Archive for September, 2008


Word: Pictures in a table of contents

September 30, 2008

Recently a few people have asked me to fix their auto-generated table of contents (TOC) in Word. Somehow they’ve ended up with a picture in there and they don’t know how or why, and it keeps coming back when they regenerate the TOC.

This one’s easy to fix—once you know why it occurs.

The default behavior of Word is to use Heading styles to create the TOC and the Caption style to create lists of figures and tables. The paragraph the picture is in has a Heading or Caption style applied to it.

  1. Find the picture in the body of the document.
  2. Replace the Heading or Caption style with a standard paragraph style (alternatively, select Clear Formatting from the styles list).
  3. Regenerate the TOC/list of figures/list of tables and the picture should be gone forever!

[This article was first published in the March 2005 CyberText Newsletter]


Paying subcontractors

September 29, 2008

Question: I believe it is unreasonable and uncommon to only be paid at the end of extended projects, yet that’s what I’ve been asked to accept. I certainly cannot afford this kind of cash flow. If you (Z) subcontract through another company (X), do you get paid progressively during the project? How do they (X) bill the client (Y)?

My response: If the people subcontracting you can’t afford to pay you when you need to be paid, then they may have a cash flow problem of their own. And not just caused by the payment terms of company Y.

I’ve worked at both ends—as an employer (X) of a subcontractor (Z) to a company (Y), but I would never have done this had I not been able to pay my subcontractor. And I’ve worked as Z to X, who worked for Y—I expected, and received, prompt payment from X even though I knew that Y would take an age to pay them (Y was a government department).

In the case of being an employer to a subcontractor, I knew that the company (Y) paid 30 days in arrears, so I had to wait up to two months for money from them. However, I paid my subcontractor every two weeks, even though it was some time before I received that money from Y. Before I took the subcontractor on, I checked the bank balance, got out the calculator, and made sure that I could cover his payments for up to ten weeks without a problem (this was a six month subcontract). Had I not been able to, I would’ve bowed out of the contract or negotiated different payment terms with my subcontractor… but I still would’ve paid him each month. I’d had previous contracts with Y so I knew not only their payment terms, but also their reliability (it was good). Yes, this put a little bit of pressure on me and the bank balance went down more than it went up for a short period, but at the end of the subcontract I was still receiving money from Y even though I was no longer paying Z. So it all balanced out in the end.

I’d be looking at negotiating better terms for yourself. Remember, you are working for X, not for Y, even though the work is ultimately being delivered to Y. It is X’s responsibility to pay you promptly, and you need to negotiate with them. Dragging Y’s payment terms with X into the equation is a red herring and a ploy to make you sympathetic and accepting of an unacceptable situation. Look at what you can bear (say, 30 days), and negotiate for that.

Maybe X also needs some education on balloon payments at the end of a contract. For one of that length, they should be looking at either regular payments across the life of the project, or a 30% up front fee, then progress payments throughout. Y is getting out of this cheap—their money stays in the bank earning interest while the work is being done. And if Y goes belly-up after 3 months, where do you and X stand? My guess would be that you’d be way down the list of creditors to be paid.

Ultimately, though, it depends how much you want the job and to maintain the relationship between you a X. Can you deal directly with Y, or would this just make it worse?


Cube farms

September 28, 2008

I was going back through some old emails, and came across this humorous thread about working in cubicles (aka cube farms). Thanks to Brad H, John R, Jeff W, and Mark W for these:

  • “Well of course when I was starting out I had it tough. I used to have to work in a corridor…” You call that rough? My first cube was a Rubik’s.
  • Cubic Zirconia, which looks a lot like a cube, but is in fact a fiendishly disguised trap that lures unsuspecting technical writers in with its sparkle and brilliance, making them feel loved and important!
  • My area is so small it’s not a cube, it’s a square root.
  • Cubal Ligation (mostly found in sterile work locations) – the act of being ‘cut off’ from interaction with the rest of the company because of the nature of your work (e.g., science, military) or because you’re a non-bather!
  • Cubans – smaller, isolated cubicles, mostly in the southern parts of the office complex, where you are allowed to smoke cigars. These cubes are heavily guarded. Once you are transferred to a Cuban, there is no coming back.
  • Cuba Gooding Jrs. – cubes where contractors and temps are held pending finalization of their monetary negotiations (some times referred to as ‘show me the money’ pits).
  • Chewbicles – where chewing tobacco users are allowed to work.
  • Cubaccas – Where large, hairy employees with a penchant for ripping the arms off interns are placed for safety.
  • Cuberty – The awkward period of employment between working in a common area and having an office. Characterized by painful growth spurts, blemishes, and confusion about one’s role in the company.
  • Cubert Hoover – A small vacuum used to remove crumbs, hairs, and mystery dust from keyboards, chairs, desktops etc., in a cube.
  • Cubiquitous – Applying to nearly every cube on a farm. “The emergency response plan pamphlets were cubiquitous”.

Nothing but the facts

September 27, 2008

I can live without chain emails, virus alerts, and all those “I’m so happy—please pass this on to 100 other people, and you will be too” emails.

If these email gems are getting you down, and you’re not sure whether to forward the email to everyone in your address book—STOP!

Check out Snopes ( BEFORE you click that Forward button. You’ll get the lowdown on what is a hoax and what isn’t, and what falls somewhere in between.

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


Word: Modify TOC styles

September 26, 2008

Do you create long Word documents with auto-generated Tables of Contents (TOCs)? Do you like the default styles Word uses to display the TOC? Probably not!

Here’s how to modify the TOC styles:

  1. Open a document based on your Word template.
  2. Click in the Table of Contents.
  3. Open the Table of Contents window or tab:
    * Word 2003: Go to Insert > Reference > Index and Tables. Go to the Table of Contents tab.
    * Word 2007: Go to the Reference tab, click the Table of Contents icon, select Insert Table of Contents near the bottom of the list of Built-In tables.
  4. Check these settings:
    * Choose a Tab Leader (typically dots).
    * Set Show Levels to 3 (or however many heading levels you want to show).
    * Turn off the Use Hyperlinks check box. Be careful! If you’re using Word 2007 and Acrobat 9, leave this setting turned on to create a clickable TOC in the PDF file.
    * Make sure the Show Page Numbers and Right Align… check boxes are both selected.
  5. Click Modify.
  6. Select TOC 1, then click Modify again.
  7. Click Format, then select Tabs.
  8. Set a right tab stop position the same width as the body text of your document.
  9. For example, type 16 cm in the text box at the top, select the Right option, select the 2 leader, click Set, then click OK.
  10. Make any other changes you want to the style (e.g. font, indent etc.), then click OK.
  11. Repeat steps 7 to 10 for the other styles (TOC 2, TOC 3) you want to modify.
  12. When you’re finished, click OK to close the window.
  13. Click OK to replace the Table of Contents.
  14. Check everything’s as you want it; make further modifications as necessary.
  15. You can save the document (or not), but make sure you say Yes to save the changes to the Word template when asked—if you’re happy with the way the TOC looks now.

See also:

[This article was first published in the December 2007 CyberText Newsletter; Word 2007 details added 31 August 2008; links last checked December 2011 ]


National Punctuation Day

September 25, 2008

Yes, seriously! There’s a National Punctuation Day in the US and it was yesterday, the 24th of September. They even have a website where there’s a photo gallery and items like T-shirts to purchase.



Simple, but impressive graphs

September 24, 2008

These days not much on the web makes me go “Wow!” (sad, isn’t it?), but I came across a site a few weeks ago [this was back in 2005] that is not only impressive in its simplicity, but equally as impressive in what it does.

In essence, you can create and save a very good looking graph just by entering some of your own data. The site is part of the US National Center for Education Statistics, and here’s an example graph I created in less than one minute:

Sample graph

Where do you go to create your own graphs?

[This article was first published in the March 2005 CyberText Newsletter; link last checked December 2007]


Word 2007: Outline numbering

September 23, 2008

Another thing Word 2007 has hidden very well from power users is outline numbering. You used to access it from the Styles and Formatting task pane, but don’t try that in Word 2007 otherwise none of your numbered headings will connect to each other! And there’s no easy way to see what to do to get it working.

However, help is at hand in various Microsoft forum posts and replies by some Microsoft Word MVPs. Go to, select Office, then the Office version you’re using, then filter by Word. Search for phrases such as ‘outline numbering for headings’, ‘outline numbered styles’ etc. and you should find what you’re looking for (I used to have links to some good ones, but Microsoft keeps changing their website so the links no longer work).

BTW, Microsoft MVPs are unsung heroes in my book. They are not employees, they don’t get many benefits, and they volunteer their time freely. All the ones I know, or whose names I regularly see in forums, contribute an enormous amount of time and effort for little or no benefit to them. They’ll test things and report their findings, and they do it all for free. Congratulations guys—Microsoft should reward you handsomely for eliminating many of their support calls!

See also:

[Links last checked March 2014]


CSS settings for horizontal rule (hr)

September 21, 2008

I was having some difficulty with the different ways that IE7 and Firefox rendered any CSS I’d set for the horizontal rule (hr) tag. Here’s my solution (substitute your own color and sizing values):

height: 1px;
color: #808000; /* only works in IE */
background-color: #808000; /* needed to color the HR in Firefox */
border: 0px; /* needed for Firefox so that it renders the 1px height correctly */


Copy text and images in a PDF document

September 20, 2008

Did you know that you can copy text and images from a PDF document displayed in Adobe Reader? Most people think you can’t unless you purchase full Acrobat, so here’s how.

  1. From the menu, select Tools > Select & Zoom, then choose the Select Tool (for text), or the Snapshot Tool (for an image)
  2. Click and drag your cursor over the text or image you want to copy from the PDF file.
  3. Once selected, press Ctrl+C to copy your selection to the clipboard where it’s ready for pasting into another application such as Word.

That’s it! With the Select Tool you will lose some formatting and tables, but you will get the text; with the Snapshot Tool, anything you select (including text) is converted to an image.

Update (3 November 2008): This no longer works in Adobe Reader 8.1.2, even though the right-click menu option would indicate that it’s meant to work.

Update (17 November 2009): This works again in Adobe Reader 9.2.0.

[This article was first published in the September and December 2002 CyberText Newsletters; steps updated for Adobe Reader 8.0 in January 2008]