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Word: Find a year followed by a comma and replace with a semicolon

November 22, 2017

Another early morning question posed on Facebook…

The person was trying to use Word’s wildcard find and replace to convert all strings of Authorname nnnn, Authorname nnnn, Authorname nnnn, Authorname nnnn (i.e. any author’s name, followed by a 4-digit number for a year, such as Smith 2005, Jones 1997, etc., followed by a comma, followed by another author’s name etc.). He wanted to convert all the comma separators to semicolons, ending up with Authorname nnnn; Authorname nnnn; Authorname nnnn; Authorname nnnn. (I’ve italicised the text for clarity — it wasn’t in his original.)

Wildcard find/replace is all about finding the pattern and then figuring out how best to interpret that pattern in a meaningful way in how you search for what you want, and how you replace it with what you want.

In this example, an author name always ends in a lower case letter, is followed by a space, then four numbers for the year, a comma, a space, then an upper case letter for the next author’s name. The last item in the list doesn’t quite match the pattern (no comma, space, upper case letter following it),  but that one doesn’t need to change so we can ignore that variation to the pattern. He wanted to keep everything except the comma, which he wanted to change to a semicolon.

Here’s how I solved it using Word’s wildcard find and replace  (there may be a more elegant solution, but this one worked for me):

  • Find: ([0-9]{4})(,)( )([A-Z]) 
  • Replace: \1;\3\4

If you need to use this, I suggest you copy it as there’s a space in the third set of parentheses that you can’t see.

How this works:

  • Find: Look for any number from 0 to 9 [0-9] that has 4 digits {4} — this is the first element and is surrounded by parentheses. Then look for a comma (another element, so also surrounded by parens). Next look for a space (wow, more parens), and finally look for any upper case letter [A-Z] and as it’s a unique element, surround it by parens too.
  • Replace: Replace the first element (the 4-digit number) with itself (that’s the \1 bit), then a semicolon, then replace the third and fourth elements of the find with themselves (e.g. \3\4).

You keep everything you don’t want to change (elements 1, 3, and 4) and only change the second element by typing a semicolon in between elements 1 and 3.

 

 

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Word: Wildcard replace with a backslash

November 22, 2017

This morning, well before I was properly awake, I solved a problem someone had posed on a Facebook group I’m in. They had an issue getting Word’s wildcard find and replace to do what they wanted and had asked members of the group to help. I’m writing this up for my own future reference as there’s some information in here about the peculiarities of the backslash character that I may need to use again in the future. [Random fact: The backslash character is known by several names, including the reverse virgule and the reverse solidus.]

The person was trying to find an easy way to find all instances of 3x and replace with 3\x\. Actually, she was trying to do more than that — if she’d only been looking for that, then a normal find/replace should work. For the rest of the string, however, she really needed to use wildcards. Where she was getting stuck was defining the Find correctly, and then the Replace.

Here’s my solution (using wildcards):

  • Find: (3)(x) 
  • Replace: \1^92\2^92

How this works:

  • First, look for 3 followed immediately by x. I separated them in the Find string with parentheses so that I could treat them as separate elements in the Replace string.
  • Next, for the replace, type \1 to replace the first element (the 3) with itself, then type ^92 to add a backslash character (you can’t type a \ as that won’t work), then \2 to replace the second element of the Find with itself (i.e. the x), then another ^92 for a final backslash character.

Two things to note:

  • The backslash is an escape character in a Find, so if you need to find one, you need to surround it with square brackets and ‘escape’ it — i.e. [\\] in a Find.
  • The backslash is a special character in Replace too as it designates the element you want to replace with itself. Instead, you have to use ^92 in place of a \.

 

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Word: Print Comments only

November 14, 2017

You can print comments and track changes with a document easily enough, but what if you JUST want to print the comments in a Word document?

It’s a bit fiddly, but it can be done. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Word document that has comments.
  2. Go to the Review tab.
  3. Click the drop-down arrow next to the Show markup button.
  4. Turn off everything except Comments. You can only turn them off one at a time, so you’ll have to do the previous step and this one several times to turn off all the options except Comments. When you’re finished, only Comments should have a check mark next to it.
  5. Go to File > Print.
  6. Under Settings, the default to Print all pages. You don’t want that, so click the drop-down next to those words.
  7. Select List of Markup. Note: The Print Markup option at the bottom of the list should be ticked; if it’s not, select it too.
  8. Choose your printer as you normally, then click Print.

If you want to print out just one reviewer’s comments, repeat the steps above. When you get to Step 4, follow those instructions and then select Specific people from the Show Markup list and choose the person or people whose comments you want to print. Once you’ve done that, continue on from Step 5 above.

NOTE: I couldn’t find how to print just the comments in a Word document converted to PDF. Adobe Acrobat doesn’t recognise Word’s comments as comments, only its own.

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ASTC 2017 Conference

November 12, 2017

I attended and spoke at the Australian Society for Technical Communication (ASTC) 2017 Conference, held for the past two days in Sydney. Although it was a small conference with only one track for sessions, it had lots of valuable information presented, and the small size allowed for more regular and personal interaction among the attendees.

There was a great mix of sessions — from highly technical information, to case studies, to new ideas and approaches. I usually take notes of the sessions I attend, but this time the super-smart Sarah Maddox was also attending and speaking, and she takes far more comprehensive notes than I ever could. So if you want to read about the sessions, head over to Sarah’s blog and check out her summary of the conference, and the links to her blog posts for each session: http://ffeathers.wordpress.com/2017/11/12/technical-communicators-conference-2017-wrapup/

[Link last checked November 2017]

 

 

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Word: Switch the number and punctuation order

October 29, 2017

On another blog post, Peter asked for some help:

I have hundreds of superscript characters (not footnote markers) that have a space before them and punctuation (periods and commas only) after them. I’m trying to delete the space and move the punctuation in front of it.

You can do this using a find/replace with wildcards. However, the instructions below DON’T differentiate between numbers that are superscripted and numbers that aren’t, so it will switch those too. If you don’t have any instances of <space>single ordinary number<period or comma>, then you should be fine. I suggest you try this on a COPY of your document and make sure you get what you want and nothing more, before using it on your main document.

Steps:

  1. Press Ctrl+H to open the Find and Replace dialog box.
  2. Click More, then select the Use wildcards option.
  3. In the Find field, type: ( )([0-9])([.,])
    (Note: There’s a space between the first set of parentheses. Because you have hundreds of these, there’s a good chance that you won’t have just single digit numbers. For multi-digit numbers, type this instead: ( )([0-9]@)([.,])
  4. In the Replace field, type: \3\2
  5. Click Find Next then click Replace. Repeat.

(Note: Only click Replace All if you are certain that no other ordinary numbers will be affected.)

What you are doing here is looking for a space (item 1), followed by any single digit number (item 2), followed by either a period or a comma (item 3). Then you’re replacing that string with the period or comma (item 3) then the number (item 2).

 

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Work in the office? Not me!

October 26, 2017

Nearly 11 years ago we moved from the city (Perth) to a country town in regional Western Australia. At the time, we were three hours’ driving distance from Perth (each way), so working in client offices was no longer an option. Both my regular clients at the time were happy for me to work from home and telecommute — they knew me, they knew how I worked, and they knew my work ethic and productivity. Because I worked for both part-time (2 days a week for one, 3 days a week for the other), they knew that I didn’t need to be in the office all the time. After those two contracts finished, I got a contract with a big client and my terms of working for them has always been based on telecommuting.

Three years after the big move to the country we moved to another area in regional Western Australia, but now I was about 90 minutes’ drive from the city. My big client didn’t really seem to know or care — I just continued working for them three days a week from home, as I always had. And that arrangement continues today. I’ve set foot in their Perth office fewer than 10 times in nearly 10 years. It works very well for me, and it must work OK for them too as my initial 3-month contract has been renewed year after year, so that now I’m nearly 10 years in.

So why write this blog post now? It came about because a tech writer friend of mine (who lives 60 miles north of downtown Chicago) was told by a recruiter that ‘the commute isn’t so bad’. Now, Chicago’s a BIG city, and while I’m sure it has lots of infrastructure (like regular train services etc.), the reality is that his commute would actually be horrendous — effectively adding at least 4 hours to his work day if he took the job in downtown Chicago. And for him, there’s horrible weather to deal with for several months of the year.

I decided to check out what it would cost in travel time and money if I was asked to physically work in an office in Perth…

I live 160 km (100 miles) from Perth. The first hour of driving gets me to the southern part of the main metro area (Safety Bay Rd exit for the locals). From there to the city centre is a crapshoot as to how long it takes — in light traffic in the middle of the day, about 45 minutes; in peak hour with heavy traffic, up to 90 mins; longer if there’s been an accident on the freeway. Then I have to hope I can get a place to park ($20+ per day), then walk to the office. This means I’d have to allow 2.5 hours each way each day (leaving home before 6am, and returning close to 8pm), plus the cost of fuel ($100+ per week), plus $100+ each week in parking fees. Add to that the stress of driving that distance and in traffic, plus the likelihood of kangaroos and emus on the road at dusk and dawn and at night, which is when I’d be doing the country driving part of the journey, and nope, not going to happen.

So let’s look at the train. There’s a train just twice a day from Bunbury (my nearest station) to Perth. The Australind is not a high-speed train, and takes about 2.5 hours for the journey. This train leaves Bunbury at 6am (arriving at 8:30am, with a good 15-minute walk to the office) or 2:45pm (not an option for a day in the office). It leaves Perth for Bunbury just before 6pm, getting into Bunbury around 8:30pm. But to catch the 6am train, I’d have to leave home at 5:15am as it takes ~30 minutes to drive to Bunbury. This means I’d have to be up by 4:30am each day, and I wouldn’t get home until after 9pm. Oh, and there’s no secure parking at the Bunbury train station, which is well out of the town centre, so my car would be sitting in an open car park in the middle of a semi-industrial area for about 15+ hours. The cost of the train isn’t cheap either — $66 return each day, so $330 per week, though a bit cheaper if you get a SmartCommuter ticket [$43 return per day; + $60 annual fee for a SmartCommuter card], or have a concession card [$33 return per day if you’re a pensioner or senior]). There’s no wifi on this train, and only a snack bar (with junk food), so sleeping and reading would be the only options. No time at all for family or family meals before or after I got home – it would be fall into bed to get up at 4:30am the next day to do it all again. What sort of life is that?

There’s a train from Mandurah to Perth, but that requires driving to Mandurah (nearly an hour), praying you get a car bay at the station (good luck with that…), then taking the train into Perth (50 minutes). The total time would be about 2 hours each way, assuming you can park at the Mandurah train station. The cost is about $22 return per day from Mandurah to Perth, but you still have about 4 hours total commute time (about 2 hours on the train and similar in the car), and now you have to add in fuel expenses too.

Bottom line: If any client wants me to come to the office regularly to work, they’re dreaming! If they want me there for the occasional day only, then they either pay my hourly rate for the travel time, or the cost of an overnight stay in a 3+ star city hotel (my preference for safety reasons). Commuting 4 to 5 hours (in country conditions, in the dark) plus an 8-hour day in the office just isn’t safe.

(NOTE: This post is just on the time and monetary cost of travel, not all the other associated costs like disrupted work/life balance, the cost of meals, the cost of business attire, etc.)

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The benefits of downtime after a conference

September 17, 2017

For the first time ever, I allowed an extra day after the conference before flying home. Usually I leave the day immediately after the conference in my hurry to get home. But not this time. This time I stayed. And you know what? I got an awful lot done!

Typically, I get home from a conference and life takes over. I have my scribbled notes, websites I want to investigate, business cards for those I need to add to my contacts list and send an email to. And it can take a week or two — sometimes some months — before I get around to doing all that, or I do it in dribs and drabs, eventually not doing some of those things as their priority and my interest slips down the list. Paid work takes priority and, as I said, normal life resumes.

So to have a ‘free’ day to just work on catching up from the conference was great. I went for a long walk, then back to the hotel to type up my notes in blog posts, add contacts, send emails, and investigate websites and software that I heard about during the conference. In fact, this day went so well and I was so productive, I didn’t have breakfast or lunch, finally stepping out around 4pm for a bite to eat!

Another advantage of doing it all the day after was not having to bring home paperwork (e.g. conference program, vendor flyers) to refer to later — except the ones I investigated/read on my day off and decided to keep. The rest went into the hotel’s recycle bin and I saved on a little weight in my luggage.

I think I’ll add an extra day to my conference agenda from now on (well, after the next two conferences, as I’ve already booked and paid for them and Qantas charge a HEAP to make a schedule change).