or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 1/4/09

   January 10th, 2009

worderror1We can learn a lot from our patrons.

One of our regulars spends most of his time surfing the internet and then copy/pasting things he likes from web pages and email messages into Word files. He carries around four or five flash drives, and his Word documents can sometimes be 200+ pages long.

And of course, he runs into problems. He called me over the other day, because he was seeing an error when trying to open one of his files. I had never seen it before, but (surprisingly) it gave very clear instructions on how to fix the situation - using something in Word that I had never noticed before.

The problem is that, when he copies things from a web browser, Word doesn't just copy the text and images. Word copies all of the underlying HTML code, too, and tries to recreate the tables. The chance of copying all of the necessary code is very slim, so when the file is saved and reopened, Word says the tables are corrupt.

worderror2But so far, Word's built-in "Open and Repair" option has worked every time. I find it annoying that Word tries to handle HTML, but at least they included a fix for it - I wonder how many other problems this can fix. And I wonder what other useful gems lie undiscovered (by me)

After I walked through this with the patron, he's been able to do it himself, and is very happy.

But the real fix might be to install the Copy Plain Text add-on for Firefox on our public computers and show him how to avoid the problem all together.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/4/09”

  1. Charlie Says:

    Would going to “Paste Special” in Word and selecting “Unformatted Text” work too?

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Charlie: Thanks for the tip (you learn something new everyday) – I use Paste Special all the time in Excel, but it never occurred to me that it would be in Word too (I’m more a right-click person than a menu bar person).

    However, after experimenting a bit, Paste Special looks like it has the same drawback (in this case) as the Copy Plain Text Firefox add-on I mentioned: they both exclude images. The patron wants to copy the images, and he said he wanted all the text formatting, too (bold, font sizes, etc) – everything but the tables, basically.

    I guess I can’t fault Microsoft for not preparing for every conceivable desire – but patrons do.