Archive for July, 2010


If only this would happen in real life

July 31, 2010

A delightful exchange on one of the email discussion lists I’m on (my emphasis):

A: I’m teaching one of the founders of the company how to be a technical writer, because that’s what he wants to do now.

B: Best way to learn is to experience it first hand. I suggest you both switch salaries for the first 6 months to give him a true feel for the job. If he’s still eager after 6 months, start training him on the actual job aspects.

If only… I love this idea! ;-)


And in breaking news…

July 30, 2010

See this little guy? He’s over there on the right, too! And he represents something pretty cool to this blog.

MindTouch Most Influential Technical Communication Bloggers

I woke up later than usual this morning, so I didn’t get to check my email, Twitter feeds, etc. until after 8:00 am (I’m usually online by 5:00 or 6:00 am when most of the US is still working). So I’d missed the initial ‘rush’ of Tweets, blog posts etc. from the technical communication community on The Most Influential Technical Communicator Bloggers.

I was gobsmacked (that’s a technical term!), excited, honored, and humbled find I was listed #9 in the top 25 (IN THE WORLD!!! How cool is that!!).

I am in exalted company indeed — I personally know and have met several of those on the list, and have professional and collegiate relationships with many of the others by phone or email or else I follow their blogs or their Tweets.

When I started this blog it was for the prime purpose of ‘propping up my dodgy memory‘ (thanks for that great tag line, Steph). In other words, this blog was to act as my ‘brain dump’ for all the little bits and pieces I’ve learned along the way — information that often isn’t in the Help, or easy to find on the internet, or stuff that I find out how to do then don’t need to do again for some months or even years. The other purpose was to share that knowledge. I figure if I’ve had a problem with, say, Word, and learned to solve it, then there are bound to be others out there who’ve had the same problem. Those are still my main goals in writing this blog.

So to all who read and/or subscribe to these blog posts of mine, or who follow me on Twitter (@cybertext), thank you for your support and comments. And to all new subscribers and followers as a result of the list published by Mark Fidelman at MindTouch, welcome!

(BTW, it was good to see two Aussies on the list of 25 — Sarah Maddox at #8 and me at #9! Aussie, Aussie Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi! ;-) )

You can see the complete list here:

[Links last checked July 2010]


A different 404 error message

July 30, 2010

Here’s a different 404 error message sent to me by Sarah:

(from:; thanks Sarah)

[Link last checked July 2010]



July 29, 2010

No, not THAT sort of dating! I’m talking about dating blog posts, articles, magazine/journal issues etc. and dates used in documents.

I’m a great believer in Steve Krug’s mantra: “Don’t make me think!” so I try as hard as possible to make sure that I don’t use relative time and date words (like currently, recently, lately, last week/month/year, yesterday, tomorrow) UNLESS I also have a specific point of reference for that relative time and date.

In this blog, the date of the post is automatically added to the post, and I include a specific month and year when I add a statement about when I last checked the links in a particular post. Even so, if I say ‘last week’, that automatic date adds an extra processing step for a reader, especially a reader coming to the post long after its original publication — they have to think ‘Last week? When was that? Whose last week — mine reading it, or when it was posted?’. Then, to confirm when ‘last week’ was, they have to shift their eyes away from the content to the date stamp at the top of the post. But at least there IS a point of reference.

However, there are MANY websites where the content states a relative time, but gives NO specific date/time as a point of reference. For example, ‘Last month, <name of band> released their latest CD.’ There are two problems with this type of statement: the reader has no idea when ‘last month’ was if the article or web page isn’t dated, nor do they know which ‘latest’ album is being referred to, as the album isn’t named and nor is a date given. If this statement was in a newspaper, the problem isn’t so bad, as newspapers have a date on each page, which is the point of reference for the statement.

But non-commercial websites, in particular, are notorious for not dating content. Which means those researching information cannot figure out when something occurred. For some information, this isn’t an issue, but for a lot of information, the lack of a date is a real problem as it makes the content hard to verify and can lead to assumptions that may not be true. For example, let’s say you’re away from home. You read on a blog somewhere ‘Last week, <name of your town> was flooded’, but there’s no date reference. You might assume that the flood was only a few days ago and go into panic mode, whereas the flood may have been a few years ago.

Then there’s the issue of date formats. Much of the world — except the US and Canada — uses the day/month/year format, so 03/04/09 is 3 April, 2009 (or is it 1909? for genealogical researchers, a full year is essential). But in North America, where they use the month/day/year format, 03/04/09 means March 4, 2009 — a completely different date. So if you don’t know the origin of the blog, website, printed article etc. and come across a date like 03/04/09, how do you know which date is being referred to?

Outside the digital world, many magazines and journals do not print a date on an issue. Instead, they might use Volume #/Issue # or a season (e.g. Summer 2010, Fall 2009). However, volume/issue numbers without a month and year of publication, at least, are next to useless for the casual researcher.

Seasons are problematic because the hemispheres have different and opposite seasons, as well as different names (for example, in Australia we use ‘autumn’ not ‘fall’). If I see Summer 2010 on a magazine I’m not familiar with, I have to do several steps to figure out the approximate date of issue, thus breaking the “Don’t make me think” rule:

  • I have to check inside the publication to find out where it was published (US/Canada/Europe, or Australia/New Zealand/South Africa).
  • Once I know where it was published, I have to do a calculation in my head to figure out which months are meant by Summer 2010. If it’s a northern hemisphere publication, I figure they mean June/July/August; if the southern hemisphere, I figure they mean December/January/February. But there’s more…
  • If I really need a specific date, now I have to figure out an approximate day. The US (and Canada?) start their seasons on equinoxes and solstices (around the 21st of June for summer, for example), whereas in Australia the seasons start on the 1st of the month (e.g. 1st December for summer).
  • Update Tweeted by Kirsty T: Don’t forget that Summer 2010 in Australia likely means Dec 2009 to Feb 2010, but Dec 2010 is still a summer month in 2010!

As you can see, I have to do a LOT of thinking just to figure out the actual dates referred to by that Summer 2010 publication.

Then there’s New Year. If you read New Year 2009 does that mean 31 December 2009, or 1 January 2009? These dates are a year apart! The only way to be clear to the reader is to state the date in full.

And movable holidays like Easter. The dates for Easter 2008 are quite different to the dates for Easter 2009, Easter 2010 etc. Again, be specific and state the date or date range in full.

Finally, my husband has an issue with annual events like the Grammy Awards. He researches music information, so the 47th Grammy Awards is meaningless to him — he has to search other sites to find out the year in which the 47th Grammy Awards were held. Simply adding the year would help enormously in figuring out which previous calendar year the awards apply to — e.g. 47th Grammy Awards (held 13 Feb 2005) or just 47th Grammy Awards (held 2005) tells a researcher that the awards are for music likely produced in 2004.

You might think dating or not dating something is trivial, but it is a real problem for researchers. Researchers need a date, and that date should be written as clearly and unambiguously as possible so that they don’t have to think about what it really means. Lack of specific dates is also problematic for translators. You can see the steps I have to go through just to translate a North American date into one I can understand; just imagine what it’s like doing that for a different language or geographic location as well.

Update: Another potentially confusing date is Q1, Q2 etc. for the quarters of the year. But which year? The calendar year (January to December)? The financial year? (in Australia, that’s July to the following June, but in the US I think it is January to December; then add in the complication that some big companies have their own financial reporting year, which could go from April to March the following year! Talk about confusing!). Again, spell out the date/month range you’re referring to, at least in the first instance of Q1, Q2 etc.

Bottom line:

  • Avoid using relative time/date words such as recently, currently, last week, etc. UNLESS you also include a specific time/date reference.
  • Write the date out in full — 3 April 2009, or 4 March 2009 — instead of using a shortened date format that can be misinterpreted (such as 03/04/09). You can shorten the written months to Apr and Mar, if you need to save space/ink. Similarly, write out in full the months of the quarter range for Q1, Q2, etc. in the first instance.
  • Add a year, or a month/year to Volume/Issue (e.g. Vol 32, Issue 6, 2010).
  • Avoid using a season as a date, or, if you can’t avoid it, add the month range as well (e.g. Summer 2010 — Jun-Aug).

See also:

[Links last checked November 2020]


Speaking of CYA documentation…

July 28, 2010

On page 84 of the June 2010 issue of Australian Personal Computer magazine was an article titled ‘How to surf privately (and watch O/S TV)’. (O/S = overseas)

It seems that Australians can’t watch TV programs on the BBC iPlayer website or through Hulu in the US (among others). Equally, those in the US cannot watch iView programs on the Australian ABC’s website. It’s something to do with digital rights and the detection of IP addresses from various countries. So this article described how to get around these restrictions using various Proxy and VPN services.

However, I suspect that giving these sorts of instructions is probably borderline legal, so the article concluded with this outstanding piece of CYA (cover your a**) writing:

We must stress that we don’t condone Australians accessing content that is restricted to them, but we are concerned that British or US visitors to Australia are unable to watch their favourite shows on the BBC’s iPlayer of the US network’s Hulu service.


(The full article is online here:

[Links last checked July 2010]


Word: Link to a place in another document

July 27, 2010

You can link from one Word document (doc A) to a particular place in another Word document (doc B) using Bookmarks.

NOTE: I would expect that if you moved the documents from their saved and linked locations, the links will break.

The steps and screens for Word 2003 and 2007 are almost exactly the same; the screen shots in these steps are from Word 2003.

Create a bookmark at the specific location in document B

  1. Open document B (the document you want to link to) and go to the place where you want the link in document A to point to.
  2. Insert a bookmark at that place in document B, giving it a meaningful name (make sure there are no spaces or punctuation in the name):
    • Word 2003: Insert > Bookmark
    • Word 2007: Insert tab > Links group > Bookmark button

Create the link in document A

  1. Open document A and select the text where you want to insert the link to document B.
  2. Insert a hyperlink:
    • Word 2003: Insert > Hyperlink
    • Word 2007: Insert tab > Links group > Hyperlink button
  3. On the Insert Hyperlink window, make sure Existing File or Web Page is selected on the left (1 in the screen shot).
  4. Check the Text to display to make sure it has the word you want as the link text (2).
  5. Using the Look in field and its drop-down arrow (3), navigate to the folder where document B is located.
  6. Select document B (4).
  7. Click Bookmark (5).
  8. Select the named bookmark from the list, then click OK.
  9. The bookmark is added to the file address.
  10. Click OK again to close the Insert Hyperlink window. Your selected text is now a link to the other document.

Related posts:

[Links last checked July 2010]


New Google image search

July 26, 2010

Google’s rolled out a new way to display image search results — and a lot of people don’t like it, especially as up to 1000 image thumbnails display per page now and all the old information like where the image was from, its dimensions and its file size are now only available by hovering over the image and seeing the details in a pop-up window.

You can reset your image results display back to the old view by scrolling to the bottom of the search results, then clicking Switch to basic version. However, as at the date of writing this post (25 July 2010), this setting only holds for the current session and doesn’t ‘stick’.

I can imagine an awful lot of people still on dial-up or slow links or limited download plans (and yes, that’s a LOT of the world, Google!) will NOT be happy with this change as the amount of data transferred to display 1000 images could well blow out their slow connections or download limits.

#fail Google. At least allow users to set the type of display they want in their search Preferences… and don’t assume that Google users throughout the world have high-speed, always-on, unlimited download access like many in the US do. We don’t.

(By the way, I don’t see the new search results display yet in Firefox or IE — but my husband has been getting them for a day or so. We’re on the same static IP address, so I have no idea why he sees them and I don’t as there’s nothing different in our settings.)


Word 2007: Create an automatic Table of Contents

July 23, 2010

It’s very easy to set up an automatic Table of Contents (TOC) in Word 2007 — the only ‘rule’ is that you must use styles for your headings. (Word 2003 instructions)

You can either use Word’s built-in Heading styles or create your own. To get a hierarchical TOC, make sure you also use hierarchical heading styles for each topic’s main heading, subheading, and sub-subheadings (e.g. Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3).

Step 1: Set up your document

You need to use hierarchical heading styles for your headings and subheadings.

  1. Start a new document.
  2. Press Enter a few times to create some space for the TOC.
  3. Add some headings and some text.
  4. Apply Word’s default Heading 1, 2, and 3 styles to the headings.

Step 2: Insert a default Table of Contents

  1. Click in the empty space you created at the beginning of the document.
  2. Go to the References tab > Table of Contents group.
  3. Click the Table of Contents button.
  4. Select one of Word’s built-in TOCs from the list.
  5. Your Table of Contents is inserted.

Step 3: Update the TOC

After you add more content to the document or shift content around, you’ll need to update the TOC to reflect the revised page numbering and the new or deleted headings. There are several methods you can use to update the TOC — choose the one that best suits the way you work:

  • Click anywhere in the TOC, then press F9.
  • Go to the References tab > Table of Contents group, then click Update Table.
  • Click in the built-in TOC, then click Update Table (this only works for built-in TOCs, not a TOC you create yourself).

No matter which method you use, you’ll be asked if you want to update just the page numbers only or the entire table. The safest option is Entire Table — this updates both the page numbers AND adds or removes headings to reflect the current headings used.


Insert your own TOC

You might not like the default TOCs that Word provides, in which case you can create your own using various settings. For example, you might want to show one, two or four heading levels, instead of the default three; you might not want dots for the tab leader; you might not want the page numbers over on the right, etc. To take advantage of these settings, you’ll need to insert your own TOC.

  1. Click in the empty space you created at the beginning of the document.
  2. Go to the References tab > Table of Contents group.
  3. Click the Table of Contents button.
  4. Click Insert Table of Contents.
  5. Change the settings on the Table of Contents window to suit your style, then click OK.

Modify the TOC styles

If you don’t like the fonts used in the TOC, or how the heading levels are indented,  you’ll need to modify the styles. You can either do this through the Styles pane or from the Table of Contents settings (as I describe below).

  1. Click anywhere in the TOC, then go to the References tab > Table of Contents group again.
  2. Click the Table of Contents button, then click Insert Table of Contents again.
  3. Click the Modify button to change the ‘look and feel’ of the TOC.
  4. Select the TOC style (e.g. TOC 1, TOC 2 etc.), then click Modify to change that style’s font, tab indentation, etc.
  5. Make the changes to the style, then click OK.
  6. Repeat Steps 4 and 5 for each of the other TOC levels you want to change.
  7. When you have finished changing the appearance of each TOC level, click OK.
  8. You will be asked if you want to replace the existing TOC — click OK to do so.

Add or remove a level from the TOC

You might have appendices or other elements in your document that you want to include in the TOC, but they use their own heading styles, not the standard ones. These steps show you how to add or remove a style from the default list of styles used for the automatic TOC.

  1. Click anywhere in the TOC, then go to the References tab > Table of Contents group again.
  2. Click the Table of Contents button, then click Insert Table of Contents again.
  3. Click the Options button to specify other styles to use to create the auto TOC and the hierarchical level appearance they will take, or to remove styles from the TOC.
  4. You’ll notice that Headings 1, 2, and 3 already have 1, 2, and 3 next to them if you’ve kept the default setting of three levels.

    • To add another style to the TOC, find the style in the list, then type 1, 2, or 3 in its TOC Level text box (use 1 for a TOC 1 listing, 2 for a TOC 2 listing, 3 for a TOC 3 listing).
    • To remove a style from the TOC, find the style in the list, then delete the number from its TOC Level text box. Don’t press the spacebar — just delete the number.
  5. Click OK.
  6. You will be asked if you want to replace the existing TOC — click OK to do so.

See also:

[Links last checked July 2010]


Word 2007: Setting up protected form fields

July 22, 2010

Lucille, a work colleague, couldn’t figure out how to set up protected form fields in Word 2007. I haven’t dealt with these a lot (and not at all in Word 2007), but I was able to figure it out for her.

You’ll be working on the Developer tab, so make sure it’s visible before you start:

Now you can start setting up your form fields:

  1. Enter the text for the form field labels into your document.
  2. Position the cursor where you want the response to go (typically after the label).
  3. Go to the Developer tab > Controls group.
  4. Click the icon for the type of form field you want to insert (e.g. text , date ). You can also click the Legacy Tools icon to insert the controls you were familiar with in Word 2003 and earlier.
  5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 for all other form fields you want to insert.
  6. Save your document.

Finally, protect the form fields:

  1. Go to the Developer tab > Protect group and click the large Protect Document icon.
  2. Select Restrict Formatting and Editing from the drop-down list.
  3. On the Restrict Formatting and Editing task pane, select the Allow only this type of editing in the document check box, select Filling in forms from the drop-down list, then click the Yes, Start Enforcing Protection button. (Note: If this button is not active, click the Developer mode button in the Controls group as it may be turned on and you need to turn it off.)
  4. You are asked to set a password for this document. You can either set a password OR leave all these fields blank (i.e. no password), then click OK.
  5. Save your document. Anyone opening the document can now only fill in the form fields — they cannot edit the document.

Comparing careers: Technical communicators and librarians

July 21, 2010

My first career was as a high school teacher-librarian. I did that job for 18 years and loved every minute of it. The reason I left in the early 1990s was the opportunity to work for a library automation/software company, doing everything from answering calls on the help desk to installations, training, functional requirements writing, software testing, writing training courses, writing the user manual and online help, creating the company’s website, etc . While working for that company, I segued into technical writing without knowing that’s what it was called. I’ve now been a technical communicator (technical writer, technical editor, etc.) for close to 18 years. And I love this job as much as my previous career.

Just the other day there was a discussion on one of my lists about moving from technical writing (TW) into librarianship (Lib) and vice versa. So I offered my quick thoughts on the similarities I’ve found between the two careers:

  • Macro view of knowledge/information (Lib) vs micro view (TW)
  • Using signposts to access information, whether creating them (TW) or teaching about them (Lib). Signposts include things like headings, TOCs, indexes (for both) and classification systems (Lib only)
  • Learning new stuff every day (both). This is probably the biggest reason I’ve loved both jobs — I think I’d love any job where I was continually learning.
  • Dealing with metadata (both — Lib = catalog info; TW = web pages). I knew about Dublin Core back in the mid-90s, and earlier versions of it such as MARC data in the 70s, 80s etc. So metadata is not new — it’s been around for centuries in the library world, though the web world seems to think of it as something fairly new.

If you’ve also been in both careers, do you have anything else to add to this list?