Summoning demons in Word

Ah, yes, MS Word, my old nemesis … 😂

Source: Meredith Ireland

Business and work Mindsets Useful stuff

A desperate plea to MS Office lovers everywhere

Dear MS Office lover

Although I don’t see the appeal*, I understand that you love using Microsoft Office for your daily tasks. It seems like pretty good software, and if it helps you become more efficient, then that’s terrific.

Anyhoo, I’ve noticed that many of you have a tendency to do some interesting things with MS Office in order to share things with the rest of us. For example, to –

  • share images by adding them to your Word documents;
  • paste bits of text into other Word documents, and then emailing them;
  • create PowerPoint slides for newsletters; and
  • take notes in Excel spreadsheets*.

Another Pro tip is not to send Word documents by email, unless you want to collaborate with someone, and intend for them to edit the document and send it back. If you’d like to share a letter by email (consider just sending the text as the email), save the Word document as a PDF instead. It will look the same on every device that can read it. Unlike Word documents*.

I’m a big fan of using your tools to do cool, interesting things. I’m also a fan of using a tool appropriately. Striking a balance between these two isn’t always easy, and erring on the side of innovation is a good thing, too.

That said, it’s also important to think outside the box here. MS Office isn’t the sum total of what’s available to you.

If you need to share a snippet of text in an email, paste it into the email. If you need to share an image, please don’t add it to a Word document first. Just attach the image, like you were planning to do with the Word document containing the image to your email.

Email is cool like that, it can handle so many types of content.

Oh, if you prefer writing your blog posts in Word, remember that copying and pasting into your blog editor of choice can carry across Word’s silly formatting too. If you happen to be using the Classic editor in WordPress, read this guide to stripping out that formatting cruft so your posts look the way they’re meant to.

If you’re using the new WordPress Editor (aka Gutenberg), you should be able to just paste your text, and the editor will remove that extra stuff automatically.

So please, please, rethink how you use use your MS Office tools for the sake of our continued sanity. It’s the productivity equivalent of “Be kind, rewind”.

*On the few occasions I use conventional office productivity software, I prefer using LibreOffice or Google Docs/Sheets/Slides, but that’s just my choice.

*Why not just use Word for this?

*But, seriously, just add the text to an email and send it directly. It works far better.

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Bethany Legg
Business and work Legal Useful stuff

Could MultiMarkdown replace Word for lawyers?

An example of a cross-reference

I have a largely unpleasant history with MS Word. I avoid using it as much as I can (and when I do use it, I use it primarily because other lawyers we deal with are using it and I pause my resistance when it can cost me excessive time and money). It is, however, the staple in the legal industry and because LibreOffice is not quite as stable as I’d like it to be, I will continue to have MS Word installed on my laptop for a while still. That said, I am actively exploring alternatives to Word, primarily for document creation on my side and, lately, I am exploring the feasibility of switching my document creation process to plain text with MultiMarkdown syntax. I’m just not sure MMD can do what it would need to do to be a feasible option.

Why MultiMarkdown?

Word will still have a role when it comes to reviewing and commenting on documents exchanged with other lawyers. It has all the markup options and commenting features typically used by lawyers. I wrote previously about using Scrivener for my document creation and that remains one of the better options, just after LibreOffice and, possibly, Pages. The reason I am really interested in MMD as an option is that it is entirely platform and OS neutral. If the syntax to support the document complexity we require in many legal documents is possible in MMD, it becomes possible to create legal documents on any device that supports plain text. That is appealing for a number of reasons:

  1. It means that the cost of a “word processor” to do legal work drops to almost zero;
  2. It means that if you sync your documents to a location that can be shared between devices, you become truly platform agnostic; and
  3. Your risk of documents becoming unreadable over time drops to almost zero because plain text should always be readable and you may just need some sort of interface to translate the syntax.

What are the challenges?

Although the last stages of a document’s preparation and implementation will likely require Word-level reviewing and commenting tools (well, probably), legal documents can be created with just about any text editor or word processor that supports paragraph numbering and formatting, can be translated into a Word format (.doc or .docx) or even a PDF with commenting and markup features enabled (which opens the field a bit) and can handle a couple more complex functions which have become a pre-requisite for legal professionals.

It largely comes down to multi-level paragraph numbering and how referencing works in many legal documents. The starting point is a paper paradigm where legal documents are created with the intention that they are going to be printed out and still need to be functional. Because these documents often include internal references between paragraphs (usually this involves referring to one paragraph from another) and those references need to remain intelligible when printed out, the convention that has emerged is the one illustrated in the image with this post.

If documents were never going to be printed and could remain digital, then this referencing system could be replaced with internal hyperlinks which don’t need to be attached to dynamic paragraph references. In the current model it is important to be able to not only create a reference in one paragraph to another but to have that reference link capable of being dynamically updated as the paragraph being referenced changes position in the document. So, for example, in the image above, paragraph 2.1 includes a reference to paragraph 3.1. The reference in 2.1 can change if paragraph 3.1 is, say, moved lower down in the document to 4.1. When the document is refreshed, the reference in paragraph 2.1 will be changed to 4.1 and the link will remain effective (clicking on that link in 2.1 will take you to the paragraph it references).

The first question is whether it is possible to emulate this referencing model using MMD? It is obviously possible to create internal links in a document using Markdown and it’s forks but I tend to see those internal links being to paragraph headings more often than not. I saw something about internal links to specially tagged sections of the text (you can create footnote links in MMD, for example,), I’m just not sure if you can do something similar between sections of text.

The next challenge is extending the paragraph numbering syntax to accommodate multi-level numbering. Multi-level numbering can be painful if the structure becomes too complex (imagine a clause that extends down to but it remains a common method of applying a hierarchical structure to legal documents with headings, sub-headings, paragraphs below each heading level and numbered lists thrown in for good measure. The numbering syntax in MMD seems to be fairly flat and goes up to 2 levels with bullets (not sure about numbered lists) but it would, ideally, need to be able to accommodate more complex paragraph numbering for legal documents. Well, I say that but I have also been thinking about changing that structural model and simplifying the numbered paragraphs somehow. Certainly, when it comes to Web-based documents, multi-level numbering just doesn’t work so I structure my documents using different heading levels, ordinary paragraphs and lists for the Web. If I didn’t have to cater for documents being printed, it would probably be feasible to move more towards a Web model but we are not quite there yet.

So the second question is whether MMD currently or could eventually accommodate this sort of multi-level hierarchy? I suppose a related question is just how much we need such a complex multi-level hierarchy in the first place, aside from being a sort of habit lawyers draw comfort from?

There are some moves in this direction, at least ones I have seen. One example I came across tonight is this tweet by Mike Linksvayer linking to something called Critic Markup which introduces a sort of annotation markup to plain text documents. It looks like this is already being integrated into MMD environments with support in MultiMarkdown Composer 2.1 beta.

MMDC Beta Demo Video from CriticMarkup on Vimeo.

Its still pretty rough but its in the right direction. So what I am researching is whether MMD could become a viable alternative, even if it is just to create the documents in the first place? Any thoughts?

Business and work Design

When lawyers kill fairies

A fairy dies every time lawyers create documents that look as dense as this. And yes, we’re partly to blame for the fairy population devastation by participating in this madness.

Dense document revisions

I’m resisting the urge to totally reformat this document …

Business and work

LaTeX for lawyers

My mom had an interesting suggestion for document creation. She works with engineers who apparently share my Word loathing and they use LaTeX. It’s really geeky but an interesting option. If I understand it correctly, its basically a syntax/schema which seems to work a bit like HTML or Markdown in the sense that you’re using a plain text editor for your documents and the formatting is derived from the syntax you use:

LaTeX is based on the idea that it is better to leave document design
to document designers, and to let authors get on with writing documents.
So, in LaTeX you would input this document as:

title{Cartesian closed categories and the price of eggs}
author{Jane Doe}
date{September 1994}
   Hello world!

Or, in English:

  • This document is an article.
  • Its title is Cartesian closed categories and the price of
  • Its author is Jane Doe.
  • It was written in September 1994.
  • The document consists of a title followed by
    the text Hello world!

LaTeX contains features for:

  • Typesetting journal articles, technical reports, books, and slide
  • Control over large documents containing sectioning,
    cross-references, tables and figures.
  • Typesetting of complex mathematical formulas.
  • Advanced typesetting of mathematics with AMS-LaTeX.
  • Automatic generation of bibliographies and indexes.
  • Multi-lingual typesetting.
  • Inclusion of artwork, and process or spot colour.
  • Using PostScript or Metafont fonts.

I’ve thought about using HTML to create documents but I don’t know if you can create multi-level numbering in HTML or even something like Markdown or LaTeX so this idea of going totally geek is pretty much a thought experiment. In addition, even if I could create all the document elements I need to include into the documents I create as a lawyer, using syntax is far too geeky to be viable in my firm.

Just the same, the idea is pretty cool.

Source: Introduction to LaTeX

Postscript: A visitor pointed out that I haven’t clearly attributed the source of my quote so I’ve added clearer attribution at the end of the article.

Business and work Useful stuff

Word War 2 and I'm looking to @scrivenerapp for sanctuary

My first Word War lasted so long I don’t remember when it began. I won’t rehash the sorry tale or recount my casualties but a few months ago I reached a détente with the Redmond Ravager and began to learn its ways and customs when it comes to styles. It seemed a lasting peace was finally in reach and then, in the last few days, it all unravelled as styles stopped doing what I set them up to do and I found myself enraged again and banging on desks when bullet list paragraphs indented and heading styles sagged.

I reached out for help as hostilities continued …

My rescuer leapt into the fray with powerful functionality I was only superficially aware of:

I was dumbstruck as the implications began to dawn on me and just as the darkness fell, I knew that a new dawn is coming.

Once again, Scrivener has come to my rescue. BFF!