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Format Your Documents

When I started working for the labor department in a Career Center a few years ago, I noticed that the file formatting of documents was causing a lot of problems among job applicants, clients, counselors and employers. Counselors reported that they would receive documents from clients through e-mail, but they would not open. Clients would bring in their résumés on portable storage devices that they had written at home in the WordPerfect program that could not be opened on our public computers that were only loaded with Microsoft Word. Employers could not open files from job applicants, because they didn’t have the correct programs on their computers. Some people were forced into getting MS Office programs, because they didn’t have the correct compatibilities. The list goes on and on, but I think you get the picture.

In short, it was a problem that cost a lot of people a lot of time, money and job opportunities. And even worse, it had a surprisingly simple solution, which I am going to share with you today so you never have to run into a situation like the ones described above.

Since I have freelanced quite a bit over the years, I have loaded Works, MS Office, Corel (with WordPerfect), Quark and whatever else I needed for software on my PC. Now, I am by no means a techie, because if I were, I probably would have known this solution quite a long time ago. (My embarrassment is short lived, however, because no one else at my place of employment knew it either!) So, I sat in front of my PC one night with all my wonderful software icons and thought, “There has to be a way to get these programs to talk to each other.” (At the very least, you’d certainly expect Microsoft programs to be able to talk to each other!)

The answer lay in formatting the file. Let’s say that you’ve written a document, such as a letter or résumé, and you want to send it to Jane Counselor and Joe Employer, who have who knows what for software on their own respective computers. A lot of home PCs, for example, come bundled with Microsoft Works. Let’s say you open Works and decide to use the Word Processor.

Here you’ll start composing, for our purposes in this tip, a letter.

Your letter will be far better than mine, of course, but it gives you an idea of how this will work. Once you have written your document, you will need to save it.

You’ll notice here that when you go to File, Save As, Works defaults (or automatically goes) to a file type (under “Save as type”) called “Works WP.” You can see that in this instance, I also have other Works Word Processing files saved. See the little pencil and paper icon to the left of the file names? That means those are Works files. Let’s give this document a File name of “EmployerLetter.”

If you send this document as this type of file, it will probably be called “EmployerLetter.wps.” That “wps” file extension means that it is a Microsoft Works Word Processing program document, but here’s the thing: It will only open in Microsoft Works. That means if the recipient doesn’t have Works, he or she cannot open your file.

Let’s see how this works with WordPerfect 9 in Corel, for another example.

Here we’ve started our letter in WordPerfect. Now, let’s save the file.

WordPerfect wants to save it as a WordPerfect file (or “wpd” extension), of course. That will be fine, as long as the recipient has WordPerfect. They might not. So, now let’s look at the workaround (and no, it’s not to run to the store and buy different software). We’re going to name this file “EmployerLetter2,” but we’re also going to look at some options under the File type options. After you’ve typed in your file name, notice that there is a drop down list (a little black arrow) in the File type field. Click on it and you will see a list of options.

Check it out! Just because WordPerfect defaults to saving your document as a WordPerfect file format, it does not mean you must save it as a WordPerfect file. Let’s choose Rich Text Format (RTF) as our file type instead.

Click Save and your document is saved as Rich Text Format or with an “rtf” file extension.
Now, let’s go back and look at the Microsoft Works document. You can still call it “EmployerLetter,” but let’s look at the file types we can choose to save it as.

There’s the RTF again! It doesn’t say “Rich Text Format” here, but trust me, it is. Let’s choose that.

You’ll notice that the icons next to the file names are no longer the Works pencil and paper, but are now something more familiar. Perhaps, something that looks like Microsoft Word? Let’s check out Word.

Here is a Microsoft Word document. Let’s save that just for fun.

Here the employer is saving a document in Word and of course, it is defaulting to save it as a Word document with the familiar .doc file extension on it. But, Word has options as well.

There is the Rich Text Format again! It’s a common file “language” that these programs all speak. So, if our employer has Microsoft Word open, let’s see if they can open the Works letter, which we called “EmployerLetter.”

There it is! How about WordPerfect’s “EmployerLetter2″?

There it is!

If you’re unsure whether the recipient of your document is using the same word processing software you are when you e-mail a document, the best way to be sure they can open it is to use Rich Text Format (or RTF), which is a universal file format. You will find it in the drop down list under “File type” when you give your file a name. It will save you all a ton of time and hassle!

~ Lisa Shaw