Archive for May, 2011


Someone forgot to delete the unwanted line

May 31, 2011

I saw this at the bottom of an online survey that HP asked me to take after I’d had the server fan issue:

I think someone forgot to delete or comment out the line with the typo. Not a good look for a company the size of Hewlett-Packard.

[Link last checked May 2011]


Word: Change date formats from Excel data

May 30, 2011

When you’re using an Excel spreadsheet for mail merge data in Word, any dates come in in the ‘native’ Excel date format even if you’ve changed the date format for the relevant cells in Excel. I use the date format dd mmmm yyyy in Excel, but it comes into a Word mail merge date field as mm/dd/yyyy, which is not what I want at all.

If you want the date in the mail merged document to be displayed differently, then you have to add a switch to the mail merge field in Word.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Insert the mail merge field for the date into the Word document as normal.
  2. Right-click on the mail merge field, and select Toggle Field Codes.
  3. Put your cursor after the closing of the field name (e.g. “Date”) and before the closing } then add a space at that position.
  4. Type in the switch: \@ “d MMMM yyyy” (this switch converts the Excel date into something like 25 December 2011; if you want 25 Dec 2011, then enter “d MMM yyyy”).
  5. Right-click on the mail merge field again, and select Toggle Field Codes.
  6. Save the document. The next time you run a mail merge, the date will be in the format you entered at Step 4. (You can quickly test it works by clicking the Preview Results icon on the Mailings tab [Word 2007].)

You can get more information from Word’s online Help for other options for this  field switch — search for Date-Time Format switch in the Help.

See also:

[Links last checked May 2011]


Someone will be in trouble for this

May 27, 2011

Sent to me via email:

I’ve worked for enough mining and resources companies and for health and safety departments and software companies to know that someone had great fun creating this. However, the power of the internet is such that what may have started out as an in-house, small department joke has likely gone viral and the person who created it may well be disciplined.

That said, it is clever! ;-)


Stop Google from auto filtering your search terms

May 26, 2011

One feature of Google that I really like is how it automatically filters my search criteria while I’m typing, offering me potential matches to those terms. I don’t even need to type very much to start getting matches, and of course, the more specific I am in what I type, the closer the Google matches are:

Example showing Google's autocompleteThis saves me time as often the search term I’m entering is already listed and I only have to select it to get those results.

However, my husband hates this feature — so much so that he asked me if he could turn it off. Yes, he could, and this is how you do it:

  1. On any Google page, click the ‘gear’ icon in the top right corner.
    Gear icon
  2. Click Search Settings.
    Click Search Settings
  3. On the Global Preferences page, scroll down to the Autocomplete section. The default setting is Provide query predictions in the search box — this means that as you enter your search terms, Google will show you terms and phrases that match.
  4. To turn this feature off, select the Do not provide query predictions in the search box option.
    Autocomplete options
  5. Make any other changes to your search preferences, then click Save Preferences (there’s a button at the top and bottom right of the page — it doesn’t matter which one you click).
    Save Preferences button
  6. Click OK on the message you get telling you that your preferences have been saved, and you will return to the Google page you were on before you changed these settings.

[Links last checked May 2011]


Amazon phone number

May 25, 2011 doesn’t have a phone number in Australia — not that I could find, anyway. However, If you have an Amazon account, you can get them to call you. From my limited experience (three calls), they call you back within seconds of you asking them to.

Here’s how to get Amazon to call you, no matter where you are:

  1. Click Help at the top right of the Amazon home page.
    Click the Help link in the top right
  2. Click the Contact Us button on the right.
    Click the Contact Us button on the right
  3. If you’re not already signed in, you will be asked to enter your email address and password that you use for
  4. Select your relevant options in sections 1 and 2.
    Select your choices in steps 1 and 2
  5. Click Call us in section 3.
    Click the Call Us button in step 3
  6. Select your country and enter your phone number.
  7. Then either click Call me now or Call me in 5 minutes. If you select Call me now, make sure no-one is on the phone as Amazon will call within seconds.
    Click either the Call Me Now button or the Call Me in 5 Minutes button

There’s also an international phone number you can call (+1-206-266-2992), but why would you when Amazon can call you at their expense?

[Links last checked May 2011]


Broken links can be fatal to your business

May 24, 2011

When a website exists to sell products, you’d expect that the links to the PDFs for the brochures and product information would work, right? And if they didn’t, you’d hope that someone in the company was keeping an eye on this so that if the links no longer work, they’d do something about it.

Detailed product information is essential for those who are seriously considering buying. When there is no pricing on the website — just a call to contact the company for a demo — my experience leads me to assume that the product has big bucks associated with its purchase and/or licensing model. So before I commit to a demo and a sales pitch, I would want more information.

If I found broken links, I might do one of these things, depending on how interested I was in the product:

  • Go away, never to return (very likely if it was just a passing interest)
  • Come back in a few days to see if the links now worked (maybe)
  • Contact the company and tell them their links are broken (perhaps, but only if I was really interested in the product)

A week ago, a reader of this blog sent me information about such a company. Here’s part of his email:

Broken links are annoying.

But if it’s coming from a company who proclaims that documents cannot be lost if people use their system, then it’s funny.

At the bottom of one of my client’s email said:

  • This email was created using Office Automator.
  • For information on Office Automation products, visit the website at

This sounded interesting, so wanted to find out what this was all about.

The website contained some interesting information. The “document management system automator” sounded interesting: “Office Automator DMS is specifically designed for corporate clients to enable them to track and manage documents.”

I tried to get more information by clicking on a PDF brochure link; instead, I got a dead link. (tried both Firefox and IE)

I think I’ll give this product a miss…

So I checked out this website, and sure enough, the links to all the product brochures were broken. I checked again a week later and they were still broken. I may check again in another week to see if anyone has noticed or told the company — it’ll be interesting to see if and when they get fixed.

Meantime, the company is likely losing many potential sales all because people will walk away if they can’t get the information they need.

If you want to check these links yourself, go to, click Resources > Brochures and Product Information in the menu bar, then click on any of the products.

Bottom line:

  • Details about your products on your website are crucial in helping someone make a ‘buy’ decision.
  • If the links to those details are broken, you are losing sales.
  • If your company is in the document business and links to your own documents don’t work, you just look unprofessional.

[Links last checked May 2011]


Editing and rewriting

May 20, 2011

A week or so ago, Carol Anne asked me to document my process for editing and rewriting a particular paragraph. I had forgotten what I did, but recently I had another easy one to do and this time I tried to be conscious of my thought processes and the decisions that I made when deconstructing and reconstructing a paragraph.

Here’s the original (62 words; 356 characters including punctuation and spaces):

This Foundation Knowledge pack must be completed by the Technician for each of the units within this particular area. The Competency Assurance Specialist is to validate each of the written responses and tick either the Yes or No in the appropriate column. This pack is to be used as the basis of forming a portfolio of evidence of competency for this area.

And here’s my reworked version (48 words; 297 characters):

Technicians must complete this Foundation Knowledge pack for each unit within this area; this pack will be the basis of an evidence portfolio of competency in this area. The Competency Assurance Specialist will validate each of the written responses by ticking Yes or No in the appropriate column.

This only took a couple of minutes for me to do, but I agree with whoever it was that said that writing shorter is much harder to do than writing longer. I think this is the quote:

Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short. — Henry David Thoreau

So, what I did I think and what was I looking for when I was editing this paragraph? Here is some of my thought processes for rewriting this paragraph, in no particular order:

  • Readability and suitability for audience. The audience for this piece of writing is technicians on an industrial site. I can’t assume that they will all have English as their first language, nor can I make any assumptions about their level of education. Therefore, I need to keep the language as plain and simple as possible, without ‘talking down’ to the audience or patronizing them. Clear, simple, unambiguous language is good for everyone.
  • Match tenses. This paragraph mixes up past and future tenses (‘be completed’, ‘to validate’, ‘be used’). My aim was to make all the tenses the same, whether that was past, present or future. I chose future, in keeping with the organization’s other documentation.
  • Parallel structure. It’s not as apparent as in a bulleted list, but the structure of the original paragraph is not parallel. In the first original sentence, we have an object (Knowledge Pack) that’s to have something done to it (completed) by a subject (technician), whereas in the second sentence we have a subject (Competency Assurance Specialist) who is to do something (validate) to an object (the written responses). In the final sentence, we have an object that’s sort of hanging as there’s only an implied subject (the technician) and an implied action (be used). It’s confusing, but by making sure that subjects take actions on objects, it should become clearer.
  • Sense. Critical to the sense of a sentence or paragraph is the ‘who, what, when, where, why, and/or how’. Not every sentence or paragraph will have all these, but all sentences will have some of them. In the example above, I needed to ask myself ‘who is doing what’ (and perhaps ‘to whom’), and ‘why are they doing it’. Further questions for the second idea in the paragraph related to ‘how it was to be done’. Getting all that straight in my head makes the rewrite so much easier.
  • Passive/active voice. Similar to the examples listed under ‘parallel structure’ above, there’s a real mix of active and passive voice — objects are being acted upon by subjects, instead of subjects acting on objects.
  • Remove redundancies. There are several words in this paragraph that can be removed without altering meaning. For example, ‘for each of the units within this particular are’ can be shortened to ‘for each unit within this area’ or ‘for each unit in this area’, or perhaps ‘for this area’s units’. Another: ‘as the basis of forming a portfolio of evidence of competency for this area’ can be shortened to ‘the basis of an evidence portfolio of competency in this area’, or ‘the basis of a competency evidence portfolio’, though that may be getting away from the meaning a little and I’d have to check it with the writer.
  • Put like things together. There are three elements to this paragraph, two of which are closely related (the pack), yet they are separated by the third (validation). By putting both ‘pack’ pieces together and separating them with a semicolon, the who (technicians), the what (the pack), and the why (build a portfolio) are now in the same sentence.

I did all that thinking and analyzing as well as two rewrites before I arrived at my version. And all within a couple of minutes. Given unlimited time, no doubt I could hone it further, but at some point you have to say it’s good enough.

I typically just do this sort of copyediting without thinking too much about the process. Doing this little exercise on just one paragraph has opened up my eyes to how much goes on in my brain before the edited version hits the page (or screen, in this case). The brain is an amazing thing!

Oh, and don’t pick on me if I haven’t used all the correct terms for what I do — much of it I was never formally taught, and just learned by reading a lot, and by living and working for a few decades!

[Links last checked May 2011]