Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Avoid overformatting your documents

If you’ve ever felt like you spend too much time formatting your documents, you aren’t alone.

Part of the problem is the level of detail to which you CAN format a document.

One solution: Draft documents using a word processor that doesn’t give you as many formatting options.

Take Google Docs, for instance. The main advantage it offers is online collaboration – one version of a document for every author to use (even at the same time).

But it’s also great in that it only offers seven styles, four of which you can use (Normal Text and Headings 1, 2 and 3 – if you use more heading levels, think about making your document structure simpler) along with manual formatting of bullet and numbered lists to keep the formatting basic.

You can use other formatting tools, but I recommend not doing so when you first start drafting a document.

You’ll run into certain advantages and changes to your workflow.

  • It’s easier to teach collaborators how to use a more limited set of formatting tools.
  • People don’t get hung up on formatting while they write, so they concentrate more on creating content.
  • The advanced formatting work happens when you download the document from Google to something like Word.
  • The final, sophisticated formatting can be done by somebody who understands how to do it well.

Possible issues

People can also upload documents into Google Docs, although I suspect many people just cut and paste things out of existing documents. In either case, they need to apply Google Docs styles to imported text.

Google Docs can sometimes apply styles to paragraphs before or after the one you target. To prevent this, make sure you have hard returns between said paragraphs.