About

I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Given a sufficiently large framework, any application can be a one-liner.

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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 9/21/2018

Totals
Posts - 2522
Comments - 2582
Hits - 2,081,911

Averages
Entries/day - 0.45
Comments/entry - 1.02
Hits/day - 374

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 12:17 PM Pacific


  09:38 PM

A little-known fact is that I have a number of videos on YouTube about using Microsoft Word. ("Little-known" as evidenced by the analytics, haha.) It seems that I should probably let more people know about them! So here's a blog post that catalogs the videos I have so far.

Using styles

Why use styles?

An overview of why styles are awesome and wonderful and why you should use them.

Types of styles

About the different types of styles (paragraph, character, linked, table, and list styles), and how and when you use them.

Ways to apply styles

Reviews the several different ways that you can apply styles in Microsoft Word—the Quick Styles gallery, the Styles pane, the Apply Styles dialog box (Windows only), and keyboard shortcuts. I also offer tips for choosing the right style to apply.

Using styles to set spell-check options

How to use styles to set the language (English, Spanish, German, etc.) for different parts of a document.

Using styles to disable spellcheck

How to use styles to turn off spell checking altogether for some text in a document, with some discussion about when that's useful.

Creating inherited styles ("style based on")

All about using the "style based on" feature, which I refer to as inherited styles. This lets you define one style, and then easily create and change similar styles that are based on that basic style.

Using styles for lists, Part 1: auto-lists

Discusses how Word applies a style to list items when you use the toolbar buttons to create bulleted and numbered lists, and what you can and cannot change about that style.

Using styles for lists, Part 2: styling lists using paragraph styles

Discusses how you can use paragraph styles that have bullets or numbers to style different levels of lists.

Using styles for lists, Part 3: creating list styles

Shows you how to use a list style (aka a multi-level list style) to have complete and utter control over how to style lists.

Other Word features

Creating a keyboard shortcut to paste plain text

Although this is specifically about how to create a keyboard shortcut for pasting plain text, it's really a tutorial on how to create a keyboard shortcut for any Word command.

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  09:54 AM

A fairly regular occurrence in the editor groups I participate in on Facebook or Twitter is that someone posts about how the spelling or grammar tools in Microsoft Word have gotten something spectacularly wrong. As I've noted before, editors in particular seem to take glee in bashing the grammar checker.

I find this frustrating for a couple of reasons, and I've pushed back a bit on social media when I see posts that dismiss proofing tools. But I thought I owed it to people to explain why I think it's not productive exercise to bash the tools. (Modulo the entertainment value of hilariously bad advice, which is by no means limited to advice dispensed by tools.)

I'm going to focus on two issues: the measurable deficiencies of the tool, and the question of audience.

Measureable, reproducible deficiencies

Imagine that you are a program manager (PM) at Microsoft whose job it is to improve the grammar-checking tool. It's not news to you that the tool gets things wrong sometimes.

You go out into the world to find out what sorts of problems people are having with the grammar checker. You find no shortage of complaints. An article in Slate claims that the grammar checker "makes your writing worse." At least that article has some explicit examples. Other complaints are more abstract:




Put yourself in the place of that PM. How is the grammar checker "creating problems"? Which things is it flagging that are "not errors"? What are examples of the "incorrect options as solutions"? These types of generalized, "it just doesn't work!" observations don't help the PM learn anything specific about what to fix. And they don't necessarily help other users, either, since it doesn't tell a user what to look out for.

As a PM, I might also have some questions about how prevalent these errors are. What percentage of the time does the grammar checker correctly flag errors? 15 percent of the time? 40 percent? 85 percent? In other words, are the issues that people report exceptions in an otherwise functioning tool, or are errors the norm? (If errors are the norm, I as PM would be surprised, since it's not like the company doesn't test the grammar checker.)

There's also a question about what constitutes an error. The grammar checker can find actual, non-controversial errors, like subject-verb disagreement. It can also check style—things like the use of passive:


As the PM, I might ask people to adjust the various knobs and levers to see whether the "mistakes" made by grammar checker are simply suggestions that they disagree with.

If I were that PM, I'd say that sure, please let us know where you're running into issues with the grammar checker. But be specific. Show us the error. Will we be able to reproduce it on the current version of Word? If you adjust the settings, do you still see the issue? And I would ask that in addition to posting on social media about the error, why not engage with the Microsoft community to see if your issue is known? In short, I as PM would ask you to use your experience to help make the product better.


Audience

Let's move on and talk about who the audience is for the grammar checker in Word. Let me posit this: the grammar-checker tool in Word is not designed for professional editors. No, let me take a step back: Word itself is designed for corporate use. When the Office team thinks about improving their product, they're not thinking primarily about freelance editors, or novelists, or programmers who are creating README files. They think a great deal about employees at companies that are going to buy 500 or 5000 or 50,000 site license of Office. Merge tools for mailing labels? Two-click tables of contents? Let's face it: the prototypical Word user is someone who sits in a cubicle.[1]

My point is that I think the prototypical user is not expert in spelling or grammar. Nor are they producing works of art— no, they're working on reports and memos and other contributions to the great stream of prose that moves corporations forward every day.

I note this because one editor I know said that she had once taken an article by Louis Menand (Harvard faculty, writer for the New Yorker) and run it through the Word grammar checker. She reports that the grammar checker had substantially worsened the article.

This does not surprise me. Let me give you an analogy. Suppose you want to make a dress. You buy a dress pattern and carefully follow all the directions. When you're done, you have a dress! But you do not have a Pierre Cardin dress, or a Dior, or a Vera Wang.

A dress pattern lets a person of modest skills produce a functional finished product. A dress pattern in the hands of an ordinary person does not produce a work of art. Similarly, the grammar checker in Word helps a writer of ordinary skills produce workable copy. It is not designed to help an ordinary writer produce extraordinary prose. It will not turn the average denizen of a corporate cuberhood into Louis Menand.

We professional editors cannot make broad judgments about a tool because we think it isn't as smart as we are about grammar and style. (Though it is probably more thorough.) We have to consider whether it's useful for its intended audience, and gauge the tool in terms of how well it helps that audience.

Finally, we have to help people use the tool to its best advantage. If someone who is unskilled is using some tool incorrectly, you don't say to them "Yeah, that tool sucks." You teach them how to use it right. How about if we do that?

Related posts:
[1] Full disclosure: this is speculation on my part. I am not privy to the planning process of the Office team, past or present.

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  08:28 AM

There are many reasons to use styles in Word, as I've noted before. One feature I find handy is using styles that have different spell-check options for different types of text. I'll explain a couple of examples: one where I set a non-default spell-check option (Spanish), and another where I disable spell check for code snippets.

Note: If you'd rather see this on video, see the links below.

Spell check for non-default languages

Suppose you're writing a document that has quotations in different languages. If you run spell check over the document, it'll barf when it gets to your citations in Spanish or French or Latin or whatever.[1]

The hard way to solve this problem is to select the text of each citation, one by one, and then to set the proofing language (Review tab > Language > Set Proofing Language).

The easier way to do it is to define a style and set the language for that style. Then you can just apply the style to your citations.

Suppose I'm writing about One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez:


I run spell check, and uh-oh: if it's going to stop on every word of Spanish, it's going to be a long night proofing this doc:


Instead, I'll create a style just for my quotations in Spanish. In this case, I'll create a paragraph style, although I can set language options for character styles also, which is useful for cites in running text.

Here's the Create New Style dialog. The new style is named Quotation in Spanish. It's a paragraph style, based on Normal, and I've set an indent.


Then in the Format options (bottom left), I choose Language:


For the language, I choose Colombian Spanish:


Now I can apply this style to any citations in the document that are in Spanish. When spell check gets to the citations, it switches to checking spelling in Spanish. (Which is handy, since I'm a bad typist in multiple languages.)


If the document contains text in several languages, you create a different style for each non-default language that you're using and apply them as needed.

Disabling spell check for selected text

I don't actually encounter a lot of Spanish citations in my work, but I do encounter a lot of snippets of program code and HTML. I also encounter filenames and URLs that are oddly spelled per English conventions. As with non-English text, this can throw spell check off. So I create a style for code and for HTML blocks and for filenames and for URLs. In those styles, I disable spell check altogether.

Skipping ahead, here's an example of what some sample text looks like when these styles have been applied:


There are 3 styles at work here. The green monospace marks a character style named Code. The blue italics mark a character style named Filename. And the indented block with gray background marks text that's styled using a paragraph style named Pre (a nod to the HTML element name for code blocks).

In addition to the various formatting settings that I defined for these styles (italics, blue, green, monospace, indented, etc.), in each case I chose the Language setting. Then in the Language dialog, I chose Do not check spelling or grammar:


When spell check runs, it skips over any text that has been styled using a style with this setting.

I should note that for code and HTML snippets, it can instead make sense to add the various keywords to your dictionary. (I do this for filenames that I encounter often.) However, defining a style that simply turns off spell check has been very handy for me in the code- and HTML-heavy documents that I work on.

Videos

I made a couple of videos about this also and put them on YouTube:
[1] I do realize that Word can be set to auto-detect languages, and that this works pretty well. But the method I describe here also covers scenarios where auto-detect doesn't work well. (Klingon? Dothraki? Etc.)

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  03:02 PM

As most people discover, there's a class of writing error that spell check just can't help you with. Consider these examples:
  • We recommend that the company shit its resources for better output.
  • The event is open to the pubic.
Run these through spell check, and all is well. Only, of course, it's not.

As I recently learned, Word has a feature that can help find errors like this: an exclusion list. An exclusion list has words that are spelled perfectly fine, but that should be excluded from your documents.

The steps for creating an exclusion list are described in a great blog post by Sam Hartburn. The basic idea is that you add words, one per line, to .lex files in a specific folder on your computer. Here's the Windows location--see notes later for Mac instructions:


You can use any text editor to edit the file, including Notepad.

Note that there are different .lex files for different languages, and in fact for different flavors of each language—e.g. English US and English GB. (It's not inconceivable that there's a way to set up a global .lex file, but I don't know. Leave a comment if you know about that.)

Once you've got your exclusion list(s) updated, close and then reopen Word. Then when you run the spell checker, Word will flag words that are part of your exclusion list:


The examples I've shown here pertain to, you know, taboo vocabulary. Another excellent use for this feature is to flag words that you often mistype but are technically spelled correctly, such as manger for manager or potion for portion. Or you can use it for terms that should be avoided in your particular work, even if they're perfectly cromulent words in English. Really, you can use the exclusion list feature to have Word bring to your attention any word that you might want to double-check as part of your proofing.[1]

I do have a couple of notes for you about using exclusion lists:
  • Words in the list are case sensitive. (As indeed they are in the Word spelling dictionaries.) For example, it's probably a good idea to include both assed and Assed.

  • It's up to you to include all variant forms of a term, including plurals and verb conjugations: ass, Ass, asses, Asses, assed, Assed, assing, Assing, etc.

  • With regard to having different .lex files for different language variants, it will up to you to know what languages are in use in a given document. If a document has been through many hands, it's possible that different sections or paragraphs or even words might be flagged as having different language settings.
I learned about all this from a Twitter thread and specifically from the editor Ashley Bischoff. Not only did she introduce a bunch of us to exclusion lists by pointing to the blog post, she took the initiative to create a Google Docs spreadsheet for collecting words for potential inclusion. The doc is open to anyone. Please contribute!

PS Ashley has a second sheet in the workbook with instructions for both Windows and Mac users on how to update your exclusion lists.


[1] Microsoft alums will recognize this as similar to the Policheck tool, about which I've written before.

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  12:24 PM

I rassled a bit recently with a couple of dumb issues when creating some Word macros, so I thought I'd better write these up for my own future reference. To be clear, "dumb" here means that I should already have known this stuff, and I wasted time learning it.

1. Calling subroutines

I was trying to call a sub like this:
Sub SomeMacro
SomeOtherSub(p1, p2)
End Sub
Word got so mad about that SomeOtherSub call:


Turns out that when you call a subroutine in VBA and pass parameters, you do that without parentheses:
SomeOtherSub p1, p2
The parameters can be positional, as here, or named. For the latter, use the := syntax:
SomeOtherSub p1:="a value", p2:="another value" 

2. Exposing subroutines (implicit access modifiers)

Here was another kind of bonehead mistake I made. I wrote a subroutine sort of like this:
Sub MyMacro(param1 As String, param2 As String)
' Code here
End Sub
Then I tried to actually run this macro (Developer > Macros). The macro stubbornly refused to appear in the Macros dialog box. If I was in the macro editor and pressed F5 to try to launch it in the debugger, Word just displayed the Macros dialog box for me to pick which macro to run, but again, did not display the actual macro that I actually wanted to run.

Anyway, long story short (too late, haha), the problem was that the Sub definition included parameters:
Sub MyMacro(param1 As String, param2 As String)
Apparently if a subroutine has parameters like that, VBA considers it to have protected access—it can be called from another macro, but it can't be launched as a main. This makes sense, but it wasn't immediately obvious. What I really wanted was this:
Sub MyMacro()
I had included the parameters by accident (copy/paste error), so it was basically a dumb mistake. I just removed them and then things worked. Well, they worked until VBA ran into the next dumb mistake, whatever that was. (In my code there's always another one.)

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  02:35 PM

Another quick post about Word, primarily for my own benefit (when I forget this later).

Word has several options for how you can paste text:


They are (in order):
  • Keep Source Formatting. This option keeps the original formatting (both character and paragraph formatting), but converts it to direct formatting.

  • Merge Formatting. This option copies basic character formatting (bold, italics, underline) as direct formatting, but does not copy any paragraph formatting.

  • Use Destination Styles. This option copies the text and applies styles that are in the target document. (This option appears only if there matching styles in the target doc.)

  • Keep Text Only. This option copies the text as plain text, with no formatting.
I need the last one (paste plain text) more often than any of the others, so I want it on a keyboard shortcut. You can do this by recording a macro of yourself using the Keep Text Only option. But I realized there's an even easier way—just assign a keyboard shortcut to the built-in PasteTextOnly command.

I keep forgetting that most anything Word can do has a command. If a gesture requires just one command, you can assign a keyboard shortcut directly to it. Maybe writing this out will help me remember.

Update I added a video!


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  12:01 AM

This is another in a series of blog posts about how I configure Microsoft Word, which I add here primarily for my own reference.

I often use the Style pane, and within that pane, I often want to change the styles that are displayed. Sometimes I want to see all the styles; sometimes just the styles that are defined in the current document; sometimes just the styles currently in use.

You can change this display by using a dialog box. In the Styles pane, click the Options link, and then use the dropdown lists to select which styles to display and how they're ordered, like this:


But that can get to be an annoying number of clicks if you're switching between these display options frequently. So, macros to the rescue. I recorded myself making one of these changes, then created a couple of variations to give me the different displays I want. Here are the macros I currently use, where the sub name is (I hope) self-explanatory:
Sub SetStylesPaneToAllAlphabetical()
ActiveDocument.FormattingShowFilter = wdShowFilterStylesAll
ActiveDocument.StyleSortMethod = wdStyleSortByName
End Sub

Sub SetStylesPaneToInCurrentDocument()
ActiveDocument.FormattingShowFilter = wdShowFilterStylesAvailable
ActiveDocument.StyleSortMethod = wdStyleSortByName
End Sub

Sub SetStylesPaneToInUse()
ActiveDocument.FormattingShowFilter = wdShowFilterStylesInUse
ActiveDocument.StyleSortMethod = wdStyleSortByName
End Sub
To complete the picture, I map the macros to these keyboard shortcuts:

ctrl+shift+p,aSetStylesPaneToAllAlphabetical
ctrl+shift+p,cSetStylesPaneToInCurrentDocument
ctrl+shift+p,uSetStylesPaneToInUse

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  12:23 AM

I have used Microsoft Word for years—decades—but hardly a week goes by when I don't learn something new. (Including things that are probably pretty well known to others, oh well.) Anyway, TIL about how to use the batch version of auto-formatting in Word. Since I think a lot of people already know this, I'm adding the information here primarily for later reference for myself.

Word has settings to perform "auto-formatting as you type." These include things like converting quotation marks into so-called smart quotes (i.e., typographical quotation marks), converting double hyphens (--) into em-dashes (—), converting typed fractions (1/2) into typographic fractions (½), etc. You set these options in the AutoCorrect dialog box: File > Options > Proofing, AutoCorrect Options button, AutoFormat As You Type tab.

It turns out that Word can also apply these auto-formatting instructions after the fact. In the same AutoCorrect dialog box, there's a tab named just AutoFormat:


This has most of the same options as with auto-format-as-you-type. Here's the neat part: you can get Word to apply these formatting options by pressing alt+ctrl+k. There's no UI gesture, but you can use the feature for customizing the ribbon to add the relevant command to the ribbon or Quick Access Toolbar.

A use case where I can see this working pretty well is if you paste text in from a text editor. (I do this all the time.)

Credit where it's due: I learned about this from the article How to Automatically Format an Existing Document in Word 2013 by Lori Kaufman on the How-To Geek site. As I say, I'm adding this info here primarily for my own benefit. :-)

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  11:13 PM

I just installed Word 2013 and was disappointed to note that some of the long-standing keyboard shortcuts no longer work. For example, I've been using Alt+V,A for years (decades?) to invoke an ancient menu command to toggle between hiding and showing revision marks. Even when they introduced the ribbon and the menus went away, a lot of those old menu-command shortcuts still worked. And some still do; but this particular one no longer does, darn it.

I spent a little while trying to map keystrokes to the show-revision and hide-revision commands in the Review tab. Either I'm not finding them or (as I believe) there's no longer a single command to toggle show/hide of rev marks in the way I've come to rely on.

So, macro time. Using the macro recorder and some editing, I created the following macro and then mapped Alt+V,A to it. Macros are stored in Normal.dotm, so as long as that remains available I should be good. (Right?) However, I'll have to update Normal.dotm on each machine on which I install Word 2013.

Update 2016-03-06: For the "hide revisions" section, I changed wdRevisionsViewOriginal to wdRevisionsViewFinal. This macro always shows the "final" version, but toggles whether rev marks are displayed.

Perhaps there's an easier mapping for this functionality. If this macro thing doesn't work out, I'll investigate further.
Sub ShowOrHideShowRevisions()
If ActiveWindow.View.RevisionsFilter.Markup = wdRevisionsMarkupNone Then
' Hide revisions
With ActiveWindow.View.RevisionsFilter
.Markup = wdRevisionsMarkupAll
.View = wdRevisionsViewFinal
End With
Else
' Show revisions
With ActiveWindow.View.RevisionsFilter
.Markup = wdRevisionsMarkupNone
.View = wdRevisionsViewFinal
.View = wdRevisionsViewOriginal
End With
End If
End Sub

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  04:55 PM

This is a blog post just to record the key remappings I do in Microsoft Word 2010. (It is probably not of interest to most people.)

I've found that it speeds up revisions tremendously to map keyboard shortcuts to the commands in Word that you use to find, accept, and reject revisions and comments. As a bonus, I don't like that the traditional Find key in Word 2010 is mapped to some sort of Navigation pane (where traditional Find is available under Advanced Find). So I map Ctrl+F as well. As I say, this is primarily for my own reference.



TaskCommandKey mapping
Display Find/Replace dialog boxEditFindCtrl+F
Find next revision or commentNextChangeOrCommentCtrl+Shift+F
Accept current changeAcceptChangesSelectedCtrl+Shift+A
Reject current changeRejectChangesSelectedCtrl+Shift+R

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