The Perils of MS Word

Our Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Justin Lipton has begun blogging over at From time to time we’ll share Justin’s posts in this blog as well. Here’s his most recent:

A mistake in a Word document has caused considerable damage and embarrassment to a publicly listed company in New Zealand. I recently read this post about an unfortunate comment that was left in a company’s annual financial statement. It reminded me how careful we need to be when using generic tools such as Word to produce documents.

Here are some tips for how to avoid this kind of embarrassment:

Read it before you send it

OK this is really obvious but if you’ve created a document using cut and paste there’s a very good chance it will contain something you don’t want it to. That includes notes and comments too. After you’ve read it, read it again and if it’s important give it to someone else to read and review.

Word Metadata

Metadata is often neglected but it can contain the original author, path, company etc. If you’ve ever based one document on another or used a template that wasn’t created by you this can really bite – particularly if the metadata identifies another client or worse still a competitor. Many companies even have Word macros to strip the metadata out of Word docs when they are opened.

Track Changes

“Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.” Tracking changes is great – it allows you to see how a document evolves: who made changes, what changes and when. Do you really want non-trusted people to see this too? Before sending a document always ensure that track changes is turned off and that all changes have been accepted.

Fast Saves

You may not realize this but later versions of Word have a history feature. With this enabled you can see different versions of your document as you were editing it. OK for you – not so great for the non-trusted recipient who ends up seeing something potentially embarrassing to both you and your company.

Word Output

And finally, don’t use Word output unless you have to. Use Word for writing and editing ad hoc documents but PDF is superior as a final format. Sometimes this may be impractical, but use PDFs whenever you can. For common documents utilize document assembly tools to make your life that much easier and safer.

What tips can you share to help others avoid such perils? Please share in the comments.

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