Word or PowerPoint: Which one is right for writing? It depends.

The past few weeks have given me a lot to consider when it comes to selecting the right tool for writing.

These days, nearly all corporate documents are created in Word or PowerPoint. (On my own I’d write in Pages or InDesign, but since this will be a shared document I have to conform.) Each has different pros and cons: Word offers always-useful style sheets and doesn’t try to force everything into a bullet. On the other hand, wrangling page layout in Word always feels like doing battle. PowerPoint makes it easier to customize your layout and includes decent drawing tools. On the other hand, slides equalize hierarchy and content in ways that can affect the story. It’s a toss up.

A major feature of writing in slide deck format is your content is organized in single pages, which focuses your attention on one topic at a time. For the large project in front of me, I chose PowerPoint because I thought it would make it more manageable. Instead, I felt stuck. I wasn’t making progress and didn’t know why. After observation, it seemed the slide breaks were trapping me on the page, making me less able to think flexibly and move between sections. And when I did move to a new section, I felt like I was starting over from scratch. (This may be related to the “doorway effect” where leaving rooms purges memory.)

Once I started over using the continuous form of Word, my mind became unstuck. Now everything is coming together nicely.

The mind is a tricky thing. What worked this time may not work next. But this week at least, I needed to swim in the whole, complex picture instead of following common wisdom and breaking it down into smaller pieces.

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