Word: Wildcard replace with a backslash

November 22, 2017

This morning, well before I was properly awake, I solved a problem someone had posed on a Facebook group I’m in. They had an issue getting Word’s wildcard find and replace to do what they wanted and had asked members of the group to help. I’m writing this up for my own future reference as there’s some information in here about the peculiarities of the backslash character that I may need to use again in the future. [Random fact: The backslash character is known by several names, including the reverse virgule and the reverse solidus.]

The person was trying to find an easy way to find all instances of 3x and replace with 3\x\. Actually, she was trying to do more than that — if she’d only been looking for that, then a normal find/replace should work. For the rest of the string, however, she really needed to use wildcards. Where she was getting stuck was defining the Find correctly, and then the Replace.

Here’s my solution (using wildcards):

  • Find: (3)(x) 
  • Replace: \1^92\2^92

How this works:

  • First, look for 3 followed immediately by x. I separated them in the Find string with parentheses so that I could treat them as separate elements in the Replace string.
  • Next, for the replace, type \1 to replace the first element (the 3) with itself, then type ^92 to add a backslash character (you can’t type a \ as that won’t work), then \2 to replace the second element of the Find with itself (i.e. the x), then another ^92 for a final backslash character.

Two things to note:

  • The backslash is an escape character in a Find, so if you need to find one, you need to surround it with square brackets and ‘escape’ it — i.e. [\\] in a Find.
  • The backslash is a special character in Replace too as it designates the element you want to replace with itself. Instead, you have to use ^92 in place of a \.



Word: Print Comments only

November 14, 2017

You can print comments and track changes with a document easily enough, but what if you JUST want to print the comments in a Word document?

It’s a bit fiddly, but it can be done. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Word document that has comments.
  2. Go to the Review tab.
  3. Click the drop-down arrow next to the Show markup button.
  4. Turn off everything except Comments. You can only turn them off one at a time, so you’ll have to do the previous step and this one several times to turn off all the options except Comments. When you’re finished, only Comments should have a check mark next to it.
  5. Go to File > Print.
  6. Under Settings, the default to Print all pages. You don’t want that, so click the drop-down next to those words.
  7. Select List of Markup. Note: The Print Markup option at the bottom of the list should be ticked; if it’s not, select it too.
  8. Choose your printer as you normally, then click Print.

If you want to print out just one reviewer’s comments, repeat the steps above. When you get to Step 4, follow those instructions and then select Specific people from the Show Markup list and choose the person or people whose comments you want to print. Once you’ve done that, continue on from Step 5 above.

NOTE: I couldn’t find how to print just the comments in a Word document converted to PDF. Adobe Acrobat doesn’t recognise Word’s comments as comments, only its own.


ASTC 2017 Conference

November 12, 2017

I attended and spoke at the Australian Society for Technical Communication (ASTC) 2017 Conference, held for the past two days in Sydney. Although it was a small conference with only one track for sessions, it had lots of valuable information presented, and the small size allowed for more regular and personal interaction among the attendees.

There was a great mix of sessions — from highly technical information, to case studies, to new ideas and approaches. I usually take notes of the sessions I attend, but this time the super-smart Sarah Maddox was also attending and speaking, and she takes far more comprehensive notes than I ever could. So if you want to read about the sessions, head over to Sarah’s blog and check out her summary of the conference, and the links to her blog posts for each session: http://ffeathers.wordpress.com/2017/11/12/technical-communicators-conference-2017-wrapup/

[Link last checked November 2017]




Word: Switch the number and punctuation order

October 29, 2017

On another blog post, Peter asked for some help:

I have hundreds of superscript characters (not footnote markers) that have a space before them and punctuation (periods and commas only) after them. I’m trying to delete the space and move the punctuation in front of it.

You can do this using a find/replace with wildcards. However, the instructions below DON’T differentiate between numbers that are superscripted and numbers that aren’t, so it will switch those too. If you don’t have any instances of <space>single ordinary number<period or comma>, then you should be fine. I suggest you try this on a COPY of your document and make sure you get what you want and nothing more, before using it on your main document.


  1. Press Ctrl+H to open the Find and Replace dialog box.
  2. Click More, then select the Use wildcards option.
  3. In the Find field, type: ( )([0-9])([.,])
    (Note: There’s a space between the first set of parentheses. Because you have hundreds of these, there’s a good chance that you won’t have just single digit numbers. For multi-digit numbers, type this instead: ( )([0-9]@)([.,])
  4. In the Replace field, type: \3\2
  5. Click Find Next then click Replace. Repeat.

(Note: Only click Replace All if you are certain that no other ordinary numbers will be affected.)

What you are doing here is looking for a space (item 1), followed by any single digit number (item 2), followed by either a period or a comma (item 3). Then you’re replacing that string with the period or comma (item 3) then the number (item 2).



Work in the office? Not me!

October 26, 2017

Nearly 11 years ago we moved from the city (Perth) to a country town in regional Western Australia. At the time, we were three hours’ driving distance from Perth (each way), so working in client offices was no longer an option. Both my regular clients at the time were happy for me to work from home and telecommute — they knew me, they knew how I worked, and they knew my work ethic and productivity. Because I worked for both part-time (2 days a week for one, 3 days a week for the other), they knew that I didn’t need to be in the office all the time. After those two contracts finished, I got a contract with a big client and my terms of working for them has always been based on telecommuting.

Three years after the big move to the country we moved to another area in regional Western Australia, but now I was about 90 minutes’ drive from the city. My big client didn’t really seem to know or care — I just continued working for them three days a week from home, as I always had. And that arrangement continues today. I’ve set foot in their Perth office fewer than 10 times in nearly 10 years. It works very well for me, and it must work OK for them too as my initial 3-month contract has been renewed year after year, so that now I’m nearly 10 years in.

So why write this blog post now? It came about because a tech writer friend of mine (who lives 60 miles north of downtown Chicago) was told by a recruiter that ‘the commute isn’t so bad’. Now, Chicago’s a BIG city, and while I’m sure it has lots of infrastructure (like regular train services etc.), the reality is that his commute would actually be horrendous — effectively adding at least 4 hours to his work day if he took the job in downtown Chicago. And for him, there’s horrible weather to deal with for several months of the year.

I decided to check out what it would cost in travel time and money if I was asked to physically work in an office in Perth…

I live 160 km (100 miles) from Perth. The first hour of driving gets me to the southern part of the main metro area (Safety Bay Rd exit for the locals). From there to the city centre is a crapshoot as to how long it takes — in light traffic in the middle of the day, about 45 minutes; in peak hour with heavy traffic, up to 90 mins; longer if there’s been an accident on the freeway. Then I have to hope I can get a place to park ($20+ per day), then walk to the office. This means I’d have to allow 2.5 hours each way each day (leaving home before 6am, and returning close to 8pm), plus the cost of fuel ($100+ per week), plus $100+ each week in parking fees. Add to that the stress of driving that distance and in traffic, plus the likelihood of kangaroos and emus on the road at dusk and dawn and at night, which is when I’d be doing the country driving part of the journey, and nope, not going to happen.

So let’s look at the train. There’s a train just twice a day from Bunbury (my nearest station) to Perth. The Australind is not a high-speed train, and takes about 2.5 hours for the journey. This train leaves Bunbury at 6am (arriving at 8:30am, with a good 15-minute walk to the office) or 2:45pm (not an option for a day in the office). It leaves Perth for Bunbury just before 6pm, getting into Bunbury around 8:30pm. But to catch the 6am train, I’d have to leave home at 5:15am as it takes ~30 minutes to drive to Bunbury. This means I’d have to be up by 4:30am each day, and I wouldn’t get home until after 9pm. Oh, and there’s no secure parking at the Bunbury train station, which is well out of the town centre, so my car would be sitting in an open car park in the middle of a semi-industrial area for about 15+ hours. The cost of the train isn’t cheap either — $66 return each day, so $330 per week, though a bit cheaper if you get a SmartCommuter ticket [$43 return per day; + $60 annual fee for a SmartCommuter card], or have a concession card [$33 return per day if you’re a pensioner or senior]). There’s no wifi on this train, and only a snack bar (with junk food), so sleeping and reading would be the only options. No time at all for family or family meals before or after I got home – it would be fall into bed to get up at 4:30am the next day to do it all again. What sort of life is that?

There’s a train from Mandurah to Perth, but that requires driving to Mandurah (nearly an hour), praying you get a car bay at the station (good luck with that…), then taking the train into Perth (50 minutes). The total time would be about 2 hours each way, assuming you can park at the Mandurah train station. The cost is about $22 return per day from Mandurah to Perth, but you still have about 4 hours total commute time (about 2 hours on the train and similar in the car), and now you have to add in fuel expenses too.

Bottom line: If any client wants me to come to the office regularly to work, they’re dreaming! If they want me there for the occasional day only, then they either pay my hourly rate for the travel time, or the cost of an overnight stay in a 3+ star city hotel (my preference for safety reasons). Commuting 4 to 5 hours (in country conditions, in the dark) plus an 8-hour day in the office just isn’t safe.

(NOTE: This post is just on the time and monetary cost of travel, not all the other associated costs like disrupted work/life balance, the cost of meals, the cost of business attire, etc.)


The benefits of downtime after a conference

September 17, 2017

For the first time ever, I allowed an extra day after the conference before flying home. Usually I leave the day immediately after the conference in my hurry to get home. But not this time. This time I stayed. And you know what? I got an awful lot done!

Typically, I get home from a conference and life takes over. I have my scribbled notes, websites I want to investigate, business cards for those I need to add to my contacts list and send an email to. And it can take a week or two — sometimes some months — before I get around to doing all that, or I do it in dribs and drabs, eventually not doing some of those things as their priority and my interest slips down the list. Paid work takes priority and, as I said, normal life resumes.

So to have a ‘free’ day to just work on catching up from the conference was great. I went for a long walk, then back to the hotel to type up my notes in blog posts, add contacts, send emails, and investigate websites and software that I heard about during the conference. In fact, this day went so well and I was so productive, I didn’t have breakfast or lunch, finally stepping out around 4pm for a bite to eat!

Another advantage of doing it all the day after was not having to bring home paperwork (e.g. conference program, vendor flyers) to refer to later — except the ones I investigated/read on my day off and decided to keep. The rest went into the hotel’s recycle bin and I saved on a little weight in my luggage.

I think I’ll add an extra day to my conference agenda from now on (well, after the next two conferences, as I’ve already booked and paid for them and Qantas charge a HEAP to make a schedule change).


Conference etiquette

September 16, 2017

I’ve just finished attending a 2-day conference and half-day workshop. I’ve attended plenty of both, but some things happened at this one that made me just a little bit angry because I felt I didn’t get what was promised. These things irk me at ALL conferences, not just this one, so I’m not picking on the one I just attended. Most are to do with attendees, but a couple apply to the presenters or conference organisers. So if you’re attending a conference in the near future, take note.


It’s a while since I taught a hands-on computer software class, but I really felt for the presenter when the questions started coming and she was running around like a blue-arsed fly trying to sort out people’s issues because they:

  • didn’t download the program beforehand, or tried to download it the night before the workshop but failed and were now trying to do so on a shared but limited Wifi connection in the convention centre AFTER the class had started (the info on downloading the software had been on the conf website and in the confirmation email for months)
  • didn’t follow the presenter’s emailed instructions (with attached class files) and load the files onto their laptop, as requested, meaning the presenter had to run around with her thumb drive to help those people
  • saw that their Mac screen was different to the Windows screen of the presenter and despite having a complete set of instructions WITH CORRECT MENU PATHS and screenshots for a Mac, continued to ask how to do it on a Mac
  • didn’t know how to resize a window, or a pane within a window, or sort a database column, move column headers etc.
  • asked about things the presenter had just given CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS (with a demonstration) for
  • turned up late (some were in a late-finishing morning workshop, and the conference organisers had only allowed 30 minutes for lunch — unfortunately, there was only one place close by for lunch, and they had to wait for their orders to get filled and to eat their lunch); the result was that the presenter waited nearly 10 minutes for them to arrive, thus penalising those of us who’d turned up on time.

The presenter wasn’t a quick talker, so there’s no reason why some people seemed to get left behind. I didn’t hear any needless chatter from where I was sitting, so I’m wondering if some people just don’t listen or read, despite them all working in the field of clear communication.

On a side note, questions like some of those above, plus some late arrivals, meant that it took about 20 minutes of the 4 hours before the presenter could really get started. That’s a real red flag to me — I’ve paid good money to get a 4-hour workshop and to find that effectively it’s 3.5 hours, less another half hour break for afternoon tea (not announced in the program), so effectively 3 hours, doesn’t sit well with me.

For workshop organisers

  • Allow enough time between workshops for lunch, especially where there’s only one lunch venue for the whole convention centre, and many will be trying to get their lunch at the same time. Or get lunch catered for and add it into the workshop fee.
  • Arrange for enough power outlets for any hands-on computer software training! All participants in my workshop got an email from the organisers two days beforehand telling us there’d be no power in the room and to make sure out laptops were fully charged!! During my email exchange with the organisers I was told this was a ‘safety’ issue. Really? In a convention centre that hosts hundreds of events each year? Fortunately there WERE some power points around the room, so those who needed them were able to charge their laptops. Despite mine being a recent laptop with specs indicating an 8-hour charge (I think), I was down to 65% after 2 hours. Anyone with an older laptop might have been struggling.

Conference organisers

These suggestions are for conference organisers and the people who introduce the speaker(s) to the audience. In the conference I attended last week, all sessions were 45 minutes, which included a mandatory 10-minute question time, so effectively 35 minutes. There was NO break between one session ending and the next one starting — with sessions running simultaneously in three rooms, that meant running from one room to the next.

  • Allow sufficient time for attendees to move from one room to another — 5 minutes as a minimum, but preferably 10 minutes. This also allows the next speaker time to get to the room, set up, and do any final prep for their session — and to breathe…
  • Do NOT let those introducing the speaker repeat the biographical info that’s already in the printed program, on the website, and in the conference app. We can read. It’s a waste of time for everyone concerned, especially for a tight session.


  • Do NOT repeat all the biographical info that’s in the program, website, and app, or on the THREE slides you have that describe your history from childhood. In one of the sessions I attended, by the time the person doing the intro had given a potted bio, then the two presenters had each given their bios, we were nearly 15 minutes into the session, leaving effectively 20 mins to present the information.
  • And while on bios, I don’t want to hear “I really loved reading as a child” unless for some reason your topic is on childhood reading issues! Any bio info must be recent, preferably summarising only things related to the work you’re doing now and nothing older than 10 years. Before that, no-one cares!!!
  • Speak up if there’s no microphone — those at the back WILL strain to hear you. If there’s a microphone, speak into it. If there’s a hand microphone, learn to use it so that it doesn’t end up well away from your mouth and no-one can hear you.
  • When you get a question from the audience, REPEAT THE DAMNED QUESTION into the microphone. One, it shows that you heard/interpreted the question correctly; two, those sitting at the back can’t hear any question a person facing you has asked.
  • Start on time. Do NOT reward latecomers by starting late.
  • Finish on time or even beforehand, especially if there’s no break between sessions. Often there’s a session straight after yours and the next person needs time to get set up.
  • Pack up your stuff and get it out of the way of the next presenter ASAP. If there’s time between sessions and some people still want to ask you questions personally, move aside, or take the discussion outside into the corridor.

I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones I identified at this conference.

Rant over.