18 January 2010

17 drafts and counting . . .

Some time ago a client gave me the nickname Merlin because he reckoned I could work magic on documents to turn tedious text into something professional that someone might actually want to read. It's quite an enjoyable pastime, especially when I can get paid for it too and I almost relish the prospect of getting some Arial bold underlined and italic text, usually justified and in too bigger font to weave a spell over.

A few days ago, 12 Word documents arrived for my attention - the idea being to merge them all into one. As it was something that would be getting a wide circulation and possibly forming the basis for some future regulations its content would be contentious and likely to be mulled over in great detail. I had a feeling it wasn't going to be the easiest of tasks. The first problem was an assortment of page orientation and margins. Setting one set of margins for the whole document was fine except for the landscape pages where tables now stretched off into the distance right and others now appeared to have text jumbled about. The author had carefully typed entries into cells in a table, including longer sentences being split into two or more cells. Why on earth they hadn't had the whole thing in one cell, or merged a few I have no idea. As if that wasn't enough of a problem, I was then faced with indents that weren't indents but three or four spaces. Now these probably looked lovely in a particular font at a particular size but they sure didn't work now!

Eventually things began to take shape but I still had lots more sections than I wanted. The trouble was, every time I deleted a section break I lost headers and footers and no amount of linking to previous seemed to work. Finally, just two sections, one for the front page and the rest in the other, headers behaving and footers too.

Sent this off. The client says he'd like a nice graduated colour background. Hmm. In Word? No. I don't think so. better use Serif Page Plus which does that sort of thing excellently. Unfortunately, I couldn't transfer the contents from Word into Serif. It kept going wrong at the tables and making a complete mess. Another idea: I'd make a PDF from Word 2007 and use Serif to add backgrounds then re-export as a PDF again. Well, it certainly looked nice. Unfortunately, there had been some typos and text changes to fix. That's when I learned what a complete mess Serif makes of text in tables on conversion to PDF. Admittedly the text was a bit odd with spaces, some cells merged, some not, but the collection of overlapping frames with bits of text here and there was a nightmare. Even some words appeared to be split. Then there were the lines. what had been continuous lines in Word were now hundreds, maybe thousands, of very tiny lines instead. Fine whilst they all stayed together but one slip of the mouse and all was lost. Adding just one character to a word resulted in everything moving in a most unpredictable manner too. I persevered and sort of managed to make the tables look OK but it took hours.

That would have been fine but then came the dots. I hadn't seen them on my screen but someone else asked about them and it seems that moving some lines around left 1 pixel dots here and there. I found a few and managed to delete them but most were on layers several below and proved impossible to get at without moving those odd frames out of the way. That was just impossible as they'd never fit into place again so I gave up on the Serif solution.

Back to Word, which I knew had a watermark option and by using a custom image I could get some sort of background in place. That was quite easy but the edge of the image was exactly on the same margin as the text so looked a bit grotty. I had an idea to indent all the text but that was far too big a job and would have meant narrower tables which would have messed up the words in cells again! I knew I should have sat down and retyped all those individual cell contents into one big one but too late to start that now.

Strangely, the client was quite happy with the background but I wasn't. How could I add a full width background to a Word document? Ah! I could use the watermark image but not as a watermark but as an image behind text. I tried one page and it worked. Great. Pasted another 64 in and, after a bit of lining-up it was looking as good as the Serif production. Better, actually, which is saying something for Word.

Another really nice thing about using Word was that I could get the client to correct their own typos, or amend something they changed their mind about! Such a relief! Unfortunately, they must have moved some of those images while they were fiddling so it came back looking a dog's breakfast again. That's when I discovered that if you add images to a document when viewing more than one page they are inclined to disappear without trace if you go slightly over one edge! No idea where they went but lost 6 or 7 that way.

Finally, by now at draft 15, the delight of just save as PDF in Word 2007 and I sent a nice-looking document to my client. Draft 16 was needed because my image had covered up the footer. I had made it transparent at the top to allow the header to show but had forgotten about the footer. But why doesn't setting the image as 'behind text' not go behind the header and footer? Silly. It should do.

This morning I gather that Devon needed to be Dorset. I was so tempted to say, well, just change it then. But I didn't. Luckily, the client agreed to dispense with the footer. The only solution to that would have been adding to the image - now that would be getting crazy!

Quite some spelling test for Merlin!

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