Why I still hate MS Word 18 years later

During the #dhd2016 conference as well as in the course of our study on research practices in the humanities, I could do nothing but note that MS Word remains one, if not the most important digital tool for today’s humanists (I mentioned it in this blogpost in French and in this one in German). Humanists use MS Word to draw schemas and tables, to bibliography, basically for every major research activity.

Hearing this, I was confident that things had changed since my dissertation time. By then, I wrote the whole opus in plain TeX (and will never thank enough my then-boyfriend for developing the macros), because it was clear from the onset that it would become so huge MS Word would not manage it properly. By two volumes of 500 pages each and complex cross-referencing paragraphs along the work, it definitely made sense not to stick to MS Word.

18 years after having started my dissertation work, I am now proceeding to the next (and last possible) qualification step. I decided to do this in the form of the French Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches, which requires from me 3 volumes:

  • a compilation of my most important articles since the dissertation (probably the most voluminous of the three in spite of the fact that what I edited and directed will hardly fit in there)
  • a new book (which is what I am working on right now: I am re-shaping the class I gave last summer and bringing it in book shape)
  • a 100/150 page-long methodological reflection on my evolution since the dissertation (which is why you won’t hear from me or see me between April and July)

In terms of format, I thought of 3 different ones for the different volumes. I will have to copy-paste pdfs for the first volume, put my MS Word-files from last summer together for the second one and will have a third volume in XML/TEI because of the internal cross-referencing which I need to handle in a clean and controllable language.

Right now, I am starting to think that I should do the same for my second volume as well. It is not that big, really, it has only 180 pages (I keep the bibliography separate), but MS Word is already unable to generate the table of contents. Every new footnote (I only have an average of 2-3 very small footnotes on each page, which is not much for a research work) takes 20 seconds to be generated. I keep thinking that the whole thing will completely refuse any kind of formatting soon.

There is another reason why I might switch to clean TEI. Because I intend to publish this book in the summer and I intend to publish it OA. This means that I need it in a format that the publisher will be able to adapt to the different gadgets and from which to generate a good Print On Demand as well. I think the elements are trying to tell me to switch to XML/TEI completely… at some point, you can’t resist progress. Especially when, just like 20 years ago, your text program is still flipping out when you write more than 20 pages.


Cite this article as: Anne Baillot, "Why I still hate MS Word 18 years later," in Digital Intellectuals, 19/03/2016, http://digitalintellectuals.hypotheses.org/2929.

Anne Baillot

I studied German Studies and Philosophy in Paris where I got my PhD in 2002. I then moved to Berlin, where I have been living & doing research ever since. My areas of specialty include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history. I am currently working at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin as an expert in digital technologies for the humanities.

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