Top 10 Desktop Publishing Tips and Tricks!
Colleen Jolly, PPF.APMP, 24 Hour Company

Desktop Publishing is a tricky skill set, done mostly in Microsoft Word and completed often in the middle of the night. Here are 10 tips to use on your next proposal to make your production-life (and your team’s!) a little easier.

1. Be Compliant
The first and most important tip is to be compliant! Check your solicitation or bid specifications and make sure to capture all that information. If the RFP says all text must be single-spaced, Times New Roman then you must use that! In Federal Bids this information is typically in Section L while commercial bids may have some information directly from a customer.

In lieu of any solicitation specifications, check with your sales, business development, and capture teams or managers to find out what the real project needs or wants are and what the real aesthetic likes and dislikes are. If you do not have a lot of that information try two things. First, the “Sherlock Holmes Approach” – see if you can visit your potential client’s office and take cues from the visuals and the style in his or her office. Do they have pictures of their travels, a lot of clutter, or are they very neat? If that is not possible then check out their website for colors and key words.

Finally, make sure to check if you must follow any corporate styles or guidelines – some organizations have very specific templates you must adhere to – as well as any individual preferences. It is often hard to distinguish our personal preferences from those that are more client-appropriate. Always confirm you are providing materials in the way the client prefers. If you hate yellow but that is their corporate color, then your proposal should have yellow in it!

2. Be Consistent
Second only to compliance is consistency in importance for how we portray our documents and our organizations.

Consistency breeds trust – you always know what to expect. Imagine traveling in a foreign country, particularly one where you do not speak the language, and you see a familiar sign. You run to it because you are worried that if you try something else you may wind up eating cow brains when all you wanted was an omelet.
McDonalds and its “golden arches” are some of the most recognizable marketing and branding anywhere in the world. While the menus and the prices change slightly for regional tastes and preferences, you are assured entering any

McDonalds and its “golden arches” are some of the most recognizable marketing and branding anywhere in the world. While the menus and the prices change slightly for regional tastes and preferences, you are assured entering any McDonalds, whether it be London, Thailand, or Pakistan, that you will have similar food, for similar prices with a similar level of service that you have come to expect back home.

So what does this mean for proposals? This means templates. Create a standard, for at least this effort if not for all your proposals, that specifies everything from font type and size to color to header and footer information and really more things than you could possibly think to put in a template. This ensures that anyone working on the project will create all the text and the images in the same way.

Anytime you randomly change the style or the color of something, the audience perceives this as a change in meaning. In reality you were just “tired of blue” or “too tired to update all the old tables.” What your client sees is unprofessionalism or gets so wrapped up in wondering why the table on this page is pink and all the others are blue that they completely miss your message.

Don’t let this happen! Make a template and stick to it.

3. Do Not Use Auto-numbering
Auto-numbering is the devil. End of Tip 3. =)

Automation is wonderful. Using all your available tools or investing in new tools to make your life easier and make proposals go faster is also wonderful. BUT this should be done cautiously.

Microsoft has many active versions of Word and of their operating systems (Vista, XP, 7, Windows 98, etc.) all over the world or even in one company’s office. There are slightly different MS Office versions for Macs and PCs. MS Word in the Office Suite on a PC running Windows is industry standard but it is far from perfect or really standard.

If you work by yourself or if you are the last formatter before the document is published then use auto-numbering. If, however, you are working with a large or dispersed team, particularly if they are on different machines with possibly different operating systems and versions of Word, then manually number your document.

4. Do Not Modify Graphics in Word
Your graphics professional has created graphics to the RFP specifications so that the image can be dropped in at 100% scale and fit perfectly.

Resist the urge to squish any graphics in Word! Even a little bit! That little bit will change your font size and could potentially make you non-compliant and you could lose on a silly technicality. Which would be very, very, bad.

Reviewers may (and have!) actually measure the type in your proposal to winnow down the stack of proposals to review and immediately disqualify you.

Always develop for exactly the physical size you need as well as the resolution. Most office or quick turn type printers generate a sufficient quality when the graphics are exported at 150-200 dpi. Any lower and you may have fuzziness around your text. Any higher and your file can become bloated and difficult to manage, print, or upload/email to a client.

A written graphic (one going into a Word document) is sized to fit perfectly within the margins. If the RFP specifies 1 inch margins then that is the page size, minus 1 inch for the right margin and another 1 inch for the left making it 6.5 inches maximum width for an 8.5x11 page. The height is the same – 11 inches minus 1 inch for the top and 1 for the bottom and a little bit of space for the action caption or other exhibition listing or ~8.75 inches for maximum height.

An orals slide (one going into a PowerPoint Presentation) is sized to fit a slide, which around the world is 10 inches by 7.5 inches. We recommend developing those graphics either entirely in PowerPoint, whenever possible, or to build the slide in another graphics software package on the exact image slide background so you can correctly anticipate spacing.

5. Be Speedy
Perhaps the most important thing in proposals, even more important than getting it perfect, is getting it done on time. You are often under an extreme amount of pressure to finish the proposal quickly so you want to use the features in Word (or other parts of the MS Office Suite) to create beautiful documents, fast.

Use shortcut keys – all those built-in standards such as copy, paste, and undo. Then define your own “Quick Keys.” These are like short cut keys but user-defined, can be tied to styles, and can be found under your “Modify” in your Styles dialog box. Quick keys for commands or actions that are not styles (such as inserting a table or a text box) can also be assigned and are located near the toolbar set up (different on different versions of Word).

Create your own toolbar! If you do not like using quick keys then create your own toolbar and just click on the icons on that toolbar rather than having to navigate drop down menus.

The benefit of these techniques is an increase in consistency and efficiency. If everyone on your team knows that the quick key to insert a picture is CTRL+8 and it is saved on every machine in your office then you are actually saving time and creating repeatable processes.

Macros are another great way to speed up standard actions. But beware – hackers often hide malicious code in macros and macros can stop working or be difficult to debug or recreate. If you are an expert or know any experts, use them. If you are a novice user, stick to the other options.

6. Use Uniquely Named Styles
Do not use the styles that Word provides as standard – make your own standards. Use your client, project, company, or some other identifier when creating styles in Word. Make a new style (that can be based on the standard “Normal”) and name that style something unique such as “BI Heading 1,” “BI Normal.” This will ensure that your styles will not be overwritten. They will travel to another person’s machine just fine because they are different. Regular “Normal” may be very different (in font, line spacing, etc.) from one machine to another and could impact your document formatting.
Once you have your uniquely named styles set up, assign them quick keys and be extra speedy AND consistent when formatting your documents.

7. Save and Save Often
Save multiple versions of a document. Save them by hour if you are getting concerned about the stability of the file. Veteran desktop publishers know that .doc files sense when its almost delivery time and “blow up” at inopportune moments.

Make sure you maintain version control. There are many great software and document management programs that do this for you, but most importantly remember to use common sense. Be aware of who has access to the file and be clear about when that access is no longer available. Be firm about “pens down” and other deadlines.

*Trick: If your file claims its corrupted in MS Word 2003 try opening it in 2007. The new features in 2007 recognize that a file is corrupt and then attempt to fix it. 

8. Double Check Your Work
Work with “non-printing characters” turned on. This option is hiding in a couple of different places depending on your version of Word but is most likely under “Preferences.” This allows you to see Section breaks, paragraph returns, spaces, etc. and can be invaluable in troubleshooting why something is not doing what you want or expect it to do.

Have someone else check your work. While it is important to confirm the document looks right, make sure that it is set up correctly as well. It is very easy to cheat in Word and not create something that is technically correct or easy for someone else to edit or update. Use uniquely named styles and set things up correctly, such as using tabs and not hitting space bar a hundred times to get the line to break the way you want.

9. Over Estimate
“Oh, I’ll just take it to Kinkos.”

“Oh, our production folks don’t mind coming in at 1am on the 4th of July.”

These and hundreds of other similarly naïve phrases are because people do not schedule or that they simply do not know how to schedule.

Fact: things always take longer than you expect.

Assume at least 1 page per minute for full color printing and then double that time (if you can) for the unexpected. Assume that it will take ~4 hours per graphic which includes time to set up a template, do iterations, communicate with the graphics resource, etc. Assume even with all the great tools and new efficiencies your desktop publishers can format ~8 pages per hour. Does that seem low? Maybe. But like graphics it gives a little breathing room for the unexpected.

Make sure everyone knows your timeline – especially if you are not co-located. Key vendors or other team members may not be working with the same level of urgency simply because they do not realize how close the deadline is. If you receive an extension, similarly let everyone involved know. Some vendors may need to reschedule other clients or have a conflict – the more time you have to plan for the unexpected the easier physical production becomes.

10. Everything That Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong
The first recorded reference to Murphy’s Law was in 1841 in an Ohio Newspaper:

I never had a slice of bread,
Particularly large and wide,
That did not fall upon the floor,
And always on the buttered side.

Murphy is entrenched in bids – he is in every paper jam, every email-gremlin, and every tab printed upside down.

The only defense against Murphy is to plan as best you can, prepare yourself and your team, and then to know that something will always go wrong. If you are prepared though, it will not go “horribly” wrong, hopefully just “comically” wrong.

I hope these tips help! Please call or email me with questions or with your own tips and tricks. Word is a finicky tool and deadlines scare it!

Colleen Jolly, PPF.APMP, a 10+ year proposal veteran, manages a global professional proposal graphic company, 24 Hour Company, with offices in the US and UK. Colleen is very active in the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) including Layout Editor for the APMP Journal and regularly contributes articles. She is a frequent worldwide speaker and trainer on creative and general business topics. She also manages the online APMP Special Interest Group/ Community of Interest on information graphics, a joint effort between National Capital Area and UK chapters. She holds a BA from Georgetown University, and is active in leadership roles and Board positions in arts and women’s non-profit organizations, including being a South East of England Woman’s Enterprise Ambassador. Colleen is an award- winning artist and business professional—most recently as a receipt of a 2010 British Airways business grant supporting face-to-face business, and as a finalist for the Stevie Awards Creative Professional of the Year, 2009. Her company won entry into Inc. 5,000’s Fast Growing Companies in 2007 and she has been published three times in a women’s entrepreneurial calendar.

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