OOo Off the Wall: What New Users Need to Know About OpenOffice.org
OpenOffice.org has two ways of designing a document, manual overrides and styles. Manual overrides are by far the most common way of designing a document. Using manual overrides, whenever you want to change the default formatting, you select a portion of the document--for example, a page or a group of characters--and then apply the formatting using the toolbars or one of the menus. Usually, it's Insert or Format, although Tools has a role or two to play. Every time you want to format something, you do it individually. This style of formatting is popular only because it requires no special knowledge. In effect, it involves using a word processor as though it were a typewriter.
The alternative is to use styles. Styles are a list of format settings. Their advantage is you set them up in one place and then tag the parts of your document where you want to use them. If you want to change the format of all the tagged areas, you don't have to visit each area individually, the way you do when using manual overrides. Instead, you change the style settings. Instantly, all the areas tagged with that style also are changed.
For example, imagine that you are preparing a 10-page essay for a class. You have decided to use Bitstream Vera Sans with a size of 10 points. An hour before class, you re-read the professor's instructions and find that she only accepts work written with a serif font of 12 points. If you used overrides, you would barely have time to change the font in every paragraph. By contrast, if you used styles, you could change the font to 12 point Bitstream Vera Serif and be ready to re-print your essay in less than a minute. By using styles, you save yourself untold time and effort. You also force yourself to get organized, never a bad thing.
Styles are created by right-clicking on the Styles and Formatting (or Stylist) floating window and selecting New from the pop-up menu.
The advantages of styles are compelling in any office suite. Yet, in OpenOffice.org, they are even more compelling than usual. OpenOffice.org greatly extends the concept of styles. Writer not only has the paragraph and character styles of the average word processor, but it also has styles for pages, lists and frames. What's more, OpenOffice.org makes the concept of styles prominent in other applications, too. Styles in Draw, for example, are a considerable time saver in a graphics project.
This proliferation of styles gives OpenOffice.org more power than rival office suites. However, it also means that if you don't use styles, you won't be able to use many advanced features. They're simply unavailable for use with manual overrides.
Designing a document every time you sat down to write would be overwhelming. Nor would you want everyone working on a project to design his or her own template. In either case, time would be wasted and efforts duplicated. Yet that is what you do every time you start a document using File > New.
Sometimes, of course, you have no choice except to start a new document. However, at the cost of a little planning, you can save enormous time and effort by designing a few templates to meet most of your needs.
Templates are a special category of OpenOffice.org documents that can be used to structure other documents. Templates are not unique to OpenOffice.org. However, because of the program's emphasis on styles, they play a larger role in OOo than in most other office applications. All OpenOffice.org applications except Math use them. Contents also can be stored in them, which is especially important for Impress's Wizard, which lets you choose the structure of a presentation before you start to create it. But the main purpose of templates is to store structure for re-use.
OpenOffice.org comes with a few templates and more can be downloaded. More importantly, you can design your own templates. Designing your own templates begins with thinking about the types of documents that you write. For instance, if you are a student, you might find that you write three main types of documents: essays for classes, informal letters home and formal letters to apply for summer jobs. Therefore, you would want a template for each of these types of documents. Probably, too, you would want to design a generic template for other documents. You could set the generic template as the default, and choose the others as you needed them. Once you create these four templates, save them using File > Templates > Save.
After this initial work, most of your documents already are designed before you have to write them. The only change to your work flow is that instead of starting a document by selecting File > New and a document type, you select File > New > Documents and Templates.
-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)
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