Archive for December, 2010


Taking a short break from blogging

December 26, 2010

With the holiday season upon us, I’m taking a short break from this blog. I’ll return early in the New Year.

Happy holidays, all!


Placement of adjectives and adverbs

December 24, 2010

As a native English speaker, I didn’t realize there was an order in which adjectives and adverbs are used to describe things. But it seems there’s a ‘Royal Order of Adjectives’, as nicely described by Jeanne Purdue on her blog:, and also a ‘Royal Order of Adverbs’:

I can see this being very useful for those horrendous part names for equipment that I sometimes have to deal with.

Thanks Jeanne!

[Link last checked December 2010]


Word 2007: Building Blocks add extra characters to fields

December 23, 2010

I’ve been testing a new Word 2007 template in preparation for a very large document that multiple authors are likely to work on during 2011. So I’m looking at all sorts of ways to save authors time so that their main task becomes writing the content, not fiddling with formatting, headers and footers etc. And a side benefit is to save me time during the many QA/editing/review cycles that I’m likely to be involved in.

One of the areas I’ve been investigating is the built-in document automation and Building Blocks in Word 2007. And while some of these features are very useful, I’ve come across an issue that I can’t fix. I’ve Googled the problem, but either I’m not using the correct search terms, or no-one else has come across this before.

I’d appreciate any help or suggestions that you can offer to fix this.

I’ll use the Table of Contents (TOC) as an example (the problem occurs with other insertions like this too).

If I insert one of the built-in Table of Contents from the References > Table of Contents tab, it goes in nicely. The default style for the TOC heading is TOC Heading.

Now, if I reference this TOC Heading style in a field using the StyleRef field code, I get a left arrow character inserted as part of the field in front of the Table of Contents text.

The left arrow is not part of the TOC heading, and it’s not in the field code (see screen shot below).


So where has it come from — and, more to the point, how do I get rid of it?

I’ve also seen this with other Building Blocks I’ve added, and those ones get an arrow before AND after the text. I abandoned using Building Blocks for the document title because of this as I wanted to use StyleRef fields for these elements in my headers.

I’ve created my own TOC and added my own TOC title manually to get around this issue. So much for using the built-in automation…

Has anyone got any ideas as to how I can get rid of these characters? I’d like to take advantage of the built-in automation and building blocks, but not if it makes a mess of my headers and footers.

[Links last checked December 2010]


It’s a question, dammit

December 22, 2010


Yet ANOTHER message box that contains a question that can only elicit a Yes/No response, but instead has the options of OK and Cancel.

The OK isn’t so bad as it answers the question with an acceptable response: “Would you like to see a description of the updates that have been installed?”, “OK”. If I click OK, I expect to see the update descriptions, and I do.

But what does Cancel mean? “Would you like to see a description of the updates that have been installed?”, “Cancel”. That’s just a meaningless response option for this question.

A question like this should only have Yes/No response options.

And to compound the confusion about what to choose, there’s a second option in the message box: “Do not show this message again next time” Huh? Does OK/Cancel apply to this option too? And isn’t ‘again next time’ redundant? And this option contains a negative action (‘Do not show’), whereas the first question was phrased as a positive action. No wonder users get confused.

Maybe it would be better if the wording in this message box was something like:

Your updates were installed.

<check box> Show descriptions of these updates

<check box> Show this message next time updates are installed

OK / Cancel

That way the Yes/No responses are captured in the states of the check boxes, and the OK/Cancel options are valid.

User confusion can easily be avoided by using clear communication.


Charitable donation instead of Christmas cards

December 21, 2010

As in previous years, I have made a charitable donation on behalf of CyberText Consulting in lieu of sending out Christmas cards to clients or having a Christmas party (with myself).

As in 2008, I have donated $500 to the Western Operations of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia.

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

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

More information:

[Links last checked December 2010]


Word 2007: Citation and Bibliography function

December 20, 2010

Some time back I took a quick look at Word 2007’s Citation and Bibliography styles. At the time, I was checking if the referencing style my client used was available, and if not, whether I could find something suitable and/or modify it. At that time I came across BibWord, but it all looked too hard.

Fast forward almost a year, and I got to investigate this function again as I may be working on a very large scientific report next year that will have multiple authors and potentially hundreds of references that those authors will have to cite. I wanted to see how hard it was to enter new references in Word 2007, whether I could modify a BibWord style that was close to what we require, and generally just put this Word 2007 function through its paces.

I must say I’ve been impressed with BibWord so far, and particularly impressed with the developer’s response to my many questions about sharing references across multiple authors and multiple sections of the document (see this Forum post for my questions and his very prompt answers:

However, I’m not as impressed with the Word 2007 functionality. At first glance it looks easy to use. But there are some serious usability issues with the dialog boxes that make it very cumbersome to use if you have a large list of references, references with particularly long titles, and references that include things like Acts of parliament or species names that typically take the opposite formatting of the title (e.g. if you have a title that contains a species name, you would italicize the main title but not the species name if you were entering the reference manually).

Here are some of the shortcomings I’ve found with the Manage Sources and Create Source dialog boxes, and the Insert Citation function in Word 2007. Most, if not all of these, should have been fixed prior to release as none of them are difficult fixes, in my opinion (I’m not a programmer, but I’ve been around enough programmers in software companies for the last 18+ years to have some understanding of what’s do-able and what’s not).

Manage Sources/Create Source dialog boxes

  • Title field is limited to <255 characters. However, I have several docs with LONG titles, including Government reports, names of Standards, corporate reports etc. e.g. Guidance for the Assessment of Environmental Factors Western Australia (in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act 1986) – Terrestrial Flora and Vegetation Surveys for Environmental Impact Assessment in Western Australia, No. 51. Or this one: State Water Quality Management Strategy No. 6 (SWQ6): Implementation Framework for Western Australia for the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality and Water Quality Monitoring and Reporting (Guidelines No 4 & 7: National Water Quality Management Strategy). I cannot enter the full title because of this limitation.
  • Manage Sources dialog box cannot be resized by the user. This means that long titles that start with the same words (e.g. a long project title) cannot be viewed in full the top panels; they can only be viewed in the bottom panel after you select the reference.
  • You have to scroll to see more than four lines of a reference. This is crazy! When you select a reference in the top panel, only a couple of lines of it display in the lower section (including a blank line!) and you have to scroll to see it all, even if there’s only half a line that’s not visible. This is just BAD design.
  • No formatting can be applied to a title or any other field. So, if you have the title of an Act of Parliament in the title or the name of a species, you can’t specify that it is not to be displayed in italics.
  • You cannot specify an abbreviation of a long corporate author for the citation. For example, ‘Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council and Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand’ goes into the citation in full each time, whereas after first usage, my authors want to cite it as ‘ANZECC/ARMCANZ’.
  • Symbols such as en dashes cannot be inserted easily. For example, our style is to use an en dash to separate a page range. You can’t insert one in the field using the keyboard or a toolbar icon — the only way you can insert an en dash is to copy it from somewhere else and paste it in.
  • Non-breaking spaces and non-breaking hyphens cannot be inserted. Some titles include elements that shouldn’t split when they wrap to the next line (e.g. a value and its unit of measure, or a date in full in the title should not be separated), so I would normally insert use a non-breaking space or a non-breaking hyphen for these.
  • You cannot insert a reference into the document from the Manage Sources dialog box. It would be useful to have an Insert button on the Manage Sources window too so that you can select from list and immediately insert the citation. Same for an Insert Placeholder option from the Manage Sources window.
  • AutoCorrect doesn’t work in the fields on the Manage Sources window. If you’ve specified an AutoCorrect entry for common phrases etc. (e.g .epa for Environmental Protection Authority), it won’t work. This means you have to type the complete phrase in EVERY time, or copy/paste it.
  • AutoComplete doesn’t work in the fields on the Manage Sources window. There’s no ‘memory’ of previous data entry. This means you can make errors like entering both ‘Environment Protection Agency’ and ‘Environmental Protection Authority’ (or any other typos) and it won’t be picked up – you won’t see it until you notice similar entries in the bibliography and wonder why they are out of order.
  • You cannot duplicate an existing entry. Being able to duplicate and modify the duplicate then save it as a new entry would save a LOT of time in data entry! For example, we will have hundreds of internal reports that will be cited. They all have the same corporate author, place of publication etc. and many start with the same project title. Being able to copy an existing entry and modify it would save us bucketloads of time.
  • Sort by Author doesn’t work as expected. ‘Sort by Author’ is the default sort for items listed in the two panels on the Manage Sources dialog box, and the sources are listed by author then title then date. However, the sort doesn’t appear to be by author at all. At first I thought it was by title, then I thought it was by type of reference (e.g. reports before journal articles before books, before web documents), then by whether it’s a corporate author or a ‘normal’ author. But I’m really not sure — it appears to be random! Fortunately, the Insert Citation list is in author order, so is easier to navigate.

    These are all corporate authors and they are all reports, but they aren’t sorted by author

  • Sort by Title doesn’t ignore initial articles. Therefore titles starting with ‘The’ are listed under T, not the second word as is standard practice (same for titles starting with A and An).

    The second title ‘A new…’ should be listed under ‘N’ not ‘A’

  • Finding a reference in a long list is very difficult. It’s very hard to find an author or title in a LONG list (and I’m talking hundreds of references – our manual master references list is over 100 pages, with anything from 10 to 15 references per page!). Sorting helps to an extent (see the limitations I’ve listed above), but with a window that cannot be resized, it’s trial and error to find the correct reference.
  • Minor quibbles about the layout of the Manage Sources and Create Sources dialog boxes. Some fields should be small in width (e.g. a year is only ever a maximum of four numbers, yet the Year field extends across the form). The option to Show All Bibliography Fields may not be needed if the window was resizable — for some reference types, clicking this option only displays one extra field, so it seems a bit strange.

Insert Citation list

  • Very difficult to find/jump to items in a long list. When you’ve added more than about 12 sources, the selection list on the Insert Citation list gets a scroll bar and it can be difficult finding the reference you want. I expect my long document to have a few hundred sources, so this could be painful…. As far as I can tell, you can’t type a letter to jump to that section of the list, so scrolling to find the W authors in a sea of hundreds of citations every time I want to insert that citation would become really tedious really quickly.


  • You cannot edit a source from within the  bibliography. You can right-click on a citation and get the option to edit it from there, but you can’t right-click on an entry in the automated bibliography and get the option to edit that entry on the Manage Source dialog. This means you either have to either find the citation and right-click on it, or open the Manage Source dialog and hunt for the reference there to edit it.

Bottom line:

With some real-life usability testing, I suspect most of these issues would have shown up to developers BEFORE they released this feature of Word 2007. I suspect that no-one tested it with hundreds of references (as would be used in a thesis or major scientific report) — if they had, they would have realized that it has severe limitations from a usability perspective.

Anyone know someone in the Microsoft Word team? If so, can you pass this blog post on to them.

[Links last checked December 2010]


Incident with a chair

December 17, 2010

As a member of a health, environment and safety (HES) team, I’m on the email distribution list for all reported incidents. Most are just your standard reports, but sometimes one comes into my Inbox that causes me to smile. While this incident and the potential back/coccyx injury to the person isn’t funny, I smiled at the way the consequences and actions were written up.

BTW, IP = injured person and ‘char’ should be ‘chair’.