Archive for December, 2008


A different New Year resolution

December 31, 2008

Do you have some spare time? Is one of your New Year resolutions to volunteer some of your time, but you really don’t know where to expend your efforts? Are you computer savvy? Do you like the idea of volunteering by sitting at your computer? Do you like the idea of contributing as much or as little as your time permits?

No doubt there are many ways you can do this—checking and editing Wikipedia articles of interest springs to mind.

There are several world family history projects happening, all of which require a community of volunteers to help transcribe scanned and microfilmed records of immigration, births, deaths, marriages, censuses, etc. into digital form.

Some of these projects include:

As an example of the time it takes, a 10-record set of Southern California Naturalization Index cards from the World Archives Project took me about 5 to 10 minutes to enter. And I was totally new to the software and had to reverse the dates in my head so I got the month and day in the right order!


Ellipses for missing text

December 30, 2008

On an Australian editors’ email discussion list, Chris asked:

An autobiography I am editing contains correspondence from which several paragraphs have (intentionally) been omitted. Any advice on the best way to indicate that these paragraphs have been omitted?

I would have thought ellipses were appropriate, but they look rather odd and lonely in-between paragraphs. If ellipses are appropriate, where should they be placed?

My response:

Details on using ellipses are on p110 of the 6th edition of the Australian Style Manual for authors editors and printers.

In essence, yes you can use them to show omissions. The format is [text] [space] … [space] [text].


Word: Nonbreaking spaces the easy way

December 29, 2008

We all know how to enter a space in Word—you just press the Spacebar, right? But what if the space you entered causes two parts of a whole to split over a line? For example, you might have a figure and a unit of measure (such as 150 mm) and you don’t want to separate the ‘mm’ part from the ‘150’ part—ever. Or perhaps a date like 3 September, where you don’t want the 3 on one line and September on the next.

If you use a standard space, then, depending on where the two parts are in the text, they may get split when you change the font, font size, page margins, etc., or it may gain extra white space if you change to fully justified text (left and right margins all lined up). Splitting things that should be together like this affects the readability and therefore the ‘understandability’ of the document.

In the image below, some of the values and units of measure have split over two lines (yellow highlights), and others (green highlights) have the potential to split if changes are made to the styles, page layout etc.

Split values and accompanying units of measure

Split values and accompanying units of measure

So, what can you do to prevent excess white space or splits in such instances? Use a nonbreaking space to force the two parts to stay together—always.

To add a nonbreaking space manually:

  1. If you can’t see the space markers in your Word document, click Pilcrow button to turn on Show/Hide so you can see the spaces (the little dots between the words).
  2. Insert your cursor between the two items you want to keep together and delete the existing space.
  3. Press Ctrl+Shift+Spacebar to insert the nonbreaking space. A little ‘degree’ symbol will show instead of the usual space symbol.
The marks for the nonbreaking spaces look like degree symbols

The marks for the nonbreaking spaces look like degree symbols

The image below shows how the text looks when Show/Hide is turned off. All the values and units of measure are together and equidistant, so it is clear to the reader that the “m’s” and “km’s” are not just typos.

How the text looks when you force the two elements to stay together

How the text looks when you force the two elements to stay together

To use Find/Replace to replace certain spaces with nonbreaking spaces:

Before you run off and start doing Find/Replace without thinking, STOP. You need to think about what you’re changing and what effects those changes might have on legitimate text. For example, I did a Find/Replace for ‘[space]m. without specifying ‘match case’ and accidentally changed all authors names in the reference list who had ‘M.’ as their initial! If you catch it immediately, ‘Undo’ is your friend.

So think carefully how you will tackle the Find/Replace—you only want to replace the spaces in the correct strings. Here’s how I would replace ‘[space]mm.’ with ‘[nonbreaking_space]mm.’:

  1. Open the Find/Replace window.
  2. In the Find what box (1), type ‘[space]mm.‘ (without the quotes, and where [space] represents pressing the spacebar).
  3. In the Replace with box (2), type ‘^smm.‘ (again, without the quotes). ^s means nonbreaking space in Word. Make sure the ‘s‘ is in lower case—this is critical. And you get the ^ character by pressing Shift+6.
  4. Click Replace All (or click Find Next, then Replace if you want to check each one first).
Find/Replace a standard space with a nonbreaking space

Find/Replace a standard space with a nonbreaking space

For some other variations on this:

  • Find [space]mm[space] and replace with ^smm[space] (finds all mm units of measure preceded and followed by a space; replaces only the first space with a nonbreaking space)
  • Find [space]mm, and replace with ^smm, (finds all instances of mm followed by a comma and replaces the space with a nonbreaking space)
  • Find [space]September[space]2008 with ^sSeptember^s2008 (replaces spaces in a full date—notice there are two instances of ^s in this one)

The liberation of a termination clause

December 28, 2008

Back in 2005, I wrote this piece in response to a question someone asked about working in a volatile and uncertain economic and employment climate… much like now, really!

Bottom line: All jobs are insecure—even permanent ones—and a short termination clause can be liberating as you know you can walk away at any time.

Here’s the full text of what I wrote in 2005:

Since starting work as an independent contractor some 7+ yrs ago, one of the things that I’ve come to *love* is the liberating feeling I get from having a ‘termination’ clause.

Let me explain…

For more years than I like to admit, I was a full-time employee. I did all the stuff required—and MUCH more. In one 5-year job, I ended up working some 80–100 hrs a week for their last 18 moths, all on a fixed salary. I gave my heart and soul to that company, as did 95%+ of the employees, only to have our ‘family’ ripped out from under us in a takeover that ended in lots of tears, anger, bitterness, and law suits.

As a contractor, I have worked in many organisations from the very small (5 employees) to the very large (3000+ employees). What I have learned from being an interested outside observer is that:

  • office politics don’t change no matter what the size of the organisation
  • the great divide between workers and management (‘us and them’) exists in all of them to one degree or another
  • a perceived lack of recognition and respect is endemic to most, no matter what the job.

In one of my current [current in 2005] 6-month contracts I have a ‘2-day termination’ clause—this means that if they no longer require my services, they can terminate me with 2 days notice in writing (no matter what the term of the contract), or I can give them 2 days written notice if I no longer want to work there. After 3 years, I’m still there 3 days a week! Meantime, staff turnover of their full-time employees has been massive. It’s only a company of some 40 staff, and I think that there’s only about 5 left from when I started 3 yrs ago. Some have left by their own choice, but there have also been ‘restructuring’ exercises that have resulted in 25% of the company’s employees being ‘made redundant’ at once (don’t you just love those terms!)

When some full-time employees in this company ask how I can stay, I give them a couple of standard answers:

  • As a contractor, I don’t get involved in office politics, so a lot of it washes over me.
  • I have a liberating thing called a ‘2-day clause’ – liberating because if it all gets too hard, I just walk out with 2 days written notice. Let me tell you, that’s a very reassuring thing to have, despite the scariness of it to full-timers.

If you’d asked me 10 years ago about contracting and such clauses, I’d have freaked out! I was a full-time employee and loved the apparent security of that. But now I realise that NO job, ANYWHERE, is ever entirely secure—even government ones. In fact, I believe that full-time employees are less secure (mentally) than those of us who contract. As contractors, we KNOW we can be terminated at any time; we’ve learnt to deal with the likelihood of that in our heads, and have strategies we use to ramp up the next contract. As a full-time employee, most people who’ve not known anything else have a very hard time coping with termination, redundancy, or whatever you want to call it.

Knowing I can walk away at any time without recrimination, law suits, tears, and mental anguish is the most liberating feeling! Would I ever go back to being a full-time employee? At this stage—NEVER! But of course, things can change, so don’t hold me to that…

Update December 2008: Since writing that in 2005, I’ve continued working as a contract technical writer. I ended up spending 5.5 years (3 days a week) with the company I was contracting to then, and the contract only finished because I left town. I continued to work remotely for them for some 6 months, but they decided they needed to employ a full-timer to replace me. My contracts since then have all been done remotely from my home office—that’s the condition under which I’ll work for someone now. So far, so good…


Software and Systems Engineering Vocabulary

December 27, 2008

While reading the STC‘s November 2008 issue of Intercom, I came across a vocabulary resource for anyone involved in the software industry. It’s SEVOCAB—Software and Systems Engineering Vocabulary—and it lists the official terms and definitions as defined by relevant standards organizations, such as ISO, IEEE, etc.

Go to where you can either search online or download the entire 300+ page PDF file of all terms and definitions (click Print Entire Directory).

From the Intercom article:

SEVOCAB is the database for a new ISO software and systems engineering vocabulary standard, ISO 24765, which will have its final ballot before approval in early 2009. SEVOCAB offers more than 4,400 definitions and benefits from a growing consensus on technical communication processes and products with more than 125 IEEE and ISO standards as sources. Inclusion of a definition in a balloted standard shows that it results from international consensus developed through open processes. Standards developers can use SEVOCAB to identify redundancies, discrepancies, and gaps in terminology and to pursue harmonization of vocabulary among related standards.

Each definition in SEVOCAB shows its source, and links allow users to find the source standards for purchase from IEEE or ISO.

(Reilly, A. Standards for Technical Communicators. Intercom. Society for Technical Communication, November 2008, p4.)

[Link last checked July 2011]


Keep the pedants happy

December 26, 2008

Here’s one way to keep the pedantic editing types like me happy… (seen on a report I received):

“If you find any errors in this report, they’re there for a purpose. Some people actually like looking for them and we strive to please as many people as possible. If you find any typos or grammatical errors, please send the details to me. I will reward you with a small gift – unless you find so many that I feel you deserve a large gift!”

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


Word 2003: Prompted to save template when no changes made

December 24, 2008

When my husband started using his new computer, he was getting prompted to save changes to his Word 2003 template (NOT every time he clicked SAVE.

The problem was a COM Add-in for PDFComplete that we couldn’t see from his Templates and Add-Ins list in Word 2003 (I found it listed via Help > About Microsoft Office Word > System Info > Office 2003 Applications > Microsoft Office Word 2003 > COM Add-Ins).

When I removed PDFComplete using Add/Remove Programs, the message went away for good.

PDFComplete was either already installed as part of the HP installation, or my PC guys installed it – whatever. It came with the machine.

BTW, I found this solution via these web sites:

[Links last checked November 2008]


View a website’s CSS

December 23, 2008

There are a couple of ways to view a website’s Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) file.

  • A site’s CSS gets loaded on to your computer and so you can always go look at it in your temporary internet files (identify the filename first by viewing the source of the page—in the source, you’re looking for lines in the HEAD area such as this: <link rel=”stylesheet” href=”[path/filename].css” type=”text/css” media=”screen” />)
  • Firefox: You can use a web developer add-in to open the CSS in another browser window. For example, there’s a great Firefox extension from Chris Pederick ( that sits in your browser window. Once installed, click the CSS toolbar button for the options.
  • Internet Explorer: Use a free toolbar add-in such as the Web Accessibility Toolbar from Vision Australia ( Once installed, click the CSS toolbar button for the options.

I’m sure there are many more options, but the ones I’ve suggested are quick and easy—and free.


Donation in lieu of corporate Christmas cards

December 22, 2008

In the spirit of Christmas, on behalf of CyberText Consulting I have made a donation to the Western Operations of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia in lieu of sending out Christmas cards to clients.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service is an essential service for people living and working in areas outside the major metropolitan centres. It provides on-ground medical services and air ambulance transport.

Many of my clients are mining and resource companies whose employees live and work in some of Australia’s remotest places. The RFDS is literally a lifeline for them, and for all outback workers and travellers. While it gets some government funding, it relies a lot on donations and bequests to keep running.

More information:


Word: Bookmark cross-reference formatting

December 22, 2008

Lately I’ve been working with a colleague on some long documents with lots of Appendices etc. We’ve been using Word’s Bookmark feature to select the first part of the appendix title (e.g. ‘Appendix B’) and add it as a bookmark (‘AppendixB’).

When we need to cross-reference the appendix in the main text, we select the name from the list of bookmarks and insert it. Most times the cross-reference goes in as it should—formatted the same as the surrounding text.

But on the odd occasion and for no apparent reason, the cross-reference decides to display the formatting of the original appendix heading. I’ve put two of these suckers into the same sentence—one will go in OK and take the formatting of the surrounding sentence; the other displays in the formatting of the appendix heading (all caps and 14 pt bold!).

I’ve checked and double-checked the Edit Field and Toggle Field Code options to see if there’s anything different between the two. Nope. They are exactly the same. If I manually format the incorrect one, when I update the fields using F9, it goes back to 14 pt bold all caps. Grrrrr…

So today I’d had enough! I found out how to fix it, and I’m hoping this fix will hold for all future field code updates (it’s held the few times I’ve updated the doc today, so here’s hoping…)

Here’s what you do in Word 2003 (Word 2007 and 2010 should be similar once you get to the Field window):

  1. Right-click on the cross-reference text.
  2. Select Edit Field.
  3. On the Field window, click the Field Codes button (lower left).
  4. Add a space after the \h part, then type \* charformat
  5. Make sure that the Preserve formatting during updates check box is clear.
  6. Click OK.

You could add this \* charformat part into the toggled field code instead, but there’s more chance of making a mistake.

Fixing formatting in a cross-reference

Fixing formatting in a cross-reference

(I found the answer here: [Lockergnome site])

See also:

[Links last checked February 2012]