Natural synthetic? Really?

July 23, 2014

Spotted in the local hardware store:


Perhaps they meant ‘natural-looking synthetic grass mat’? But ‘natural synthetic’? It’s either natural or it’s synthetic — it can’t be both as these words are antonyms of each other.

On the side it at least says ‘lifelike’, but then says ‘soft & natural’.

Natural-looking and natural-feeling it may be, but ‘natural’ it’s not.


Dealing with spans of numbers and symbols related to numbers

July 22, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues…


Below is a scanned image of a page from the Australian Style Manual, detailing how to deal with spans of numbers and other numbering conventions (click on it to view it larger).


Some of the terms used on this page maybe unfamiliar to you, so here’s an explanation of those terms (plus some others), along with the Microsoft Word (for Windows) keyboard commands to insert them, where available.

Please note: Keyboard numerals and other keys with an asterisk (*) can ONLY be used on the numeric keypad, NOT the numbers across the top of the keyboard, and if there’s an Alt prefix, you must hold down the Alt key while pressing the numbers in sequence.


Term Looks like How to get it (menu) How to get it (keyboard) Notes
Hyphen, dash, subtraction - (standard keys) (standard keys) Use a hyphen for separating hyphenated words, such as compound adjectives, e.g. five-year plan
En rule (also known as [aka] ‘en dash’), minus Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters tab Alt+0150 * or Ctrl+- * or type two hyphens immediately after a word (no spaces) followed by the next word Slightly longer than a hyphen; use for spans of numerals or words, e.g. 100–150 m, north–south orientation
Em rule (aka ‘em dash’) Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters tab Alt+0151 * or Ctrl+Alt+- *or type three hyphens immediately after a word (no spaces) followed by the next word Longer than an en dash; use instead of parentheses or commas for inserting extra information in a sentence; e.g. … The main vessels—the LMN and ABC—are considered…
Non-breaking space ° Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Special Characters tab Ctrl+Shift+<spacebar> Can only be seen if show formatting is turned on; looks like a degree symbol, but does NOT print; forces a value and its unit of measure to stay together even when a line wrap might normally separate them. Always use between values and their units of measure; e.g. 50 km.
Multiplication sign × Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 3rd bottom row of (normal text) list Alt+0215 * You can use a lower or upper case ‘x’, but ‘x’ is not a true multiplication sign.
Division sign ÷ Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: bottom row of (normal text) list Alt+0247 * You can use a / to indicate division, but / can be used for other purposes, so use the division sign instead.
Plus/minus sign ± Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 9th row of (normal text) list Alt+0177 * You can use +/- instead, though it’s not as neat as ±.
Superscript number m3 Home > Font > Superscript check box Ctrl+Shift+= Select the text to superscript, then apply the formatting. If you grab extra characters, either turn off the superscripting the same way, or press Ctrl+<spacebar> to return that text to its default.
Subscript number CO2 Home > Font > Subscript check box Ctrl+= As for superscripting (above)
Degree symbol ° Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 9th row of (normal text) list (Word 2007 and 2010 at least) Alt+0176 * Be careful you don’t choose the symbol on the 10th row of the symbol list—the correct degree symbol is on the 9th row next to the ± sign.
Greater than or equal to (see instructions below this table) (see instructions below this table) Don’t use >=.
Less than or equal to (see instructions below this table) (see instructions below this table) Don’t use <=.
Micron/mu µ Insert > Symbol > More Symbols > Symbols tab: 9th row of (normal text) list Alt+0181 * Don’t use ‘u’.

For mathematical symbols such as ‘greater than or equal to’ (≥), there’s a setting you can turn on in Word that will convert characters such as >= to the correct symbol (i.e. ≥). It’s not turned on by default—you have to turn it on.

  1. Click the File tab (top left of the Word window).
  2. Click Options (near the bottom of the list on the left).
  3. Select Proofing on the left.
  4. Click the AutoCorrect Options button (top right).
  5. Select the Math AutoCorrect tab.
  6. Check the box to Use Math AutoCorrect rules outside of math regions. If you scroll down the list you can see what will be automatically converted—the ones for the ‘greater than or equal to’ example above are at the very end of the list.
  7. Click OK twice to exit Word Options.

(Note: These Word Options settings don’t carry across to Outlook or other Office programs, but you can turn this Math AutoCorrect setting on in Outlook the same way using Outlook’s Editor Options.)



July 21, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues…


Bottom line: Hyphen ‘rules’ are all over the place. So check first!

I use the online (Australian) Macquarie Dictionary all the time to check words while I’m editing. I check hyphenation far more often than spelling.

The ‘rules’ about when to use a hyphen or not are all over the place in the dictionary, the Australian Style Manual, etc. Before applying these ‘rules’, you need to know which words in the phrase are nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc., and who has time to remember all that (assuming you were taught it at school in the first place)?

Now there’s a ‘cheat sheet’ for you (if you can call a 10-page table a ‘cheat sheet’!), put out by the Chicago Manual of Style: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/16/images/ch07_tab01.pdf (if this link doesn’t work for you, go to http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org, search for ‘hyphenation’, then click the link for the PDF of the Hyphenation Table)

While this ‘cheat sheet’ is US-based, most of the ‘rules’ in this table also apply to the Australian situation; the Australian Style Manual and Macquarie Dictionary align with nearly all of them. However, there are some exceptions:

  • The Australian Style Manual says that compass points/directions are hyphenated (e.g. south-east).
  • Macquarie Dictionary and the Australian Style Manual have most ‘non’ words hyphenated.
  • ‘e’ words like ‘email’ are still slipping and sliding between being hyphenated or closed, with the recent trend to closed.

There are a few other minor differences in the examples given, such as ‘percent’ vs ‘per cent’ (Australian Style Manual preference), and ‘p.m.’ vs ‘pm’ (Australian Style Manual preference), and the reference to Webster’s Dictionary, whereas our [project's] dictionary of choice is Macquarie. But in the main, this ‘cheat sheet’ should cover almost all situations that we come across in our documents.


  •  Snooks & Co. 2002. Style manual for authors, editors and printers. 6th ed. John Wiley and Sons/Commonwealth of Australia. (ISBN 0 7016 3648 3)
  • Macquarie Dictionary: www.macquariedictionary.com.au

[Links last checked July 2014]


Word: Turn off Track Changes before updating fields

July 18, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues…


Try to remember to turn off track changes before you update any fields in your document. If you don’t, things like automated caption numbering, the table of contents, the list of tables/figures, automated cross-references, etc. will all show tracked changes.

If you forget, don’t panic! Turn off track changes and update the fields again—that will get rid of most of the field update track changes so you won’t have to accept/reject hundreds of them manually.

Hint: A quick and easy way to turn track changes on and off is by pressing Ctrl+Shift+E.


Word: Turn off ‘track formatting’ in Track Changes

July 17, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues…


Are all your formatting changes tracked when you have track changes in Word turned on?

Most of the time you don’t need these formatting balloons cluttering up your document and adding to your stress levels. Here’s how to turn off track formatting, while still keeping track changes on for insertions/deletions etc.:

  1. Go to the Review tab > Track Changes drop-down arrow > Change Tracking Options.
  2. Clear the Track Formatting check box, then click OK.




Microsoft Office: Quick Access Toolbar: Productivity benefits, how to customize it

July 15, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues…


Bottom Line: Spend a few minutes setting up your Quick Access Toolbar to save time in the long run

One of the things that happened when Microsoft Office 2007 applications, such as Word, changed to the ‘ribbon’ interface was that users couldn’t easily find the things they knew well in earlier versions of Office. Even with all the functions of the ribbon, it’s still hard to remember where a feature lives, or it’s time-consuming (and thus unproductive) to go hunting for a feature you use regularly by switching to a different tab on the ribbon, finding the icon, switching to another tab, hunting for another icon etc., or clicking through several dialog boxes just to turn a check box on or off.

Microsoft must have realised that this ribbon ‘hunt and peck’ process was unproductive because they implemented something called the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT). Some people use it a lot, but I suspect that many don’t even realize it’s there or that it can be customized to suit the way you work. By adding your own icons to the QAT, you don’t have to go hunting for features you use regularly. (Of course, keyboard shortcuts are even more productive, but not every function has a keyboard command associated with it, though you can add one – see the list of resources at the end of this tip.)

So what is the QAT? It’s that skinny toolbar that sits above your ribbon in Word and other Office applications. Here’s the default QAT in Excel 2007 – notice that it sits above the ribbon and has just three icons – save, undo, and redo (only available after you’ve undone something):


And here’s my customized QAT in Word – yes, it’s big! (click on it to see it full size):


Note: Your QAT in Excel is different from your QAT in Word, so changing your settings in one application won’t affect the other.

I have my Word QAT positioned below the ribbon so I don’t have to move the mouse quite as far – another productivity saving if you’re a heavy mouse user.

Many of the icons I use when editing a document are on my QAT – things like certain macros, styles list, the highlighter tool, the page margin tool, the next and previous buttons for header/footer sections, the option to keep the selected paragraph with the next one and another to add a page break before the selected paragraph, turn on/off track changes, switch from ‘Show Markup’ to Final’ view, etc. etc. If I had to select the correct ribbon, then the icon for each of these it would take me much longer to edit a document. By having my commonly used functions sitting on the QAT, I don’t have to hunt them down. As an example, if I’m checking headers and footers for each landscape and portrait section, I need the next and previous section functions (both on the Review tab), but I also need the page margin tool, which is on the Page Layout tab. By putting those three icons next to each other on my QAT, I’ve got them immediately available as I’m checking the sections.

On your QAT, you can:

  • specify whether you want the QAT to sit above or below the ribbon (‘above’ is the default; I find ‘below’ saves time)
  • add icons for your commonly used actions.


  1. Click the tiny drop-down arrow at the far right of your QAT [(1) in the screen shot below).
  2. Select which of the most common actions you want to show on your QAT [(2) in the screen shot below).
  3. Select whether you want your QAT to sit below the ribbon [(3) in the screen shot below); ‘above’ is the default.
  1. To add other icons than the very common ones, select More Commands ([3] in the screen shot).
  2. On the Word Options window (below), select a command group [4], then a command [5], then click Add [6] to add it to your QAT [7].
  3. Repeat Step 5 for all other commands you want to add.
  4. Once you’ve added your commands, you can rearrange them using the up/down arrows on the right of your QAT list.
  5. When you’ve finished, click OK. You can always change this list by following Steps 1 and 4 to 7 at a later time.


Finally, if you change computers, or want to put the same QAT that you have on your computer onto your laptop, or share it with someone else, then follow these instructions for copying your QAT: http://wordribbon.tips.net/T009920_Copying_the_Quick_Access_Toolbar.html

Other resources:

[Links last checked July 2014]




Be sure: Assure, ensure, or insure

July 14, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues… I adapted this succinct advice from an online discussion topic I was privy to.


Assure, ensure, and insure generally all mean ‘to make secure or certain’. However, they are distinguished by their level of specificity:

  • Ensure means ‘to guarantee’ and is the least specific of the three. Example: Installing this new piece of equipment will ensure that our deadlines are met.
  • Assure is more precise; it mostly means ‘to guarantee a person (of something)’. Example: The dispatcher assured me that it had been sent.
  • Insure means ‘to guarantee a person or property against financial loss’. Example: The facility was insured against ‘an act of God’.

In summary:

  • assure relates to people
  • ensure relates to things
  • insure relates to money

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