Archive for August, 2011


For those who asked…

August 23, 2011

I’m fine — I’m just taking a short break from blogging every week day. My brain is pretty fried with some heavy client deadlines and I’m all out of hints and tips for the moment.

Once my brain has recharged and I’ve got something to say, I’ll be back! Though perhaps not every day of the working week, as I’ve been doing for the past (nearly) three years.


Acrobat: Strange Word document header behaviour

August 18, 2011

Here’s a strange one that my client had today. Kate (not her real name) was trying to PDF a Word 2007 document, something she’s done hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. The Word document was based on our project’s template — again, something we’ve used thousands of times. So there was no reason why something would go wrong between saving the Word document and generating the PDF. But it did.

Here’s what Kate got on every odd page — the header was spread vertically much wider than it should have been ([1] in the screenshot below):

A further — unrelated — complication was that all the ‘Arial Bold’ fonts were rendered as some sort of serif font in the resulting PDF ([2] in the screen shot). I’ve dealt with that issue in this blog post: so I won’t discuss that further here.

I had no idea what was causing the headers to be messed up on all odd pages in all sections (and there were quite a few landscape/portrait sections in this 120p document) of the generated PDF. I had a quick glance at the Word document but as Kate had mentioned in her email, the document and its Print Preview view looked fine. It was only when she created the PDF that it got all messed up.

Without doing anything, I tried creating a PDF from the document too — I had full Acrobat installed on my computer, whereas Kate was using the Save As PDF option in Word. That made no difference.

Next, I selected the entire borderless table in one of the odd page headers. I noticed that the font size in a single cell was set to 7 pt Arial (as expected), but when I selected the entire table, the font size was blank, which told me that various font sizes (and perhaps styles) were applied to the different cells and end of row markers.

Once I selected the entire table, I manually changed the font to 7 pt for all elements of the table, then generated the PDF to see if that made any difference. I had no expectation that it would — but it did! Suddenly, the header displayed as it should in the PDF. That was a surprise.

So I went to the next section’s odd page header and reapplied 7 pt font size to its table and created the PDF again. Voila! It displayed correctly too, so then it was a case of going into every odd page header, selecting the header’s table and reapplying the 7 pt font size to the entire table. Finally, I created the PDF again, and it was all correct.

I sent back the revised Word document to Kate — along with the nice clean PDF — and she was very happy. She was on a deadline to get this PDF to the State and Commonwealth government regulators by tomorrow, so I saved her skin.

However, I really don’t know what caused the problem in the first place, and why reapplying a font size (NOT a style) fixed it. It was also one of those things where I really had no clue what had caused it or how to fix it — it was just a serendipitous fluke that I tried the font size. And that it worked.


He wants accurate and cheap? He’s dreaming!

August 17, 2011

There’s an old adage I use at times: You can have good (accurate, readable, usable, etc.), cheap, or fast—pick two.

The essence of this adage is that someone who is fast and accurate is rarely cheap; someone who is cheap is rarely fast and may not be accurate; and someone who is accurate typically isn’t fast or cheap.

Take this scenario:

Person A charges 100 jellybeans (JB) an hour (or whatever your currency of choice is), while Person B charges 50 JB an hour. You think you’re getting a better deal with Person B, right? Not necessarily…

Let’s say the job is editing a 20,000-word document to a fine level of detail.

Person A (the more expensive one) does it in 8 hours and is very accurate in picking up all sorts of errors—that’s 800 JB you owe them.

Person B (the cheaper one) takes 15 hours to do the same job as they don’t have the same experience or critical eye as Person A; in fact, they don’t pick up many of the errors that Person A identified and have to re-read the document several more times to catch most of them. This takes them another 5 hours. So Person B ends up spending 20 hours on the job, costing you 1000 JB, which is more than Person A charges. And they’ve taken 12 hours more to do the work than Person A too, which may be critical if you have an immovable deadline.

So, bearing that in mind, do you think you’d touch this job?

If the quality of the 30,000 words he’s written is anything like the writing quality in his email, AND he wants it cheap, then you’ve got to think that this would take an horrendous amount of time for little return.

He wants cheap and accurate? He wants an editor and a publisher all in one? He’s dreaming!

See also:

[Links last checked September 2020]


How do people with mobility issues get on?

August 16, 2011

Something that’s bothered me for some time about one of my online banks is that the sign-in screen requires you to use a mouse. Yes, Westpac (, I’m referring to your online banking system.

You have to click the characters of your password on the keyboard image to enter it (I think the keyboard image is based on Flash). This method of entry is supposedly more secure than typing a password, yet your Westpac online banking password is restricted to six characters (letters and numbers only) and is not case-sensitive, which goes against all the recommendations for strong passwords. For those with mobility issues, clicking the images on the keyboard could be a problem as it requires reasonably fine mouse skills.

Westpac's sign-in 'keypad'

Westpac's sign-in 'keypad'

If you go to the Help, you’ll find that you *can* use a keyboard to move around, but you can’t actually press the keys you want for your password — you can only use the Tab key to move from one key to the next, then, when the key you want is in focus, you press Enter to add it to the password field. You can’t use the up/down arrow keys to move from one line to another — just Tab. Tab moves you forward from left to right; Shift+Tab takes you back from right to left. How clunky is that?

Help for those who can't use the mouse

Help for those who can't use the mouse

And if you are a JAWS user (for those with vision issues), you’re out of luck. If you click the Support and Accessibility link on the left sidebar of the login page, you’ll eventually find this message:

Too bad if you use JAWS

Too bad if you use JAWS


I don’t know how long that message has been there as there’s no date on it, but I suspect that it’s been there a while. Just an aside: If you put up a message like this, PLEASE date it!

Westpac: You get a #fail for usability and accessibility!

[Links last checked August 2011]


Talking Word

August 15, 2011

Seen on the Austechwriter discussion list the other day:

And here’s one response:

BTW, here’s that link for getting Word to talk to you:

PDF’s have been able to talk to you for some time; see my blog post about getting a PDF to ‘read’ to you:

[Links last checked August 2011]


Google — you are too funny!

August 12, 2011

Here’s the search term I entered the other day… and the suggestion from Google:

Well, it made me laugh! ;-)


Word: Can anyone help?

August 11, 2011

Here’s a curly one.

In ONE of my client’s documents, they’ve been seeing this occasionally scattered throughout the document, in places it shouldn’t be:

The numbers in the small dotted boxes change in each instance, but I can see no pattern for them, except that the beginning and end numbers surrounding the ‘ulphur’ part are invariably the same (e.g. 36/36, 67/67, 35/35 etc.).

Does anyone have any clue what might have caused this? And how we can fix it permanently?

We can fix it temporarily by selecting it and deleting it from places where it doesn’t belong, and/or reinserting the correct text. But that’s not stopping it from occurring in a later version.

Other information that may help in diagnosing this problem:

  • We use bookmarks, and this matches the pattern of a bookmark.
  • At some stage in the document’s creation and editing, we’ve done a find/replace for ‘ulph’ and changed it to ‘ulf’.
  • We use Track Changes.
  • When I select the entire text including the numbers in the boxes and paste it into Notepad, it goes in as <space><space>ulphur<space><space> — the numbers disappear.
  • We can’t search for the numbers in the boxes using Find/Replace.
  • Sometimes we see this where ‘sulphur’ would normally have been, but it also appears randomly in any other text (in the 100 page document where it occurs, it occurs about six times).
  • We’re using Word 2007.

I’ve searched the internet but haven’t found anything that matches what we’re seeing. I’ve also been using Word since the early 1990s and have never seen anything like this.

I suspect something behind the scenes got a bit mixed up at some stage and now the internal code is rendering/displaying as those numbers. I’d really like to find out what’s causing it and how to stop it from recurring (short of re-creating the document, which I don’t want to do for half a dozen instances, and besides, the Track Changes are required by the government regulators who will be viewing and commenting on the document).

Anyone got ANY clues? Thanks!

Update later the same day: Many thanks to the great team at @MSAU (Twitter handle for the Microsoft Australia team)!

They got a support tech guy to call me about this. While he didn’t have a solution, he suggested various reasons why it might be occurring, some of which are more likely than others. Here are his suggestions, with my comments, in order of what I believe is their likelihood in the situation in which I’m working:

  1. Someone who has worked on this document has an autocorrect set up for ‘ulphur’ and it’s not set up correctly so therefore it’s applied in the document when they work on it, and that is carrying over to others. Autocorrect settings are computer-specific, NOT document-specific. So, his advice is for everyone who has worked on that doc to check their AutoCorrect settings and perhaps delete that one if they have it. You can find the AutoCorrect settings under Office button > Word options > Proofing > AutoCorrect button.
  2.  Someone who has worked on this doc has taken it home and worked on it on their own computer. Seeing as though there are multiple versions of Word out there (Word 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2010 PLUS the Mac versions), this is quite possible. Also, there are Word versions for Windows and Macs — and Macs are known to have some incompatibility issues, even with the ‘same’ version of Word. Then there’s the 3rd-party apps that can read a Word doc, allow edits and then save it back as a Word doc — such as some of the Open Document formats.
  3. Someone has installed a font set on their computer that others don’t have (unlikely in the office environment, but possible if the doc has been taken home and worked on a home computer that’s not set up as per the office environment). Different font sets can cause different rendering of text, and, if there’s nothing to match it back in the office environment, those characters can display oddly. Unlikely, but possible.
  4. Another 3rd-party application (NOT Acrobat) might be on someone’s computer that’s clobbering something in Word. This is unlikely as we’re in a fairly locked down and standard environment, and I’m not aware of any 3rd-party apps that my team might be using that interface with Word. However, we have no control over what might be on home computers (e.g. EndNote), so that’s another possibility.

The Microsoft guy also recommended that our team sets up a master list of AutoCorrect entries that we should all use, so that mine don’t clobber yours, or vice versa. Team members would check the master list first to make sure there’s not an AutoCorrect already recommended — and would add theirs to the list if it’s a new entry. I can’t see this being a particularly long list as there are a lot of common phrases and terms the whole team uses regularly.

Anyhow, we don’t have a solution yet, but we do have more clues as to what may have caused it.

Thanks again, @MSAU! To me, THIS sort of issue is the power of Twitter.


Word: Macro to insert a formatted table and an automated caption

August 10, 2011

NOTE: These instructions only work for Word 2007 and later; they use Building Blocks, which are only available in these versions of Word. If you are using Word 2003 or earlier, I hope to share a much longer macro with you in a few weeks that does something similar but without the formatting.


You need to make it easy for your authors to insert many tables in their documents. So you need to add something to the template that allows them to press a couple of keys and get both a preformatted table and an automated caption inserted.

The tables all need to be formatted the same — same header row shading, height alignment and style; same border color and width; same table row height, alignment and style. Once they’ve inserted a table, the author has to be able to modify it (e.g. merge cells) without those modifications affecting anything else.

Your template uses outline heading numbering, so you want a table caption to be inserted at the same time as you insert the table. The caption is to include the chapter number and a sequential caption number (e.g. if they’re in section 2, you want the tables they insert in section 2 to be numbered Table 2-1, Table 2-2 etc.).


While Quick Tables are an option, you won’t get the caption inserted with them. So this solution takes Quick Tables a couple of steps further. UPDATE 2016: You *can* get the caption inserted with a Quick Table — you just have to select the table AND its caption when creating it and the caption is added automatically (and adjusts the table numbering) when you insert the Quick Table. This solution may be better for those who don’t want to fiddle with macros and code — it’s very much quicker too. If you go that route, you don’t need to read any further.

Step 1: Set up the table

  1. Open your Word template — the template itself, NOT a document based on the template.
  2. Create a table in your template and format it as you want. I suggest you create a table that’s four column by five rows — authors can add/remove rows and columns later.

When creating your table, make sure you:

  • apply the relevant styles to the table header row and the table rows
  • set the row heights for the table header row and the table rows
  • set the alignments for the table header row and the table rows
  • apply shading to the table header row
  • set the table header row to repeat across pages (if required)
  • apply table borders — line styles, color, and widths
  • do whatever else is required to make your table follow your corporate style.

Step 2: Save the table as a Building Block

  1. Select the entire table.
  2. Go to the Insert tab > Quick Parts.
  3. Select Save selection to Quick Part gallery.
  4. In the Create New Building Block dialog box, give the selected table a unique name (e.g. corporate_table).
  5. Change the Save in location from the default Building Blocks.dotx to your template (e.g. corporate_template.dotm). If your template is not listed, then you didn’t create the table in your template — start again at Step 1: Set up the table. Changing the saved location is CRITICAL as you want to share this table with all users of your template; as far as I know, Building Blocks.dotx is a local file on each person’s local machine and it’s not easy to transfer building block entries from one machine to another.
  6. Click OK.
  7. Delete the table from your template, if required.
  8. Save the template but don’t close it.

Step 3: Create a macro that inserts the table and its caption

  1. Go to the Developer tab. (Here’s how to turn it on in Word 2007 and Word 2010.)
  2. Click Macros.
  3. Type Table in the Macro Name field at the top of the Macros window.
  4. Click the drop-down box for Macros in and change the setting to your template (e.g. corporate_template.dotm (template)).
  5. Click Create.
  6. Copy the code in the yellow box below — copy it all; some is not displayed fully, so make sure you drag your cursor over the entire set of code when you copy it.
  7. In between Sub Table() and End Sub, paste the code you just copied.
  8. Make any changes required. You’ll need to change the name of the BuildingBlockEntries from “corporate_table” to the name of your Building Block. Other suggested changes are listed below the macro.
  9. Close the Visual Basic window and save the template (don’t close it yet).
' Insert Table from Building Blocks in template, insert auto caption with chapter numbering
With CaptionLabels("Table")
        .NumberStyle = wdCaptionNumberStyleArabic
        .IncludeChapterNumber = True
        .ChapterStyleLevel = 1
        .Separator = wdSeparatorHyphen
End With

    Selection.InsertCaption Label:="Table", TitleAutoText:="", Title:="", _
        Position:=wdCaptionPositionAbove, ExcludeLabel:=0
    Selection.TypeText Text:="   <Table Title>"

    ActiveDocument.AttachedTemplate.BuildingBlockEntries("corporate_table" _
      ).Insert Where:=Selection.Range, RichText:=True

Other changes you might want to consider:

  • This code has a hyphen (wdSeparatorHyphen) as the separator between the chapter number and the sequential table number — you can change it to something else. These options are available: wdSeparatorColon, wdSeparatorEmDash, wdSeparatorEnDash, and wdSeparatorPeriod.
  • When the caption is inserted, it automatically adds three spaces after the table number and inserts <Table Title>, which is selected ready for the author to change it — if you don’t want the three spaces, or the text, change them within the double quote marks on the Selection.TypeText Text:=”   <Table Title>” line.

Step 4: Assign the macro to a key combination

To make it easier for your template’s users, assign this macro to a key combination so they can just press a couple of keys to get a formatted table with its caption inserted every time.

  1. Open the relevant Customize window:
    • Word 2007: Office button > Word Options > Customize (or click the little drop-down arrow to the far right of the Quick Access Toolbar)
    • Word 2010: File > Options > Customize Ribbon.
  2. At the bottom of the left panel, click the Customize button.
  3. Scroll down the Categories list (on the left) to the end, then select Macros.
  4. In the list of macros on the right, select Table.
  5. Click in the Press new shortcut key field.
  6. Press the keys you want to assign to this macro — e.g. Alt+Shift+T.
  7. Click the drop-down box next to the Save changes in field, then select your template.
  8. Click Assign.
  9. Click Close.
  10. Click OK to close the Customize window.
  11. Save your template, but don’t close it yet.

Step 5: Test!

The final step is to test that the key combination invokes the macro and that the table and its caption is inserted as you expect.

  1. Go to any blank space in the template after Heading 1, then press the key combination you assigned earlier (e.g. Alt+Shift+T) — the formatted table and its automated caption should be inserted correctly.
  2. Be daring — try another one!
  3. Now delete those tables you just added and save and close the template.
  4. Next, open a new document based on the template and test out the key combination there too.
  5. Distribute your template to your authors and let them know how to insert a table the quick way using the key combination you assigned.

[Links last checked August 2011]


Word 2010: Spiffy ligatures and stylistic sets

August 9, 2011

Here’s something that moves Word 2010 from being ‘just a Word processor’ into a different typographic realm — ligatures and stylistic sets for fonts.

At the moment, not many of the Open Type fonts have stylistic sets associated with them, but now that they can be displayed in Word 2010 (NOT the earlier versions), I expect the number of font sets with these extra features will increase.

So what am I taking about?

Well, ligatures are the little bits that connect letters such as ‘f’ and ‘i’ in a word like ‘fill’, and stylistic sets offer flourishes to the letter forms. Take a look at the screen shot below:

How did I achieve this? In word 2010, I set the font of the line to Gabriola (Gabriola is one of the few Open Type fonts provided by Microsoft that comes with various stylistic sets at this stage). Then I changed the setting on the Advanced tab of the Font dialog to apply ligatures (All) and stylistic set number 6 (try other sets — you’ll see what each looks like in the little Preview window):

Then I started typing…

As you can see from the screen shots below, the letter flourishes change depending on the position of the letter in relation to the letters either side of it. And they change dynamically — this can be a little disconcerting at first as you’re not used to things moving on the screen as you type!

So, what use does this feature have? Well, for technical communicators, perhaps not a lot. But for anyone using Word to create personal communications (such as wedding/party invitations), menus, certificates, artistic communications etc. this may be a feature they use every so often (you wouldn’t want to use it everywhere!).

Add some color to the font and other formatting, and you could end up with something quite spectacular (or really awful!) — and all from Word 2010.


For an explanation about all the settings on the Advanced tab of the Font dialog, see:

More how to’s with this Word 2010 feature:

[Links last checked August 2011]


Word: Insert a multi page PDF

August 8, 2011

Word is kludgy (that’s a technical term!) when it comes to inserting objects from other applications — including from other Office apps. When you insert a file as an object, only ONE page of the file is displayed in Word. Too bad if your file has multiple pages… as most do.

Carol’s problem was with a multi page PDF she had created from Excel (the original was a large text table — nothing fancy). The spreadsheet was fairly wide, and she had created the PDF using an A3 paper size. The resulting document was seven pages long. She wanted to insert it in her Word document as an Appendix but to date it had beaten her. So she asked me for help.

And that’s when I discovered that Word’s ‘Insert Object from file’ function only inserts the first page of the file. Which is just stupid. And is just useless for most people in the business world where multiple page documents are the norm. (The links below this post  confirm that only one page is inserted — most of the information in these links is from Microsoft Word MVPs, people who have much more knowledge about this stuff than I do.)

I tested several options — I was able to get the PDF into the Word document, but not without a fair bit of trial and error. In essence, you’ll save the PDF pages as images, then insert those images into Word. I told you it was kludgy!

I’ve documented some methods below — the method YOU use will depend on the software you have. If you have full Acrobat (NOT Adobe Reader), then you have a better chance of getting a decent result, than if you don’t (use Method 1). If you don’t have full Acrobat, but have graphics software that will take screen captures, then use Method 2. And if you have neither full Acrobat nor a screen capture program, then you’ll have difficulty achieving your goal of inserting a PDF file into Word (see Other Options).

Method 1: Using full Acrobat

  1. Open the PDF in Acrobat (NOT Adobe Reader).
  2. Select File > Save As from the menu (I’m using Acrobat Professional 9, but later versions should work similarly).
  3. Click the drop-down arrow next to Save as type to see the available file types.
  4. Select one of these: JPG, PNG, or TIF.
    In my testing, the results from each file type were similar — TIF had a *slightly* crisper text quality and added about 700 KB to the Word document for EACH page saved from the PDF; JPG and PNG were similar in text quality (and only marginally fuzzier than TIF in the printed output) — they added about 900 KB and 150 KB respectively per page to the Word document’s size. I suggest you do your own testing of the on screen and printed resolutions of the various file formats to find the best for you.
  5. Click Save. Acrobat will create a separate image for each page in the PDF in the folder specified on the Save As dialog; e.g. <name of document>_Page_1.png etc.
  6. Open the Word document and insert the images into the document as you normally would. If the images are large (as Carol’s were), add an A3 landscape section for the images.

Method 2: Using a screen capture program

If you have a screen capture program such as SnagIt, you can ‘print’ to it from the PDF to create the individual images. If you know the output file type you want and if want SnagIt to sequentially number the files create, set up your printer output parameters in SnagIt beforehand (this is not essential).

  1. Open the PDF. You don’t need full Acrobat for this — Adobe Reader is fine.
  2. Select File > Print from the menu.
  3. Select the SnagIt printer drive from the list of printers on the Print dialog.
  4. Select the page range (it’s All by default).
  5. Click OK.
  6. An image of each page is captured according to your SnagIt printer defaults (if you set them), and the images are sent to SnagIt Editor, where you can modify them or save them as something else.
  7. Open the Word document and insert the images into the document as you normally would. If the images are large (as Carol’s were), add an A3 landscape section for the images.

Other options

Some other options for getting a PDF into Word include:

  • Wait until your Word document is PDF’ed, then add the pages of the existing PDF into it using Document > Insert Pages from the Acrobat menu.
  • Copy and paste the Excel table directly into Word — see
  • Select the text in the PDF, then copy/paste it into Word, OR save the PDF as a *.txt or *.rtf or *.doc file. Note: With any of these methods, you’ll lose some or all formatting, so only do this if the PDF is small and uncomplicated.
  • Insert the PDF as an object (linked or not) with an icon. However, it won’t print out the text when you print the Word document — you have to double-click the PDF icon first to open the PDF, print it out separately, then print the Word document.

See also:


[Links last checked August 2011]