People like Microsoft Word. It is easy to use and widely available. So you end up working on teams where lots of technical documents are created as Word documents. Things like project standards, procedures, tutorials, use cases, requirements, meeting minutes, etc.
I contend that project-related documentation should be designed for easy collaboration. Word documents are easy for the original author to create, but lousy for collaboration.
Some technical complaints…
Word docs are binary. This means they don’t play well with version control tools. It is next to impossible to determine what changed between successive revisions of binary files. You also end up in situations where only one person at a time can update the document. If concurrent edits occur, you have to merge changes manually.
Word docs are slow. When documentation lives in a web site, you just click on hyperlinks and view HTML in your browser. Although you can embed links to Word docs in your HTML, those docs can get quite large and take too much time to load.
Linking is lousy. With HTML, you can cross-reference docs quite easily. Word docs are much more self-contained, making it very difficult to cross reference a specific portion of a given document.
Searching is lousy. As you build a library of project documentation, how do you search for information when it is scattered across lots of isolated Word documents?
etc…I could really come up with a lot more reasons why the most popular documentation tool introduces lots of problems, but I’m running out of time. So here is an alternative.
I believe tools like TWiki offer an excellent alternative to Word documents for many kinds of documentation. I suspect that most non-technical people haven’t been exposed to Wikis and don’t know what they are missing. Why not set up a Wiki for your next project and see how it goes?
NOTE: I’m picking on Word, but this same set of arguments is equally applicable to any word processor. While word processors are good for creating formatted documents easily, they are not the best choice for creating a “web” of easily accessible and maintainable project documentation.