Using Microsoft Excel as Word Processor? You Bet!

Few weeks ago, Japanese Slashdot.org put up an article, titled Americans Surprised in Craze, Japanese Using Excel for Graph Paper. Idea is that a lot of Japanese use Microsoft Excel for doing work seems to be more suitable with word processors, such as Microsoft Word. (I personally like OpenOffice.org, but that’s not the point here…)
Indeed, I have seen a lot of people writing anything from concept proposal, to design documents (or specifications) on Excel. Luckily, I haven’t had to edit or maintain any of them.
Somehow, Japanese developed obsession to lines on paper — there are many electronic document they are creating consisting of boxes, which you’d see on IRS forms, just they are everywhere in Japanese documents. (In fact, earlier versions of Japanese Microsoft Word had its own special function to make it — now it should be there universally. OpenOffice.org is slow to adopt some advanced aspects of those features, because this is quite localized requests.)
This maybe due to the fact that Japanese language consists of character in constant size, with no kerning. A lot of Japanese people seem to use spreadsheet applications, for ease of being able to start paragraphs anywhere on the paper.
I haven’t seen anything personally, but apparently, there are people out there who would paste bitmap image on Excel, and send it off to others. (I’ll go nuts if I see that happening!)
I’m strong opponent of using Excel (or any spreadsheet application) for making document. There are some valid reasons to it.

  1. Spreadsheet application can’t define hierarchical structure of the document. Which means the resulting document will not have structured heading, contents, or sub-headings.
  2. Cross referencing is nearly impossible. Mostly, coming from the fact above. If there are no structure, it cannot be defined. If you think you can define it as a position of a cell, read on.
  3. It is nearly impossible to retain structural information without extensive repair, should the document needs to be updated. Any primitive aspect of the document, including line break needs to be adjusted manually. (you could put the contents on one big cell to solve this problem by having line wrap take care of this, but doing this defeats whole purpose of the spreadsheet supporters trying to achieve using spreadsheet to do word processing.)
  4. Printing is nightmare. If you try to print it, especially across different paper sizes, or even different printing environment (fonts, etc.) this will be nightmare.

So what do I recommend? Do it on word processing applications! Well, it is practiced mostly in Japan, so I guess saying this in English wouldn’t help much. Though, there are now a lot of Japanese website that showing strong opposition of using Excel for this purpose, it seems like this is strong trend, and I feel sorry for opponents living in Japan…

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