INDEX BY: Edition / Title
Successful IT Projects in Word
by PM Heathcote
published in 1998 by Payne-Gallway Publishers, 76-78 Christchurch Street, Ipswich IP4 2DE, Tel 01473 251097, Fax 01473 232758,
198pp ISBN 0-9532490-4-2 8.00

Successful IT Projects in Excel
by PM Heathcote
published in 1999 by Payne-Gallway Publishers
212pp ISBN 0-9532490-5-0 8.00

Successful IT Projects in Word and Excel

Pat Heathcote's complementary books on Word and Excel have been prepared with 'A' level Information Technology and GNVQ Advanced coursework in mind. The approach adopted differs from that found in standard reference works on the two applications by providing examples of progressive implementation of features, as they might be incorporated, usefully, in a project. This contrasts with the conventional arrangement in (physically) more weighty tomes in which the reader is provided with a catalogue of "How do I...?" entries. For teachers this is a refreshing way to tackle the material, as it provides a context in which skills and techniques may be learned and developed by their students.

The common authorship of the two books leads to them sitting alongside one another very well. Throughout both there is an adherence to the maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words, and each key point is illustrated by a screen shot or an image of the dialog box or toolbar under discussion. These are clear and of high quality. The presentation is very supportive: you know that you are doing something right if your screen looks like the picture!

Teaching points are explained and then reinforced by a short task. The latter is arranged in bullet points and detailed step by step. In principle the tasks can be undertaken independently of each other. However the progressive nature of the material means that an understanding of some prior point may be assumed. For example, launching into the chapter on Word macros requires an understanding of the workaround arrangement that the author has suggested earlier to cope with the lack of access to the template on a network.

Nevertheless, the level of technical language and the detail provided are pitched exactly right for the target audience. The pace of each book is quite fast and would deter the faint-hearted. There is an underlying assumption that readers will not be troubled by the "basics" of either application. To give Successful IT Projects in Word as an example, by page 26 graphics and gridlines are encountered, and the Advanced Skills are introduced just ten pages later. This would be a steep learning curve for a beginner, but the reasonable assumption must be that an 'A' level candidate has both prior knowledge and enthusiasm. Certainly both volumes are already finding their way successfully into 'A' level Information Technology classrooms. At the same time, although the books will work effectively in a classroom context as "set texts", they are accessible to those, in school or elsewhere, wanting a guide to the two applications for self-study. Again some prior familiarity would be an asset, but a user of an alternative spreadsheet converting to Excel, for instance, would find the pitch of Successful IT Projects in Excel ideal.

The Excel book includes comprehensive coverage of a sample project. This exemplar runs to some 46 pages, which may be a bit daunting for students about to embark on their own projects. However it repays close attention. Many of the pages are anyhow simply pictorial illustrations of the project. Furthermore, not only is there help on the particular software in question but intrinsic to the section there is more general guidance on the presentation of projects at 'A' Level. For instance, the "Choice of Software" notes provide a succinct summary of why Excel is appropriate. It is short, but there is no waffle and it would be difficult for an examiner to resist awarding high marks. Likewise there are notes in the margin throughout the example explaining why particular aspects of the project should be stressed, or presented in a certain way.

By contrast there is no extended project in the Word volume. The explanation given for this omission is that there would be a risk of a sample project constraining students' creativity, and this is understandable. However the more general pointers that have been included in the Excel sample project are valuable and will be appreciated by both the student and teacher. Perhaps their inclusion in just one of the two books is reason enough to buy both!

There is helpful guidance in both books about choosing a project. This takes due cognisance of the fact that 'A' level students are unlikely to have the experience necessary to tackle more ambitious business-related projects, but also makes the point that for high marks the project will need to incorporate advanced features of the respective applications.

The 97 versions of both Word and Excel have been used as the basis for the texts. However, points of difference with Word 7 and Excel 7 have been identified, and even users of Word 6 and Excel 5 will be able to use substantial parts of the books without undue difficulty. Indeed, in Successful IT Projects in Word one section of the book is rewritten specifically for Word 6 users.

Both books offer a wealth of ideas and support for their respective software. This review has been able to mention only a few of them. To do the books justice do look at them for yourself. At only 8.00 each they are well worth it.

[Editor's note: the companion volume using Access is now also available]

Jonathan Allen
Oxford Brookes University