add here that for a long-term solution Excel was not an ideal choice. But for something they could have up and running in two weeks? It was probably the only choice. And this was at a point in time where bidding things out and taking six months to build a technology solution were not options.)

So, anyway, I handed it off.

The client came back and said they couldn’t use it. Because it relied, in part, on using the SUMIFS function, which was available in my version of Excel but not their version. And getting a large corporate client to upgrade their version of Office is not a simple process, especially during the midst of a financial meltdown where it was very possible that company wasn’t going to exist in six months.

So I had to spend a couple days rewriting that whole workbook to remove the use of every SUMIFS and replace it with multiple IF functions in multiple columns that could accomplish the same result.

It was not fun.

Thankfully, I worked for the type of boss who didn’t blame me or yell at me for my mistake, just told me to fix the issue. If I’d been working for a different client or a different boss that whole situation could’ve been much much uglier than it was. As is, it was bad enough.

So remember: keep in mind who you’re working with when you create an Excel workbook (or even a Word document or PowerPoint presentation) and make sure that they’ll be able to use what you give them when it’s done.

(I should add here that all of my current Office guides are written using the 2013 versions of the products–so Excel 2013, Word 2013, and PowerPoint 2013–and with most of it compatible back to the 2007 versions, partially for these reasons.)

Some Microsoft Word Tips

This morning I hit publish on my last titles for 2017, Word for Beginners and Intermediate Word. That makes 441,312 words written (give or take) and 409,252 words published for the year. Phew. A little more than half of that was non-fiction since that seems to have become my focus for the second half of the year, but I did have two novels in there, too.

Anyway.

While I was writing the Word guides I kept finding myself saying “never do this” based on things I had actually encountered in my professional career. Finally, I started writing them down so I could share them.

So here they are. Things you should never do in Word (because there’s a better way to do it). With suggestions of how to better handle it using Word 2013 as my source.

1. Never manually number a list of items. (Especially in the midst of an automatically numbered list.) Instead use the Numbering option in the Paragraph section of the Home tab. Or the Format Painter in the Home tab if there’s already a numbered list you’re trying to continue.

2. Never add a return between paragraphs to create space. Instead, use Word to add space before or after your paragraphs. You can do this using the Line and Paragraph Spacing option in the Paragraph section of the Home tab or by right-clicking and choosing Paragraph to bring up the Paragraph dialogue box.

3. Never use the tab key or, worse, manual spaces to indent a paragraph. Instead, right-click, choose Paragraph, and bring up the Paragraph dialogue box. Then go to Indentation and under Special choose First Line.

4. Never manually add page numbering to your document. Instead, go to the Header & Footer section of the Insert tab and choose from the options in the Page Number dropdown.

5. Never manually add headers or footers to your document. Instead, go to the Header & Footer section of the Insert tab and choose from the options in the Header or Footer dropdowns.

6. Never manually mark text to be deleted with a strikethrough. Instead, use track changes which is available under the Review tab.

7. Never manually mark text as inserted by changing its color and/or underlining it. Instead, use track changes which is available under the Review tab.

8. Never make comments within the text of the document and set those comments aside using brackets, highlighting, or different colored text. Instead, use New Comment from the Comments section of the Review tab.

9. Never use enter to get to the next page when you need to start a new chapter. Instead, insert a page or section break into your document by going to the Page Setup section of the Page Layout tab and choosing from the options under Breaks.

10. Never manually build a table of contents in your document. Instead, use the Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. styles on your section headings and then have Word insert a table of contents by going to the Table of Contents section of the References tab.

11. Never manually break a table that’s long enough to repeat across more than one page into multiple tables so that you can repeat the header row on each page. Instead, right-click on the top row of the table, choose Table Properties, go to the Row tab, and click the box for “Repeat as header row at the top of each page.”

There you have it. My list of eleven things you should “never” do in Word.  And, of course, it just so happens I covered how to do all of these things the “right way” and much, much more in my Word guides. Items 1 through 5 are covered in Word for Beginners. Items 6 through 11 are covered in Intermediate Word. Just sayin’…