Archive for May, 2010

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Word: Find text and make it italic

May 31, 2010

I’ve been exposed to a LOT of citations since I’ve been editing scientific reports for my main client. Our editorial guide instructs authors to italicize ‘et al‘ in a citation, but many forget to do so. Or they copy a section from another document and paste it as unformatted text (as we want them to do), thus losing the italic formatting for that string of text.

Using Word’s Find/Replace function, I can quickly find all unformatted et al’s and make them italic.

Here’s how… (these instructions apply to both word 2003 and Word 2007)

  1. Open Word’s Find and Replace dialog box (Ctrl+H).
  2. Click the More button to expand the find/replace options.
  3. In the Find what field, type et al
  4. Click the Format button, then select Font.
  5. Select Regular from the Font Style list in the Find Font dialog box, then click OK. ‘Format: Font: Not Bold, Not Italic’ is added immediately below the Find what text box.
  6. In the Replace with field, type et al
  7. Click the Format button, then select Font.
  8. Select Italic from the Font Style list in the Find Font dialog box, then click OK. ‘Format: Font: Italic’ is added immediately below the Find what text box.
  9. Click Replace All.

You’re only limited by your imagination — you can use the same procedure for changing any font formatting for a particular text string, such as making it bold or small caps etc. Just make sure you put in the text for which you want to change the formatting into BOTH the Find and Replace fields.

Oh, and if you’re doing several find/replaces without closing Word in between you’ll see that Format option below the find and replace fields. To remove it, place your cursor in each field respectively and click the No Formatting button.

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When two worlds collide

May 30, 2010

Some of you know that I have a passion for making things from fabric, outside my life as a technical communicator. Others of you have no idea, so today I’m going to let my two worlds collide a little and share with you some of the ‘geeky’ bags and sleeves I make: knick knack bags, Kindle and iPad sleeves, and laptop totes.

Gratuitous self-promotion alert! ;-)

I have an Etsy store where I sell these bags, as well as lots of other practical things made from fabric, like bookmarks, journal covers, and luggage tags. I can also make custom items from my large stash of fabric (photos of much of my fabric stash are on Flickr). Mostly I make things for the creative buzz it gives me, but I’ve got to do something with it all! Thus the Etsy store. (BTW, Etsy.com is a place for those who make unique hand-made items — there are a couple of other technical communicators on there too!)

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Text preferences survey results

May 28, 2010

Message, a web design and development company in the UK, ran an online survey to find out the answer to this question: “What are the preferred column widths, font sizes, typefaces and line-heights for reading text online.”

More than 5000 people responded and Message have now made available the results. In summary:

  • Serif fonts: Georgia is likely to be most readable by the majority of a given audience.
  • Sans serif fonts: You can flip a coin between Arial and Verdana.
  • Font sizes: All fonts tested are in the ‘readable zone’ if they’re around 12 pt to 15 pt.
  • Column width: Depending on the font and size used, the ‘readable zone’ for column widths is between 450 px and 675 px.
  • Line height: At ‘readable’ sizes (around 12 pt to 15 pt), a line height value of 1.3 is a strong favorite across all fonts.

For the full survey results, see the original articles:

(BTW, as I use a standard WordPress theme, I cannot adjust the font, its size or color in this blog…)

[Links last checked May 2010]

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Word: Remove excess paragraph marks

May 27, 2010

Many Word users don’t use styles to format their documents. Instead, they apply manual formatting to text, and press Enter twice each time they want a bit of white space between paragraphs. However, if the document goes through several review cycles, there’s a good chance that one of the reviews will involve applying a template — and thus its styles — to the original document. And this can result is excessive white space between paragraphs where an extra Enter was used to add space.

For example, in the screen shot below, the author has pressed Enter once at the end of each paragraph.

However, the eye is used to differentiating one paragraph from another with white space, so the author presses Enter again to get that extra bit of space, as in the screen shot below:

When one of the reviewers applies a template with styles that include paragraph ‘leading’ (the above/below space for a paragraph), the result is too much white space, as shown in this next screen shot:

Now, if you only have a few paragraphs to tidy up, you could remove the excess paragraph marks manually. But as soon as you have a page or more of these empty paragraphs, you’ll want a quicker way to get rid of them.

Here’s how… (this works in both Word 2003 and Word 2007)

  1. Press Ctrl+H to open Word’s Find and Replace dialog box.
  2. In the Find what field, type ^p^p (that’s two lots of Shift+6 to get the ^ character followed immediately by a lower case p — the p MUST be lower case). DO NOT insert any spaces. What you’re doing here is getting Word to look for any paragraph mark (^p) followed immediately by another paragraph mark (the other ^p).
  3. In the Replace with field, type ^p (once, no spaces) to replace two consecutive paragraph marks with just one.
  4. Click Replace All.

When Word has finished replacing the two consecutive paragraphs with one, you’ll get something like this, where the white space is only controlled by the above/below values for the paragraph’s style:

Other uses:

  • To replace two consecutive tabs with a single tab: Find ^t^t and replace with ^t.
  • To replace two consecutive soft line breaks with one: Find ^l^l and replace with ^l (that’s a lower case L for library).

See also:

[Links last checked May 2010]

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“In the event of my death…”

May 26, 2010

I was talking on the phone with a computer support person a few weeks back, and we got around to chatting about what happens to a person’s digital life when they die. Things like:

  • Who has the authority to take down your website(s), turn off Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, close your blogs etc.?
  • Where do you keep the vital information required for someone to shut these things down for you and to notify your online ‘friends’ of your passing?
  • These days, should your ‘last will and testament’ specify who has the task of closing down your digital life? We have Executors to finalize our legal and financial lives, but what about our digital lives? (and remember, an individual can have many digital lives, not just one) Do you need a ‘digital executor’?
  • Is the person you nominate to look after your affairs tech-savvy enough to know what to do? And what do they have to do anyway?
  • Will your ‘digital executor’ need some sort of pre-death authority from you to contact providers and close accounts? Or do they have to provide a copy of your death certificate to the account provider?
  • If there is money in your PayPal account on your death, who has the authority to withdraw/transfer that money? What rules does PayPal have about this? What sort of authority does PayPal need to transfer your money to your estate? How does your Executor even *know* that you have a PayPal account?
  • What happens to your saved and incoming email and contacts? Have you left instructions for the person looking after your digital affairs to email everyone in your contacts list telling them of your passing? How long do you keep the accounts open? Should you keep monitoring them for a period of time before you close them down?
  • Does your digital executor have instructions for unsubscribing from email and other lists you’re on?

These are just some of the many questions that sprang to my mind. None of us is getting any younger and at some point we will all die. But these days our lives are more and more entwined with the online world, making it all the harder for those ‘tidying up the loose ends’ of our lives.

Like many others, I have several digital lives/personas/email addresses — and heaps of usernames and passwords for various online sites that I access and online services that I subscribe to. I use software for storing all my usernames and passwords; it has a master password to get into it. But who else knows this master password? Until recently, no-one!

We lived in a bushfire-prone area for 3 years. After a fire nearly razed our town and scared the bejesus out of me, I got together a physical folder of paper copies of our vital information that was stored in scattered places in a 4-drawer filing cabinet — things like our birth certificates, wills, insurance papers, house titles, passports, copies of drivers licenses, lists of bank account numbers, and critical usernames/passwords for our bank accounts, my Etsy store, my PayPal account etc. And a piece of paper with the master password for the password software installed on my computer and synced with my PDA. Yes, I know — it’s not very secure!

My husband knows the folder exists and where it is. If we both died at the same time, whoever looked after our affairs would eventually find that folder, and hopefully be able to act on it, though it could take time.

Have you thought about the preparations you can make now so that it’s easier for your family to make decisions about your digital life after you pass? Maybe someone’s already created a checklist of things to consider… If anyone knows of such a list — or can think of things to add to such a list — please comment below.

Some online services provide ways of storing your digital assets or access to your digital assets. For example:

(Please note: I have not used these services so I cannot vouch for them — I’m just passing on the details in case they are of interest to others.)

See also:

Updates:

[Links last checked March 2014]

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The importance of an About page — and what you should include in it

May 25, 2010

In his Guidelines for Writing a Good About Page, Jacob Gube covers:

  • the three types of readers who come to an About page (first time visitors, regular users, and people who want to work with you) and what information they are looking for when they get there
  • what you should include in an About page (the who, what, where, when, why and how of your company)
  • how to use the ‘inverted pyramid’ structure in your About page
  • the importance of writing with personality.

Gube also shows and discusses example About pages and why they work.

A great resource for a web page that everyone has, but not everyone does well.

The link to that article again? http://sixrevisions.com/content-strategy/about-page-guidelines/

[Links last checked May 2010]

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A good case for cutting dead words

May 24, 2010

An article on minimalist technical writing at Publishing Smarter (http://www.publishingsmarter.com/resources/books-and-articles/why-minimalism-matters) focuses on precise and concise writing.

Through some good examples of cutting dead and redundant words, the authors show how to prune documentation costs — especially when translating your documents into multiple languages — just by pruning your writing. The cost reductions they list near the end of the article make a compelling case for concise writing.

See also:

[Links last checked May 2010]