Archive for May, 2009


Author-it’s Xtend gets its first patent

May 30, 2009

Last year I started using Author-it’s Xtend, an add-on to Author-it, and have been very impressed with its capabilities.

Earlier this week, Author-it Software Corporation announced that they had received approval for their patent for Xtend from the New Zealand Patent and Trademark office — the first of many, they hope.

Congratulations Paul and the Author-it team!


Word: Accept formatting Track Changes but not text

May 29, 2009

I’ve been working on lots of long documents, each with multiple authors and multiple review cycles. Track Changes is used a LOT. When I get the document for final QA review, one of the first things I do is accept all changes in the document. But I really just want to accept the formatting changes and NOT the text changes — and I didn’t think I could do that. Because this has been annoying me, I went looking to see if I could just accept the formatting changes — and I can! And it’s really easy… once you know how!

Here’s how a document can look with all changes showing — I’ve seen documents much more cluttered than this:


Word 2007 and later

  1. Open the Review tab on the ribbon.
  2. Click Show Markup in the Review tab.
  3. Turn off Insertions and Deletions, Comments, and any other options that you use — just leave Formatting turned on. You should now only see the formatting tracked changes.
  4. Click the arrow immediately below the Accept icon.
  5. Select the Accept All Changes Shown option. This accepts all the formatting changes in the document. (Note: This option is grayed out under normal circumstances — you have to select or deselect something on the Show Markup list to get it to display.)
  6. Now, click Show Markup again and turn on the option to see the Insertions and Deletions. All the formatting tracked changes are gone!


Word 2003

  1. Turn on the Reviewing toolbar if it is not already on (View > Toolbars > Reviewing).
  2. Click Show in the Reviewing toolbar.
  3. Turn off Insertions and Deletions, Comments, and any other options that you use — just leave Formatting turned on. You should now only see the formatting tracked changes.
  4. Click the drop-down arrow to the right of the Accept Change icon.
  5. Select the Accept All Changes Shown option. This accepts all the formatting changes in the document. (Note: This option is grayed out under normal circumstances — you have to select or deselect something on the Show list to get it to display.)
  6. Now, click Show again and turn on the option to see the Insertions and Deletions. All the formatting tracked changes are gone!

Word annoyance: Cross-referencing

May 28, 2009

Sometimes I wonder if Microsoft employees have ever used Word for a long document with multiple heading levels, hundreds of headings, figures and tables, and lots of cross-references to those headings, figures and tables. My experience with Word would suggest not. (I did hear that Microsoft employees use an internal XML system for their documentation, which if true, gives lie to ‘eating your own dog food!’)

So what’s my peeve this time? The Word 2003 Cross-reference dialog box (and, to an extent, the Word 2007 Cross-reference dialog box, though some things have been fixed).

What’s so annoying about it? Well, it just DOESN’T work well with long documents where you have to insert many cross-references. I’ve been working on hundreds of these types of documents since last September and there are some simple things that could improve the experience for those of us who have to use this function many times a day.

Here’s the Word 2003 dialog box, showing that there are many many headings in this document — the vertical scroll bar on the right indicates that Section 5.6 in this example is only about a quarter of the way into this document.

Word 2003 Cross reference dialog box

Word 2003 Cross reference dialog box

So how is this Word 2003 dialog box broken?

  • You cannot resize the dialog box any which way, which means that you have to continually scroll the list nine items at a time (Home and End work within it as do the page up/down keys, so that helps a little). This is sort of fixed in Word 2007 — the dialog is resizable for both height and width, but the resizing does not hold if you close the dialog box. As soon as you re-open it, it goes back to the default size.
  • The heading levels cannot be collapsed — they always open fully expanded, which makes it painful to get to Section 12 of 24 sections, for example. Again, you have to scroll to get there. This is the same in Word 2007. Surely it would be a simple thing to add expand/collapse icons for the Headings list??
  • If you select an item, then click Insert and leave the dialog open, then select another item and click Insert again, the next time you try to do this, you lose the scroll bar and end up at the top of the list. Now you either have to close the dialog and start again, or use the page up/down etc. keys to navigate to the next cross-reference (the scroll bar is inactive) OR — here’s a tip — click in the scroll bar BEFORE you select the second and subsequent items, then you won’t lose it. It’s an extra click but quicker than having to scroll using the keyboard or closing and re-opening the dialog box. This appears to be fixed in Word 2007, based on the little testing I did.
  • The Insert reference to option does not hold between various Reference types. For example, if I choose Only label and number for a Figure, then I insert some figure cross-references, everything is fine. But if I then insert switch reference type to a Table (perhaps also selecting Only label and number) then when I go back to inserting a Figure cross-reference, the default (Entire Caption) is displayed and I have to re-select Only label and number, even if I’m in the same session (i.e. I haven’t closed the dialog and I haven’t closed the Word document). What I would like is for the selection I made the last time I inserted a Figure in this session to hold for the next time I insert a Figure. This would save me hundreds of mouse clicks per document! This is not fixed in Word 2007, which exhibits the same behavior as Word 2003.

These are all little things that perhaps wouldn’t be noticed if you were only using this dialog occasionally. But I’ve had to open it and insert thousands of cross-references over the past six months or so, and it’s limitations are apparent. And annoying.

See also:


A different perspective on economics

May 27, 2009

One book I’d been meaning to read since I first heard about it a couple of years back is Freakonomics, by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner. When I saw it in a bookstore a few weeks ago, I bought it.

It’s an interesting read — and makes you wonder about possible cause/effect relationships for all sorts of apparently dissimilar things.

The most fascinating chapter for me was Chapter 4 where they linked the drop in the crime rate in the 1990s to the legalization of abortion in many US states after the outcome of the Roe v Wade case. Compelling stuff that makes you think.

The other chapter that intrigued me was about how much parental influence affects how a child will turn out. The answer — which has no doubt surprised many people, especially parents — is ‘Not a lot’. Adding further ‘food for thought’ was the effect of a person’s first name on their job and life prospects.

Freakonomics is a light, entertaining read that makes you think, without getting bogged down in the more mathematical and statistical sides of economics.


Intelligent error message

May 26, 2009

I clicked a long (broken) link in a forwarded email message (see Note below about broken links in emails), fully prepared to see a standard 404 error message and ready to copy/paste the remainder of the link into the address line.

Instead I got this – an intelligent error message that clearly explains what went wrong and how to fix it! It’s only a little thing but I am VERY impressed:

Excellent 404 error message

Excellent 404 error message

(Note: Why can’t popular email applications like Outlook understand a long hyperlink in a forwarded message? Long, broken URLs are a real nuisance for users like my parents who don’t realise that they have to copy/paste the ending into the address line — they click on the link in the email expecting a page to display, and are disappointed when they get an error message. At least the error message above helps them get out of that situation — and learn a new technique in the process.)


Consistency reduces confusion

May 25, 2009

As I’ve stated in my presentations on reviewing user interfaces, if you follow the three C’s of communication — clarity, conciseness, and consistency — you reduce the other C — confusion.

The other day I encountered a situation in the Investor Centre on the Computershare website where a lack of consistency caused me some moments of hesitation and just a little confusion.

What am I meant to click?

What am I meant to click?

So what’s wrong with this picture, you might ask?

Well, I wanted to print out the current statement for my tax records. The instruction said to click on the ‘Statement history’ link (I’ve highlighted this in yellow). Simple enough?

I looked all over the page and the navigation menu for something called ‘Statement history’. But there was nothing. I looked again, just in case I’d missed it the first time. Nope. Nothing. So then I looked more closely at the navigation menu, and realised there was a menu item called ‘Payment History’ — perhaps that was it? But no — that was the page I was already on (the title and the visual cue in the navigation menu gave me that information). Maybe it was ‘Tax History’ or ‘Payment Statements’ or even ‘Holding Statements’? Each of these options had one of the two words in it I was told to look for. But which one did I have to click to get to the PDF so I could print it? After at least 30 seconds of this faffing around (technical term!), I tried ‘Payment Statements’ and found what I was looking for.

I SHOULD NOT have to spend 30 seconds looking for something that isn’t there, nor should I have to try the other options to see if any of them gave me what I wanted. I’m very computer savvy compared to the average Mom-and-Pop investor, and I wasted a good 30 seconds on this. Average Mom-and-Pop investor might spend even more time, perhaps call Support, or give up in frustration — every time they do this, Computershare’s reputation gets a little more tarnished in the eyes of their customers.

So here’s a hint for anyone from Computershare who finds this blog post — make sure the words on the screen match the words in the menu! It’s called consistency and it’s not rocket science. Consistency reduces confusion, and therefore frustration and anger. Users of your website feel that somehow they have failed because they haven’t been able to do something as simple as click a link that you’ve told them is there, but that they can’t find.

If only Computershare’s web designers had followed Steve Krug’s mantra — Don’t make me think!

It’s not that hard to be consistent. Really. And if your designers can’t see these inconsistencies, give the job to your technical writer or an editor or usability expert — they’ll find them for you. If you don’t have people like this in house, hire someone on a short-term contract who can do this sort of review for you.


“Written skills preferred”

May 24, 2009

job_ad2They want a Technical Writing (sic) / Content Editor “+ marketable (sic) writer” and they state that ‘Written (sic) skills are preferred and should be considered a requirement.”

You can see they need help just by reading this job ad. At least they had a clue that a technical writer might be the sort of person they need for the work.


WordPress now allows Slideshare embedding

May 23, 2009

For some time now, WordPress has allowed bloggers to embed YouTube videos into blog posts. Recently they announced that we can embed TED Talks videos. Now Slideshare have announced that slide sets hosted on their site can be embedded into WordPress.

This is good news for me as I have several of my conference presentations on Slideshare. They get much greater exposure there than they do on my website. My web pages that have these slide decks probably get about 50 to 100 hits per month, but on Slideshare the views are now in the thousands.

Adding this capability to embed Slideshare slide decks into WordPress blogs is great and potentially offers them to a larger audience (I average over 500 hits per business day on this blog now, up from 400 per day just 3 months ago).

Over the next few weeks, I’ll embed my slide decks in this blog so that you can view them without going to another site. Meantime, if you can’t wait ;-) you can always click the Slideshare button on the right (just below Blog Stats) to go to all my slide decks.

[Links last checked April 2009]


More hints for confusing words

May 22, 2009

A year ago, I posted some hints for troublesome words — mnemonics that might help you remember what word to use in a particular context. Here are some more.

There, they’re, their

Try this mnemonic for “there”: “Where [is it]? There [it is]!” (how you spell “where” is how you spell “there”)

For “they’re”, try saying the word as the phrase “they are” — if “they are” works in the sentence, then use “they’re”.

For “their”, think in terms of possession. “I have it” means that “I” possess it, so if there’s any sense of possession in the context, you must use “their” (it has the “I” of possession).

None of these mnemonics are from anywhere except my own head, but they may be useful to you.

Ensure, insure, assure

One thing that always surprises me when I visit the US and see the TV commercials, is the way these words are used interchangeably.

My rule of thumb is:

  • Ensure = make sure (in fact, I usually replace the term “ensure” with “make sure” for Plain English reasons and so there is NO doubt as to what “ensure” might mean)
  • Insure = make secure by taking out an INSURance policy
  • Assure = make the person feel secure by reASSURing them

Then, than

This one is misused so often!

Like the “Where? There!” example above, use “When? Then!” when talking about something that is related to time/date or sequence.

[Links last checked March 2009]


Immersing yourself in the writing

May 21, 2009

Finding it hard to get motivated to write? Then you need to immerse yourself in the writing process.

Trish Lambert, over at Success in Sweatpants (great name for a blog, by the way!), offers some very practical hints and tips of how to break out of the doldrums of writers’ block and get moving again.

She says:

When a writer doesn’t allow sufficient time to work in an uninterrupted space, he or she can’t get immersed in the material. Without that immersion, the writing skims along the surface, draws on other peoples’ ideas, and uses short cuts like cliches to communicate.

So immerse yourself. If not for the first draft, for the second, or for when you are reviewing the work of [others].

You can read her advice here:

[Links last checked April 2009; thanks to CharJTF on Twitter for alerting me to this article]