Archive for March, 2008


Word: Set default table style

March 31, 2008

Do you usually create the same table layout in your Word documents? Did you know that you can set up your standard table once, then create an autotext entry for it so that you can insert your default table every time you need a new one?

Word 2003

These instructions are for Word 2002 and 2003; earlier versions of Word use similar commands.

  1. Create your standard table, applying the styles you want and adding any special effects such as borders, shading, header row, and so on.
  2. Select your table.
  3. From the menu, select Insert > AutoText > New. The Create AutoText window displays.
  4. Type a name for this entry that is easy for you to remember. Try to keep the name short so you don’t have to type much when you add your table. (For example, 52 for a 5 column, 2 row table.)
  5. Click OK.
  6. Whenever you need to insert this table, type the autotext name (e.g. 52) then press F3. Voila! Your standard table is added to your document.

Neat huh? You can set as many of these as you want. Just make sure you name each one uniquely.

If you forget the name, select Insert > AutoText from the menu. The name is listed in the drop-down menu list—select it. If it isn’t listed, select AutoText at the top of the drop-down menu list. The AutoCorrect window displays with the AutoText tab active. Select the autotext name from the list in the middle of the window, then click Insert.

Word 2007

Tables in Word 2007 seem to be more clever! You can choose one from the list of Quick Tables, then use the Table Styles command group to apply a styled theme to it.

However, if you want to create your own and add it to the list of Quick Tables, here’s how:

  1. Create your standard table, applying the styles you want and adding any special effects such as borders, shading, header row, and so on. Don’t add any text, unless you want every table to have it!
  2. Select your table.
  3. Open the Insert tab, then click the Table button.
  4. Click Quick Tables, then click Save Selection to Quick Tables Gallery.
  5. Complete the information on the Create New Building Block window, making sure that the Gallery is set to Tables, and the Options value is set to Insert content in its own paragraph. Click OK.
  6. Your specially-designed table is now available whenever you display the thumbnails of the Quick Tables.

[This article was first published in the March 2004 CyberText newsletter; steps for Word 2007 added 21 August 2008]


WritersUA Conference 2008: Summary

March 30, 2008

At the end of each day of the conference, I posted on this blog my personal opinions about the specific sessions I went to, but I didn’t adequately cover the conference as a whole. It’s nearly two weeks since the conference started, so it’s time for me to reflect back on those whirlwind four days in Portland.

Why do I chose to attend (and present at) WritersUA?

I used to attend and present at STC Conferences, but after a couple of years I found that the sessions weren’t challenging me enough. Sessions marked ‘advanced’ weren’t advanced enough, in my opinion, and, because of the broad base of the STC membership, I just wasn’t interested in some themes or threads. Also, STC Conferences have up to 10 sessions to chose from for any one time slot, so sometimes it was hard to get the right mix when overwhelmed with such a choice.

I’d heard of WinWriters (now WritersUA) and after a bit of investigation, decided that it held much more attraction to me because it focused very much on the work that I do or am likely to do.

My first WritersUA conference was in 2005, and I was blown away by the organisation, the quality of the speakers, the relevance of the sessions (to me), the thought-provoking challenges that the sessions offered, the size of the conference (smaller than STC, which suits me better as you can meet people more easily), and the incredibly passionate people I met at the conference (yes, they’re passionate at STC too!). It was like finding my own school of fish and swimming with my own kind, for a few days at least.

With only one conference I can budget for from Australia, WritersUA was my choice in 2005 and continues to be my conference of choice.

So what makes WritersUA so good?

I’ve already mentioned some of the things that make it good for me, but I think these things I’ve listed below make it good for ANYONE working in the field of online documentation or content.

Quality of the speakers and their topics

Joe only has about 50 speakers and he vets their proposed topics very carefully to make sure that there isn’t too much focus on just one aspect of our work, and to make sure that the topics are of interest to the attendees.

The speakers are top in their fields, all are well-known within our profession, and many are the leaders and bleeding-edge people who test things out years before it becomes mainstream for everyone else.

With around five choices per time slot, the hardest decision was choosing which session to go to. The summaries help a lot, as does the reputations of the speakers, but ultimately you can’t go to them all and you have to choose.

Quality of the organisation

Joe Welinske and his team (including his delightful parents) make sure this conference runs like clockwork. I’m sure a lot goes on behind the scenes that we don’t know about, but from the outside, everything runs perfectly on time and without any hitches. And his team is always incredibly polite, ready to help, and extremely professional.

That includes the AV guys, who I believe Joe has used a few times now. As a presenter, the thing you most worry about before you get started is whether or not the equipment will work—data projector, microphone, room speakers, etc. The AV guys make sure that it works and that worry gets taken away from you straight away.

Quality of the conference materials

Unlike some conferences where the speakers have to print out and bring along their own handouts, or where attendees get given a CD of all the presentations that they may never look at again, WritersUA is different.

Joe insists that we have our presentations to him in a printable form one month before the conference, and that we don’t change our slides. As a speaker, this keeps us on our toes, but as an attendee one of the best take-aways from the conference is the three large books containing the slides of EVERY presentation. So whether you can attend a session or not, you have the slides. These books also mean that you have plenty of space to write notes as you’re listening to the speaker. And they are great for referring back to, and for referring colleagues to.

Quality of the venue

Joe’s team spends time checking out the cities and potential venues where he will hold the next WritersUA conference. Downtown Portland this year was an ideal choice as there was so much to do really close to the hotel – lots of restaurants close by, Powell’s Books only 10-15 minute walk away, metro rail (which went to the airport) only one block away, and downtown shopping only two blocks away.

Of course, there’s usually little time for these activities when the conference is in full swing, but for those who arrive early, or stay on a day or so, it was an ideal location.

As far as the hotel goes, I had a few complaints, but all were out of the control of the conference organisers. The function rooms for the sessions were more than suitable, and the catering at the hotel was superb.

Quality of the attendees and exhibitors

Finally, I couldn’t do a summary of such a conference without mentioning the attendees and the exhibitors.

A conference ultimately is a bringing together of like minds, a learning experience, a time to recharge the professional batteries, to discover new things, and an opportunity to meet with old and new friends.

The exhibition area was close to everything, and many of the networking functions were held close to the exhibitors which meant that stopping by a booth was an easy thing to do. One thing about this profession that always amazes me is the camaraderie between the competing exhibitors. They all know each other and, while they may not be friends, they all work together on making the exhibition worth attending.

The formal and informal networking opportunities during the conference were a terrific way to meet fellow attendees from all over the world, and to make connections that otherwise wouldn’t be possible—Joe’s team make sure that the formal social functions (such as the themed lunches) mix people up in ways that perhaps wouldn’t happen when you put 500 people in a room together. And some of the exhibitors sponsor certain networking events too—my thanks to them too as these were another great way to meet attendees and speakers.

Would I go again?

In a heartbeat!

Thanks Joe and team for another terrific conference.


Implementation time calculator

March 30, 2008

There’s a kernel of truth in here somewhere…

  1. Ask the engineer/developer/whatever how long it will take. (e.g. 2 days)
  2. Double the estimated time. (e.g. 4)
  3. Move up to the next higher time unit. (e.g. weeks)

Using this formula, if the engineer says “2 days”, it will actually take “4 weeks”…

[This article was first published in the December 2004 CyberText newsletter.]


Turn off the Search puppy

March 29, 2008

Search puppy

If you use Windows XP and do a Search, an eager puppy shows by default. If the pup annoys you, you can turn it off by:

  1. Select Start then click Search.
  2. On the Search Results window, click Change Preferences, then click Without an animated screen character.

Bye-bye pup!

[This article was first published in the September 2004 CyberText newsletter]


Color code your Windows folders

March 28, 2008

Ever wished you distinguish between those masses of yellow folder icons in Windows Explorer?

If you often move files from one directory or machine to another, it’s easy to get confused as to which is the original folder and which is the destination. Wouldn’t it be great if you could change the color of the original to red (‘don’t touch these’) and the destination to green (‘copy here’)?

Well, now you can with some cheap software from:

You’re not limited to red and green, either! How about pink, purple, orange, black, or white?

[This article was first published in the December 2007 CyberText Newsletter; link last checked January 2008]


Online pedometer

March 27, 2008

Want to know how far you walked, jogged, or ran? Google Maps has an online ‘pedometer’ at

[This article was first published in the March 2006 CyberText Newsletter; link last checked January 2008]


Food, glorious food

March 26, 2008

I’ve recently come across two interesting food and recipe websites. Of the millions of recipe sites out there, these two are special for the very different ways they present the information.

The first site is Rouxbe (pron. ruby). Why is Rouxbe ( so interesting? Well, each recipe is a short, narrated, and beautifully photographed video of the steps and techniques. Take the tour, check out the free recipe videos, and make sure you also look at some of the videos of techniques and unusual ingredients in the ‘drilldowns’ area. You can print the recipes and even download the videos for viewing at your leisure.

The other site, Cooking for Engineers (, is for those with a very analytical mind. What makes this recipe site interesting is the unique way that the recipe is displayed in a table at the end of the steps. Only an engineer could have thought of that! (Thanks to Karen in Denmark for alerting me to the Cooking for Engineers site)

[This article was first published in the June 2007 CyberText Newsletter; links last checked January 2008]


Opening Windows Explorer to a folder of your choice

March 25, 2008

One of the Windows XP annoyances that irks me is that Windows Explorer opens at My Documents by default. Here’s how to tell Explorer to open where YOU want it to:

  1. Right-click on an Explorer shortcut, then select Properties.
  2. In the Target field, type: %windir%explorer.exe /e, C:

This command opens Windows Explorer at the C: drive; change C: to the drive or folder where you want it to open.

For more information and other switches you can use, see this Microsoft Knowledge Base article:

Update 27 July 2008: In Vista, it’s: %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /e, C:

(I’m using Vista Ultimate—I suspect it’s the same for other versions of Vista)

Update December 2013: Windows 7 is the same as Vista (above).

Update April 2015: Use the methods described here to create a specific folder location and pin it to a Windows 8 or Windows 7 taskbar:

[This article was first published in the September 2004 CyberText newsletter.]


Creating special characters

March 24, 2008

Problem: Jane from Sydney asked:

Do you know how to set up shortcuts either in Word or using your keyboard to get accented characters, such as those used in French?

Solution: Sure do, Jane! Hold down the ALT key as you press a sequence of keys. For a full list of each special character’s key combination, go to:
Example: ALT+0128 creates the Euro symbol € and ALT+0231 creates ç.

By the way, these key combinations work in any text editor, from Notepad, to Outlook, to Word…

[This article was first published in the June 2007 CyberText Newsletter; link last checked January 2008; confirmed these steps work in Word 2007, 21 August 2008]


Is the Help helpful?

March 23, 2008

I’ve been privileged to be a judge in the STC Australia Chapter competition for a few years, and a couple of years ago we gave Jean Hollis Weber’s Is the Help Helpful? book a Distinguished award in the Technical Publications category, and then awarded her book “Best in Show”. Jean’s book was sent to the US to be judged at International level and won an Excellence award.

I had to read Jean’s book because I was a competition judge, but I was so impressed by her practical advice and clear writing that I purchased my own copy.

The book has a GREAT set of checklists and things to consider in a documentation plan—in fact, much of the book is on this topic. I used her downloadable template to put together a plan for a new software product—my manager at the time and I were both blown away as neither of us had realised how much was involved (me, because I just do it; him, because he really had no idea how it all comes together and how much has to be considered).

Jean’s comprehensive checklists also help you and others analyze your Help objectively. The checklists are printed in the book, but you can also download editable copies of them from the publisher’s website (the specific URL is given in the book).

You get a lot of ‘bang’ for your $40 investment!

Shameless plug: You can get Jean’s terrific book (and lots more tech writing books and other cool stuff that I recommend) through my Amazon

And BTW, Jean’s book won an Excellence award at the International level of the STC competitions in 2005-2006, after winning “Best of Show” in the Australia Chapter competition.