Archive for August, 2008


Author-it: Find all topics not in any Book

August 31, 2008

It’s a while since I needed to do a creative search in Author-it, but a couple of weeks ago I was trying to identify all topics based on five different topic templates that are not in any book at all—my ‘orphan’ topics. So I tried this search in Author-it v5.0 and got my list! Now I can do my housekeeping knowing that I’m only working with a small number of topics and not having to check the relationships of some hundreds of topics.

Here’s my advanced search criteria in case you need to do this yourself:

  • Advanced search: Turned on
  • Based On: I selected these five client-specific topic templates: <client> Chapter, <client> Glossary, <client> Normal, <client> First Chapter, and <client> Chapter (QRC).
  • In Book: I selected (No Books)

Click FIND NOW – Voila! All ‘orphan’ topics are listed.

Just watch out for any that may be embedded in another topic if you’re intending to delete them or want to change their release state to “Obsolete” or move them to a folder with only Admin permissions, or similar.

Hope this helps someone else. And if anyone has a quicker way to do this, please share.


Tricks with tables in Word

August 30, 2008

To quickly duplicate a table cell in Word:

  • Copy the cell or its contents, select the range of target cells, then Paste. All the selected cells are filled with the contents of the cell you copied.
  • And to go even further, you can select non-adjacent cells using Ctrl+click, then paste the copied cell’s contents into all the selected cells, no matter where they are in the table.

(These tricks work in Word 2003, and possibly in earlier versions.)

[This article was first published in the December 2004 CyberText Newsletter; link last checked December 2007]


Copyright: Is ‘work for hire’ legal?

August 29, 2008

Many contracts for software developers, technical writers and the like include a clause about the client owning copyright in a ‘work for hire’ arrangement. This is definitely the case for employees, but it’s a more slippery slope for independent contractors.

A couple of attorneys in Texas have laid out the conditions under which ‘work for hire’ applies to independent contractors—and it seems software development doesn’t fit. They state:

When it comes to independent contractors, three requirements must be met for deliverables to be work for hire. First, the deliverables must be specially ordered or commissioned (i.e., they cannot already exist). Second, a written contract between the company and the independent contractor must state that the deliverables are work for hire. Third, the deliverables must come within one of nine limited categories of works. This last requirement disqualifies most software and other technology deliverables created by independent contractors.

They go on to list those nine categories as:

  • a contribution to a collective work (e.g., part of a periodical, anthology, encyclopedia, etc.);
  • a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work;
  • a translation;
  • a supplementary work (e.g., foreword, illustration, editorial notes, musical arrangement, test answers, bibliography, appendixes, etc.);
  • a compilation (an original manner of selecting or arranging preexisting works);
  • an instructional text;
  • a test;
  • answer material for a test; or
  • an atlas.

While they mention nothing about technical writers specifically, it would be interesting to see these nine categories tested against the work that we do—perhaps it’s classed as ‘instructional text’.

I’m no lawyer, but it would be interesting to see this tested.

For the full article, see:


Mind mapping software

August 28, 2008

For many years I taught high school students how to create explosion charts, spider diagrams, or whatever you want to call them. They are a great way to organise ideas, particularly at the start of a project or task. I have seen some software over the years that purports to do this for you, but in my opinion pen and paper still beat any software I’d seen for quickly generating ideas and tasks, and organising them into like categories.

But I’ve had to change my mind! Recently I trialled a piece of software that adds so much more value to the ideas generation process. As well as being able to add ideas on screen as quickly as with pen and paper, you can print out your diagrams, and best of all, send all the ideas and tasks in your diagram to any of Microsoft’s Word (creates a fully-structured outline), Outlook (creates a separate task for each one), PowerPoint (creates slides with bullet points for the sub-tasks), and Project (creates a complete project/task list ready for you to add milestone and other data). You can also save all the information to HTML and a website is created with all links created automatically.

The templates that come with the software will have you thinking much wider than just organising your ideas! At one company I know, they use it in meetings for recording everything—attendances, action items, etc. and then send it to a Word document as Minutes. With everything projected on the screen during the meeting, no-one can argue later about the interpretation of the minute-taker.

So what’s this magical piece of software? MindManager from MindJet Software ( You can download and trial it for 21 days; cost for a single user license: US$99 for v7 Lite, US$349 for v7 Pro.

[This article was first published in the June 2005 CyberText Newsletter; links and prices last checked December 2007]


Golden Bull awards

August 27, 2008

For the year’s ‘best’ examples of gobbledygook, check out the Golden Bull awards from the “Plain English Campaign”:

[This article was first published in the March 2003 CyberText Newsletter; links last checked January 2008]


Adobe is seriously testing my patience

August 26, 2008

So, I finally relent and purchase Captivate 3. I wait a couple of weeks to simmer down after my previous recent stressful experiences with Adobe software before installing it on my new laptop (do a search on this blog for “adobe” if you want to read about my previous experiences). Today’s the day!

I read the ‘readme’ file to make sure I follow everything exactly. I close all applications. I insert the DVD. I install Captivate 3 with no errors. I activate the product successfully. I register the product successfully. It opens. All is right with my world so far, and I’m thinking the first kind thoughts about Adobe that I’ve had in a couple of months.

So being the masochist that I am, I figure that maybe there’s been an update to the version I’m on. I go to Help > Updates and see that there is. I download the update and install it using the big Download and Install Updates button. The progress bar indicates that something is happening. And then I get this error message telling me that I must have Captivate 3 installed! Well, d’uh—I just installed it!

Tell me which version I'm on?

Tell me which version I'm on??

I select the Cancel this update and quit option, then click OK. Guess what the next message is? This one…

Well, no it hasn't

Well, no it hasn't - I'm still on

So I go to the Adobe Forums and Knowledgebase looking for anyone else who may have encountered this issue. The only information I find is a suggestion to uninstall and reinstall. And I also find the link to the Downloads page. My next step before uninstalling and reinstalling (grrrr!) is to download the update and install it manually, not using the automatic updater from within Captivate.

Downloading and installing the update myself worked. Thank goodness. The update takes me from to, and is available for download from here:

But despite it working, it was another hour out of my life testing, hunting down solutions on forums, then downloading and installing stuff that I shouldn’t have had to do if the darned thing worked right the first time! I’m still not happy with Adobe. Products should not be released when such fundamental functionality doesn’t work.


Creating Word footnotes using Author-it

August 26, 2008

Here’s the scenario: Your document must contain footnotes in the Word output; for example, references to legal decisions, government legislation, or scientific papers.

So how do you go about it in Author-it? Essentially, there are three steps:

  1. Create a new hyperlink template just for Word Footnotes (you could create popups or expanding text on the same template for HTML outputs, but I won’t cover this in these instructions).
  2. Create a topic for each reference.
  3. Create a hyperlink based on the Footnote template for each piece of text where you want to place the footnote reference mark.


The instructions below:

  • are based on Author-it v5
  • create a footnote section at the bottom of each page in the Word document where the reference occurs, NOT a footnote section at the end of a chapter.

Create a new hyperlink template

  1. Create a new hyperlink based on (none).
  2. Select the Make this object an object template check box.
  3. Enter Footnote template as the object’s Description.
  4. Click Apply.
  5. While still on the General tab, clear the check boxes for the Help and Web outputs—Print should be the only selected check box. You may need to click each check box twice to get a completely clear check box.
  6. Go to the Print tab.
  7. Select the Footnote option.
  8. Select an Automatic Numbering style or create a custom style (see for details). In this example, select 1, 2, 3…
  9. Click OK.

Create a topic for each reference

The text for each footnote must be in its own topic. You can ignore the topic template or just use ‘Normal’—it won’t be used.

Tip: If you have a lot of footnotes, create a separate folder for the footnote topics and their links.

  1. Create a topic for each footnote. NOTE: There’s a limit of 500 characters (see “Update 28 August 2008” below).
  2. For each topic, add the text you want to display in the footnote.

Create a hyperlink for the relevant text

  1. Go to the topic where you want the footnote reference to appear in the Word output.
  2. Select the word or phrase immediately after which you want the footnote reference number to go. Include any quote marks, if necessary.
  3. Link to the footnote topic you created earlier using the Footnote Template.

Publish to Word and you should have a nice set of footnotes.

Update 26 August 2008: Interestingly, someone on the Author-it User Forum list had a problem today with Word footnotes. It seems her 10+ line footnote was disappearing off the page and not appearing on the subsequent page. She wanted to know what happened to it and how to fix it. The ever-knowledgeable Char James-Tanny replied with a link to a slew of possible solutions to Word footnote problems from the Microsoft Knowledge Base (KB article 212071).

Update 28 August 2008: Gretchen from Author-it posted to the Author-it User Forum that there’s a limit of 500 characters for a footnote. She referred to the Author-it Knowledge Center article ( which states:

Footnote: the unformatted text of the destination topic is inserted as a footnote.

Note: Footnotes are limited to a maximum of 500 characters and cannot contain multiple paragraphs or special formatting. If the destination topic contains more than 500 characters, only the first 500 characters are used.


Windows shortcuts

August 25, 2008

Handy Windows keyboard shortcuts:

  • Maximize or restore a window: Double-click its title bar.
  • Minimize the current window: Click its taskbar button.
  • Close a minimized window: Right-click its taskbar button then select Close.
  • Switch between open documents in a single program: Press Ctrl+F6. To go in the other direction if you have three or more documents open: Press Ctrl+Shift+F6.
  • Open the Start menu: Press Ctrl+Esc or the Windows ‘flag’ key.
  • Shut down your computer: Press Ctrl+Esc+U then Enter.
  • Display Windows Task Manager: Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc.
  • Close an application: Press Alt+F4.
  • Return to where you were working last in Word: Press Shift+F5. (Handy when you open the document next morning and need to continue on from where you were.)
  • Capture the active window: Pressing PrtScn captures the entire window, but Alt+PrtScn just captures the currently active window.

Using that special Windows (‘flag’) key:

On a standard keyboard the Windows key is usually located between the Ctrl and Alt keys; its location may vary on a laptop. So what does the Windows key do? It offers you very quick shortcuts to commonly used programs and functions. All you need to do is press the Windows key at the same time as pressing another key.

Here are some of the more useful Windows key combinations:

  • <Windows key> = open the Start menu
  • <Windows key> + D = display desktop (minimizes all windows; repeat the action to toggle the function off)
  • <Windows key> + E = open Windows Explorer
  • <Windows key> + F = open Explorer’s Search window
  • <Windows key> + L = logoff the current user
  • <Windows key> + R = open the Run command box
  • <Windows key> + Pause = open System Properties

[Parts of this article were first published in CyberText newsletters prior to 2008.]


Creating powerful messages using charts

August 24, 2008

I discovered a terrific (and free) way of presenting magazines, catalogues, brochures, and the like at a new service called ISSUU (

And while I was whiling away a few spare minutes there, I discovered a document titled Visualizing Information for Advocacy: An introduction to Information Design by John Emerson and the Tactical Technology Collective. You can see it here:

Emerson shows some great examples of compelling messages using charts, and gives some great tips for creating your own. The PDF is available for download from:

Although I’ve only glanced through this document, it immediately reminded me of two things that I’ve found very impressive:

  • An article I read in Technical Communication titled Cruel Pies: The Inhumanity of Technical Illustrations
    (; PDF).
  • Hans Rosling’s brilliant TED Talks on presenting statistics in a very different way (both are about 20 mins long).


OK then Cancel, or Cancel then OK?

August 23, 2008

One of the annoyances I come across when using a software or web application is inconsistency in placement of the OK/Cancel buttons. Some have OK first (on the left) and Cancel last (to the right of OK); others have them the other way round. And some switch depending on the window (MYOB is notorious for this!), which is totally confusing!

While this placement issue is not large in the scheme of things, it *is* an annoyance and it makes the user hesitate. The worst case is where the user clicks the button expecting it to behave in a certain way because of its position and their familiarity and expectation of what will happen when they click, say, the left-most button. When that button does the unexpected, the user gets frustrated. A small frustration, but frustration nonetheless. And a small amount of productive time is lost while they figure out what went wrong, how to fix it, and how to get back on track.

A few months ago, Jakob Nielsen wrote an interesting article on the placement of the OK and Cancel buttons. His advice: Follow the user interface guidelines of the operating system:

  • For Windows, that means OK is first (on the left) and Cancel is last (on the right).
  • For Macs, Cancel is first (left) and OK is last (right).