Multiple color themes in the same PowerPoint template are useful for companies with several divisions or for presenters who need color-coded sections. Here are 3 ways to add that capability to your presentations.
Multiple Color Themes: Using Super Themes in PowerPoint
Users sometimes get the idea for using multiple color themes from some of the Super Themes that are distributed with newer versions of PowerPoint:
Super Theme Color Variants
The user sees a preview of the color palette that will be used, then picks the variant they want to use. It’s an elegant, attractive interface, but working with Super Themes is the hard way to get there. These files have extra levels of folders compared to a normal theme, so the structure is more complex. Microsoft has never published any details of the format, nor have they supplied tools to assemble them. I’ve spent many hours trying to reverse engineer them, so far without much success.
Fortunately, there are other ways to add multiple color themes, so we don’t have to use this solution. The only unique advantage a Super Theme has is that you can include both 4:3 and 16:9 versions of a presentation in the same file with undistorted artwork in both. Hopefully, you’ll see an article from me about the subject someday.
Multiple Color Themes: Hacking XML
This technique works to add multiple color themes to PowerPoint. You can also add them to Word and Excel files, but those programs won’t show them in the user interface. These extra color themes will travel with a theme saved from such a Word or Excel file, but you already knew that PowerPoint is the program to use for creating theme files. To hack the XML, start by reading XML Hacking: An Introduction. If you’re using a Mac, you should also read XML Hacking: Editing in OS X.
Now, expand your Office file to see the XML. Open the ppt folder, then open the theme folder inside that. PowerPoint saves every theme that’s ever been applied to the presentation, starting with theme1.xml, so you’ll have to check the theme name in each variant to get the right one. If you’re trying this with Word or Excel, look in word\theme or xl\theme respectively, where you will find only one theme1.xml file.
Format the XML to be readable, then go right to the bottom of the listing, where you’ll find the self-closing stub called <a:extraClrSchemeLst/>. First, open up the stub:
Then add a color scheme:
<a:clrScheme name="Red-Tan Chart Colors">
The syntax is exactly the same as for the clrScheme listing that every theme includes as its main color theme, so you can simply copy and paste the whole block of XML. The theme file can hold any number of extra color schemes. When you are using the final file, you can change the theme colors by choosing View>Slide Master>Colors in PowerPoint (actual menu names change in different versions of Office).
Clicking on the Colors dropdown shows the extra color themes.
When you choose a new color theme, all elements keyed to the color theme will change throughout the presentation.
Multiple Color Themes: Multiple Masters (PowerPoint only)
For Word and Excel, a document can have only one color theme applied at a time, and that theme affects all pages in the file. PowerPoint allows more flexibility, since it can have multiple master slides and each of those master slides has its own color theme. This means that different parts of a PowerPoint file can have different color themes. This is often used to color-code different sections of a presentation.
In its most basic form, this is the simplest technique. No XML hacking required:
- In PowerPoint, choose View>Slide Master to view the masters.
- Right-click on the Slide Master (the larger slide at the top of the left-hand display) and choose Duplicate Slide Master. The new master is added below the slide layouts for the first master. (In Windows versions, right-click and check that each Master has the Preserve Master attribute checked, or they’ll vanish later.)
- Select the new master, then choose Color>Customize Colors.
- Revise the color theme, or apply a color theme you created earlier. OK out.
Repeat the steps above for each different color theme you need to include. In the program interface, the user will see a group of slide layouts for each slide master. Here is a presentation where only one colors changes in each color theme:
Each master has its own color theme and slide layouts.
While this is the simplest method to use, it’s not self-evident to all users that you change color themes by choosing a different set of slide layouts. So you’ll probably have to include at least an explanatory note with the template when you distribute it. But what if you want a premium solution for a high-end client? Read on…
Multiple Color Themes: XML Hacked Multiple Masters (PowerPoint only)
A solution that is simpler to use is to combine techniques 2 and 3. Create multiple masters, each with a different color theme. This will create a theme#.xml file in ppt/theme. Open all the theme#.xml file and copy the clrScheme for each to an extraClrScheme tag in all the others. So if you have 3 masters and color themes, copy the clrScheme tag for theme1.xml to an extraClrScheme tag in theme2.xml and theme3.xml. Then copy the clrScheme from theme2.xml to extraClrScheme tags in theme1.xml and theme3.xml.
The result is that it doesn’t matter so much which master you choose, you can change the color theme later. Of course, changing the color theme affects all slides based on the same master. This is an easy-to-use method for providing presentation with sections in different colors.
My thanks to Timothy Rylatt for his assistance with fact checking and corrections in this article.
Locking graphics in Office documents must be #1 on most designers’ wish lists, judging by the number of requests we get. While Word and Excel already do a fairly good job of this, PowerPoint remains wide open. If you can see it, you can move, resize or delete it. Placing items on the Slide Master or Layouts helps, but this is minimal protection against a savvy user. Your users love to be “creative”, so how can we protect the brand from their enthusiasm?
Fortunately, it’s possible to provide protection for important logos and maintain slide layout integrity by editing the template XML. But this power comes with a responsibility to design the protection carefully. It can be a very thin line between a deck that is protected and one that is unusable. If you decide to protect your presentation, it is incumbent on you to test it repeatedly to ensure your users can still get work done with it.
Before trying this, please read my Introduction to XML Hacking. If you’re using OS X, it’s also important to read my notes about Editing XML in OS X.
Locking takes place mostly in the Slide Master and Layouts. A minimal approach is best, as each additional locked item will create more feedback from your users with the potential to increase tech support costs. On the Slide Master, you will probably only lock a company logo.
Locking Graphics: Logos
Start by placing a logo on the Slide Master. Of course, you’re not using a JPEG file, because you already know that’s the worst format for line art. If you still think JPEGs are the best, please read JPEG Logos? Fail! and Logo Production Secrets. After the logo is in place, expand the presentation to view the XML. Open ppt\slideMasters\slideMaster1.xml. All the placeholder coding comes first, so scroll down about halfway until you see XML that looks like this:
<p:cNvPr id="7" name="Picture 6"/>
To lock this, we just add one small parameter (in bold):
<p:cNvPr id="7" name="Picture 6"/>
<a:picLocks noChangeAspect="1" noSelect="1"/>
Test this out by re-zipping the files and opening in PowerPoint. Try to select the logo. noSelect=”1″ has the effect of making it unselectable, so the user can’t do anything creative with it, even if they open the master.
Locking Graphics: Shapes
Different graphic objects use a slightly different syntax. The noSelect=”1″ parameter remains the same, but you have to expand a tag and add a new line to include it. For all AutoShapes except lines, the default XML will resemble the following:
<p:cNvPr id="9" name="Rectangle 8"/>
Editing the p:cNvSpPr tag as shown below will make the shape unselectable:
<p:cNvPr id="9" name="Rectangle 8"/>
Locking Graphics: Lines
At the XML level, lines are referred to as Connectors rather than Shapes. The original XML will look like this:
<p:cNvPr id="8" name="Straight Connector 7"/>
To lock this, edit the p:cNvCxnSpPr tag:
<p:cNvPr id="8" name="Straight Connector 7"/>
Locking Graphics: Placeholders
Placeholders are the boxes on slide layouts that can hold different types of content. The layouts are found in ppt\slideLayouts. They are numbered in the order that they appear in the left-hand list of layouts in Slide Master view. By default slideLayout1.xml is the Title slide. The XML tag is <p:sp> instead of <p:pic>, but otherwise the syntax is the same for locking. Placeholders do not inherit the lock parameters, so locking a placeholder on the master doesn’t affect the layouts and locked placeholders on the layouts have no effect on the slide placeholders.
You can see what other parameters are possible for the spLocks tag at Datypic’s a:spLocks page. There are options here to prevent grouping the image, rotating, moving or resizing it, changing it’s aspect ratio and several other less useful options. Let’s use some of the other parameters to lock down the shape. Here is the start of a Title placeholder:
<p:cNvPr id="2" name="Title 1"/>
After we add parameters to prevent moving and resizing, the XML looks like this:
<p:cNvPr id="2" name="Title 1"/>
<a:spLocks noGrp="1" noMove="1" noResize="1"/>
Don’t expect that slides based on this will still have unmoveable placeholders. The lock parameters are not included when a slide is created from a layout. This locking ensures only that the layout remains the same, so when a slide is reset, it will always return to the correct format.
If the placeholders must remain in place on the slides, then you must first create the slide, then edit the XML before distributing the deck. For this, look in ppt/slides. The files are numbered in the order they appear in the presentation, so slide1.xml is usually the title. Here is the XML for a locked title placeholder.The noRot parameter prevents rotation:
<p:cNvPr id="2" name="Title 1"/>
<a:spLocks noGrp="1" noMove="1" noResize="1" noRot="1"/>
When the user clicks on this, all the adjustment handles have a diagonal through them and the user is unable to change the shape size or position:
Locking Graphics: Other Objects
By default, the picture and placeholders already include a p:locks or sp:locks tag, which is where we add the locking information. But what if you insert a text box on a layout for a legal disclaimer and want to make it ineditable? The text box XML initially looks like this:
<p:cNvPr id="7" name="TextBox 6"/>
To lock this, we need to expand the <p:cNvSpPr txBox=”1″/> tag. In case it’s not obvious, to expand a closed tag, you must first delete the slash at the end that closes it. Then you create a new closing tag and put the <a:spLocks>> information between the two. The noTextEdit parameter means the text can’t be edited. Even if a clever user gets to the slide layout, they can’t change the text, though the shape is still moveable.
<p:cNvPr id="7" name="TextBox 6"/>
Locking Graphics: Gotchas and Exceptions
After a few months of practical testing, some real-life limitations on shape locking have become evident. Adding the noChangeAspect=”1″ has the same effect as checking the Lock aspect ratio option on the Size pane of the Format Shape dialog. But just as when you check this option manually, clicking on the shape and dragging the adjust handles will still distort the shape. On top of this, I found this page on MSDN: 2.1.1255 Part 4 Section 18.104.22.168.34, spLocks (Shape Locks). The pages states that “Office ignores attributes noChangeArrowheads and noRot when applied to a shape. PowerPoint additionally ignores the attribute noAdjustHandles when applied to a shape and noChangeShapeType when the converting the shape to a freeform.” So a user can circumvent noChangeAspect by dragging on the handles and you can’t prevent the handles from displaying either. Office simply doesn’t implement Microsoft’s own spec completely. There’s nothing you can do about this. It should be noted, that the accuracy of Microsoft’s information is not the best. Their statement that Office ignores noRot=”1″ when applied to a shape is not true, you can successfully prevent rotation with this parameter. You really have to test everything to really know what works and what doesn’t.
Locking Graphics: The Designer’s Responsibility
Powerful? Yes. But with power comes responsibility. Company presentation templates need to be revised, but after you lock items in XML, those shapes can no longer be revised through the program interface. So it’s essential that if you use these techniques, that you document your changes when you send the file to your users. Using these methods secretly to get repeat business from captive clients is dishonest and is definitely not a best practice.
In my last post, I translated the classic method of outline numbering for OS X. But Shauna Kelly’s original steps have an element of personal preference them. We can also get reliable results from outline numbering variations.
Unfortunately, Shauna passed away a few years ago. I’m glad her site is still kept running by volunteers. If you’re formatting for Windows, you should read her article first: How to create numbered headings or outline numbering in Word 2007 and Word 2010
I think one notable restriction of Shauna’s procedure is that she relies on the built-in Heading styles. Often a numbering scheme is required that has nothing to do with headings. Here’s how we can separate these concepts and create solid numbering using an arbitrary style set. This applies to both Windows and OS X versions of Word.
Outline Numbering Variation – Alternative Styles
In Shauna’s classic technique, the first step is to revise the built-in Headings 1 to 9 so that Heading 1 is independent of other styles, then all the subsequent headings inherit characteristics from Heading 1. We’ll reuse this basic concept for a different style set.
First create a style that will be the basis for the first level of your outline numbering. For a start, this style should be based on No Style (Word OSX: Format>Style>Modify>Style based on:>(no style) Word for Windows: Ctrl + Alt + Shift + S to open the Styles list>Click on Manage Styles button>Modify>Style based on:>(no style)). This style really only needs to include the font, font size, line spacing, space before and after the paragraph. Any indenting or number style will be handled later. For this article, let’s call it Number Style 1. There is one essential parameter you must set. In the Paragraph format for the style, you must set the Outline level to Level 1 (With the Modify Style dialog still open, click on Format>Paragraph>Outline level. This is the key to making this work!
Next, we’ll create the second style. Start by basing it on Number Style 1, then format whatever variation it might have, staying away from indentation or numbering. Outline numbered styles are often very similar, this style might be exactly the same as Number Style 1. However, in Format>Paragraph, Outline level must be set to Level 2. Are we picking up the pattern yet?
Each additional style in the outline numbered series must be:
- based on the previous style, and
- have an outline level that is one level down from the previous style.
As long as you can format a chain of styles following these principles, you should be able to get it to work with the technique on this page for OS X (replace the first section Outline Numbering in Word for OS X – The Classic Method with the procedure on this page) or Windows (replace section 3. Set up your Heading paragraph styles with this page’s technique instead.
Outline Numbering Variation – Nested Bullet Styles
You can create nested sets of bullet styles by following the same steps as above. When the Define new Multilevel list dialog is open, use the dropdown called Number style for this level, scroll all the way down and you’ll find 6 bullet presets and options for choosing a different bullet or a picture bullet. Nested bullet styles work like outline numbering for bullets, though they’re a new concept for most users.
Feel free to post constructive comments suggesting improvements, I’m always trying to make these articles better.
Unlike most of my articles, this one is not a piece of original research. Shauna Kelly wrote the definitive method for producing outline numbering in Word several years ago. Unlike most of what you’ll read about techniques for creating numbering in Word, Shauna’s procedures actually work reliably. Unfortunately, Ms. Kelly passed away several years ago, though her web site has been kept going by volunteers. You can read her original posts here: How to create numbered headings or outline numbering in Word 2007 and Word 2010. My contribution is to document the steps needed to produce outline numbering in Word for OS X.
The names of some commands are different, or they’re found in a different place. I’m sticking to the step-by-step approach. For an in-depth explanation of why the steps work, please consult Shauna’s original pages. These instructions are quite specific. Please don’t include any steps not on the list below, or you’re on your own for the results.
Shauna argued strongly for using the built-in heading styles Headings 1 through 9. There’s nothing wrong with this and it can save a few steps. Sometimes, however, I prefer to save heading styles for headings and create a separate set of styles for numbering. In this article, I’ll translate Shauna’s classic method. A future post will show some optional variations. If this is to be the basis for future documents, you want to be making these changes in a template. If you do this in a document and don’t apply the changes to the source template, you’ll have to redo all these steps for the next document.
Outline Numbering in Word for OS X – The Classic Method
- Choose Format>Style and select Heading 1. (If you’re not already using Heading 1 in your document, change the List: dropdown to All styles)
- Click on the Modify… button.
- Change the Style based on: dropdown from Normal to (no style) at the top of the list, then click on OK. While the dialog is open, choose Format..>Paragraph and set the Left indent to 0 and the Special indent to (none). If there is any indenting, these will be set later. If you had already formatted Heading 1, you may need to make some changes after detaching it from Normal.
- Select Heading 2, click on Modify… and change Style based on: to Heading 1. OK out.
- Repeat step 3 for each built-in Heading style, for as many levels of outline numbering as you require. Each style should be based on the one before.
Opening the Right Dialog Box
- In the Paragraph section of the Home tab, choose Multilevel List>Define New List Style. Avoid starting from Numbered List, that is not reliable.
Multilevel List>Define New List Style in Word 2011 and 2016
- In the Define New List Style dialog, give your style a plural name like Headings or Numberings, since this will apply to several styles.
- Click on the Format button and choose Numbering…
Set the style name and click on Format>Numbering (Left: 2011 Right: 2016).
- Now the Bullets and Numbering dialog opens, an extra step that doesn’t happen in Word for Windows. Click on the Customize button.
Link a Paragraph Style to a List Style
- Finally we get to the Customize Outline Numbered List dialog. Once this dialog is open, we will leave it open until all levels are set up. Start by clicking on the dialog expander button to see all the options (circled in red):
Top: Word 2011 Bottom: Word 2016 for Mac
- Now we start a sequence that will be repeated for all the outline levels to be formatted. First we attached the paragraph style to the list style. Start by selecting 1 in the Level list.
- Now select Heading 1 in the Link level to style dropdown:
Top: Word 2011 Bottom: Word 2016 for Mac
Set the Numbering for the Style
- In the Enter formatting for number: field, you can delete any content displayed. If the first outline numbering level starts with text, like Chapter 1 or Section 1, type in the text and a space.
- Using the Number style for this level: dropdown, choose the number appearance. A number appears in the Enter formatting for number: field.
- Add any punctuation or symbol that is to follow the number.
Repeat for All Levels
- Repeat the steps above for all levels to be formatted. Select 2 from the Level list, Heading 2 from the Link level to style: dropdown, enter text and select a number style.
- On lower levels, you often want to include numbering from a higher level, so level 2 may appear as 1.1. You can do this by clicking in the Enter formatting for number: box where you want the previous level to appear, then choosing a level from the Include level number from dropdown.
Outline Numbering in Word for OS X has a quirk: the Level 1 choice is already displayed, even if no number appears in the Enter formatting for number: box. Just click on the dropdown and re-select the Level 1 that already appears selected and Word will do the right thing.
Set the Indentation for all Styles
Set the number position, tab and indent for each level. Left alignment for numbers is most common, but Roman numerals can look better right-aligned, since their width varies more. Normally the tab and indent are set for the same amount. The tab controls the position of the first line and the indent all the lines in the paragraph after that.
Editing Outline Numbering in Word for OS X
Like every good designer, you’ll probably want to tweak these styles later. For paragraph styling, like the amount of space before or after, you can simply modify the paragraph parameters. That’s easy. But anything to do with the numbering or its positioning relative to the paragraph should be done in the Outline Numbering dialog. Unfortunately, both Word 2011 and 2016 have a bug that makes it impossible to edit an existing List Style.
- In the Quick Style Gallery, right-click on Heading 1 and choose Modify Style.
- Click on the Format button and choose Numbering. The Bullets and Numbering dialog opens to the List Styles tab, where you can’t modify, add or delete anything: the buttons are permanently disabled. Serious bug!
- Click on the Outline Numbered tab. None is highlighted, which is not helpful. Examine the tiles carefully, you have to choose the correct one. Click on it and then on the Customize button. This will only work if you are editing the outline numbering on the same installation of Word on which you originally created it. Open in a different installation or version and the Bullets and Numbering tiles do not show your custom list.
- Edit the numbering, then exit when you are finished. Instead of editing your named List Style, Word has created a new list style autonamed Current List1. If you’re using a different installation of the program than what you created the list on, you can’t even use the Outline Numbered tab. All the tiles will display the stock numberings. Instead of editing your list style, you must start all over and get it right in one editing pass.
Word bug: the plus, minus and Modify buttons are permanently disabled.
Outline Numbering in Word for OS X: The Customize Outline Numbered list Dialog
I’ll admit right off the bat, graduated color table borders is a trick you might need only once every ten years. But it’s a good illustration of the little touches you can add with XML Hacking that you just can’t do any other way. If you’re unfamiliar with XML hacking, please read XML Hacking: An Introduction. If you’re using a Mac, you should also read XML Hacking: Editing in OS X.
I was working on a presentation for a designer and the theme used graduated color rules. Most of the layout only need a rule below the title, which was simple to do with user interface. But then the designer included a slide that clearly needed to be a table and that table had the same graduated colors used as horizontal borders. At first, I informed him this wasn’t possible, but as I researched the issue, I found there was a way.
The answer was in a 10-year-old blog post by Mike Fried. Back then Mike was one of the engineers creating Office 2007 and his 2 posts on PowerPoint table styles have lots of good information. Toward the bottom of the article, he included garish graduated color table borders. It was enough to crack the code.
As an aside, I’d like to mention that you can find out the details on any Open Office XML parameter by Googling it. There is extensive documentation on the web, even though some of it is terse database excerpts. The essential command for a gradient line is a:gs. The GS stands for Gradient Stop, the points on the line that define where a particular color appears in the graduated line.
Googling ooxml a:gs gets you the Datypic site that lists elements and attributes, but explains almost nothing about them. However, this site can be useful because all XML elements are hyperlinked, so you can quickly find related parameters.
Further down the page is the openofficexml.com page on a:gs. This site has relatively verbose explanations of the element, a clear example of useage and definitions of the elements included in the xml object. March 2017 edit: The OpenOfficeXML site is down. You can still access it at the Internet Wayback Machine.
Finally, many searches will turn up links to the Microsoft MSDN developer pages about Open Office XML. These discuss Themes and XML in a more conversational style that is great for picking up the overall concepts. Occasionally, you’ll also find a valuable blog post, such as Lars Corneliussen’s explanation of Open Office measurements units.
Graduated Color Rules
But back to graduated color table borders! First, let’s look at a graduated color rule, which you can create using the program interface. Here is the dialog box showing the settings. The central point of the gradient has been shifted to the left to have more solid color on the right side and a rapid dropoff to white on the left:
Here’s how the rule looks:
When we examine the XML for this rule, it looks like this:
<a:lin ang="0" scaled="0"/>
The pos (position) parameter is a percentage of rule length, with 100000 representing 100 percent. The colors are straightforward, with bg1 being the white background and accent1 the cyan. For the midway color value, I used the handy RGB Tint Calculator on this site, but then moved that value to the 25% mark.
Graduated Color Table Borders
The XML for a rule translates exactly to the XML for a table style. Here is the style for the top border, the same XML is applied to the inside border so that all interior rows show the same rule:
<a:lin ang="0" scaled="0"/>
Here’s what the final table rules look like with the table style applied:
For more information on how to create table styles, please read XML Hacking: Custom Table Styles, XML Hacking: Table Styles Complete and XML Hacking: Default Table Text.
Word is found everywhere, but Word users with training are a scarce commodity. It’s a shame, because a little training can go a long way to get really nice results. This article will cover the most common formatting mistakes that Word users make. If you’re a designer, you could still benefit, I see plenty of these errors from design companies as well.
Formatting Mistake #1: Not making the Non-printing Characters Visible
By default Word is set up to show “pretty” documents. Microsoft has decided that users want to see what the printed output will look like on-screen. So Word hides all the control characters that are vital for reliable formatting. Users can’t see the hidden formatting that they are inserting or deleting. Result: formatting mistakes! The only way you can provide professional documents for clients is by making these visible so you can deal with them. When you want to see the printed result, do a Print Preview. It’s fast and more accurate than the “pretty” screen display.
The exact steps for show the control characters is slightly different for each version of Word, so I’m not going to list them all here. To start in OS X, look for Word>Preferences>View, in Windows, choose File>Options>Display. Make all the non-printing or formatting characters visible. It’s also helpful to display Bookmarks, Object anchors and in Word 2010/2011 or earlier, Text Boundaries. In Windows, these last three are found on the Advanced tab of Options.
Now you can see Paragraph Marks, which hold the paragraph formatting for the text that precedes it. You can see the Section Breaks that hold all the header/footer, margins and page orientation information for the paragraphs preceding it. And you can see the Anchors for text boxes and floating pictures, which makes it much easier to anchor to a paragraph that is likely to stay on the same page.
Formatting Mistake #2: Creating New Pages with Multiple Carriage Returns
This is the classic hallmark of the Word user who has never taken a course or cracked a book. At the end of a topic, they’ll type enough carriage returns to get to the next page, then type a new heading. It looks perfectly fine on the original computer:
How it looks on your computer.
But then it’s sent to a different computer with different fonts or a different printer. The heading that supposed to be at the top of a page either moves to the bottom of the preceding page, or moves down so it’s not at the top of the page anymore. It doesn’t matter much which one happens, because the formatting mistakes scream Amateur Hour:
How it looks on a different computer.
Text flow in Word depends heavily on the font being used and the printer that has been selected. If you move the document to a different computer, they might not have the same font. Even a change in the version of a font is enough to make the text break differently. As for the printer, Word fabricates pages on the fly by using the metrics of the selected printer. These metrics come from the printer driver. So if the user who receives the documents has a different printer, or even a different driver for the same printer, the pages will be laid out differently.
The knowledgeable Word worker will insert a Page Break (not a Section Break) at the end of a text block to create a new page:
Page break: How it looks on every computer.
A really clever user will create a heading style that includes the paragraph attribute Page break before, so that whenever the heading style is applied to text, it automatically pops to the top of a new page:
Heading Style using Page Break Before Setting
Formatting Mistake #3: Using Tabs to Arrange Data in a Grid or Table
Whenever you need to arrange comparative information in rows and columns, you’re creating tabular arrangement. It’s always a good idea to pause for a moment and really look at the kind of data you want to present, so that you can choose the best format for that. If you find yourself using tabs and spaces to create a grid of data, STOP.
Making a lame table with tabs and spaces.
Information in a grid is tabular data (from which the tab key takes its name), but tabular data should go in a table. That’s what they’re for! Tab keys are left over from typewriters, when there was no other way to create a data grid. Designers are also guilty of creating grids with tabs, because table tools are relative newcomers to page layout software.
Use a table to arrange tabular information.
Tables are also the only professional way to make forms, which brings us to our next common mistake:
Formatting Mistake #4: Using Typewriter Techniques to Make Forms
Word, especially Windows versions, is loaded with excellent form-creation tools. But you’d never know it from the forms I almost invariably see created in that program. The common approach is to type a text heading, then dozens of underscores to indicate where the form-filler is to enter their data. This could pass for forms that are printed out and filled with a a pencil. You know, like people used to do 50 years ago:
Open the Word “form” on your computer and try filling it in. As you type, the underscores remain, trailing after your text. Type a couple of line of text: the left side of the filled portion falls underneath the heading, not to its right. The professional term for this is “a dog’s breakfast”.
The form falls apart when filled.
For forms that are filled on a computer, you need a much more robust method. Create a table with a cell for the heading and a separate cell for the filled-in area. If the form will only be filled out on the computer, you don’t need any horizontal rules to guide your text. The computer does that for you. If the form is intended to be dual purpose computer or hand-filled, add a thin border to the bottom of the filled-in cell. No other border are necessary or desirable. All of a sudden you have a form that is neat before and after filling, easy to read, even, dare we say, good-looking!
The right way to make a form: with a table.
Here’s a comparison of a table form and a typewriter-style form when filled with longer text:
Inserting long text
Formatting Mistake #5: Local Formatting Instead of Styles
Another giveaway of the Word amateur is when you click on different types of text and heading, but the Style always says Normal. This means the creator of the document made no use of Styles. Perhaps they think they are saving time, but the opposite is true. Repurposing or updating an unstyled document takes almost as long as creating it in the first place. Plus, useful Word features like a Table of Contents or the Navigation Pane don’t work well without using styles.
Using local formatting to imitate true styles.
After taking just a few minutes to create some basic styles everything about document creation and revisions is much faster. Styles are a true productivity booster. If you’re not using them, either you are wasting a lot of time, or you’re making someone else fritter away hours of their work day. Styles ensure your documents have a consistent, professional appearance. Updating their appearance in the future takes only a few minutes. It’s what the pros do!
A Heading Style applied.
You have a crucial thesis or presentation that’s due in the morning, but when you try to open it, you get a message saying the file has an error. It may seem like the end of the road, but with a little XML hacking, you can repair your file in just a few minutes and be back to work. Document repair is something you can do yourself.
First, let’s look at different causes of file corruption. The number one cause is working on files while they are on temporary or removable media. A USB or flash drive is a convenient way to carry data. The common alternative is to keep your information in the Cloud. But both of these are hazardous if you’re editing files. Accidentally ejecting a USB stick or losing your Internet connection while a file is open in Office is a near-guarantee of corruption. This type of corruption is also disastrous, because the file contents are so thoroughly scrambled, there is no way to recover the data.
But there are also files that get scrambled by software and usually these are recoverable. We’ll use the same techniques covered in previous posts. Windows users should review XML Hacking: An Introduction, while OS X hackers need to follow these instructions: XML Hacking: Editing in OS X
Is the File Recoverable?
When opened in Office, unrecoverable files may give you errors like these:
The first step is to rename a copy of the file with a .zip ending and expand it. An unrecoverable file (one scrambled by a USB or Cloud drive) will almost always raise an Zip error. Cut your losses, you’re not going to be able to fix this. As a second-best alternative, try opening the original damaged file in NotePad (on Windows) or Text Edit (OS X) to recover whatever text you can. You also might be able to extract some contents by opening in a different word processor, like Pages on a Mac.
By contrast, if you see the following messages, document repair is possible:
You can see that the first 2 messages are generic, while the second 2 give a specific location for the error. This means the file is at least partially readable by the program.
There are quite a few document repair articles on the web that are worth reading for the variety of tools that people are using. I prefer a combination of a good text editor (NotePad++ on Windows, BBEdit on OS X), plus a modern browser like FireFox or Chrome. The text editor is where you do the editing, while the browser parses the XML and finds any errors.
You’ve already unzipped the document or presentation, now look for the XML portion that contains the error. Most of the time, with a Word file, document.xml will be the culprit. Open document.xml in the text editor and Prettify (NotePad++) or Tidy (BBEdit) it to make it readable. A raw document.xml file only has 2 lines, which is why the XML errors are invariably reported as being on line 2. Making the text readable also adds useful line numbers to error reports, making the errors much quicker to find. Now the file should look like this:
Save document.xml, then open it in your choice of browser. This is how FireFox and Chrome show where the first error is:
As you can see, the report is a little more informative in FireFox. The error is a mismatched tag: a tag was opened but not closed. It expected to see the closing tag </mc:Fallback> and it tells you exactly where it thought that tag should be. The arrow points to the first character that is in error. The correct way to interpret this is that the expected end tag should be inserted immediately before the tag pointed to.
Document Repair Technique
Here’s what the error location looks like in the text editor:
Then here is what it looks like after inserting the closing tag (you can copy and paste directly from the browser window):
Save document.xml in the text editor, then refresh the browser. The next error is shown:
Repeat the steps. Some files have only a couple of errors, others may have dozens. You’ll know when you’re done, because refreshing the browser will give you a different screen, displaying the XML instead of an error message:
Rebuild the File
Close the text editor and browser, then re-zip the folders and [Content_Types].xml, giving the zip file a new name and a file ending that matches the original. Open it to ensure it works. Office does not tolerate XML errors well and doesn’t give you clear error messages, so if the file doesn’t open, you missed something. In addition, Mac users have to use Terminal to zip and view files, as noted on the XML Hacking: Editing in OS X page.
Lots of people ask “How can I prevent this?”, but there isn’t a really good answer. If a file can be repaired, it’s almost always due to a program bug that writes malformed XML. In the Word file used for example, this is often when a placed graphic has no fallback information, which is supposed to help with graphic depiction in older file formats. It appears that the program omits the closing fallback tags when saving and you get the error. It’s not your fault, but Microsoft has not been able to find and eliminate this bug since the 2007 version.
OS X versions of Microsoft Office have always been the poor step-children in the Microsoft family. Always missing important features found only in the Windows alternatives. One of these obvious disparities has been in the area of linked Excel charts. In Windows, Microsoft uses their OLE technology to allow, for instance, an Excel workbook to be linked to a PowerPoint presentation.
The Excel workbook can still be edited independently. The charts can be revised based on new data, and when the presentation is opened, the updated information will be displayed. This is a powerful tool in many situations where information is changing rapidly and the presentation must stay current. This approach also leverages the inheritance of data. This allows users to have only one data source that drives updates in many different places.
Of course, OLE being a proprietary Microsoft technology, it has almost no support on other operating systems. The only way it appears in OS X is if an individual software vendor creates an instance that works with their code. Office for Mac has had its own tiny version of OLE that allows some, but not all the features found in Windows. You could only insert Office objects (forget about PDFs) and you couldn’t link, only embed.
Until now. With the release of Office 2016 for Mac, the tiniest crack of linkability has finally opened. Try these steps: Open Excel 2016 for Mac and create a chart. Select that chart and copy it. Open a presentation in PowerPoint and click on the down-pointing arrowhead beside the Paste button. Now your options include all of the following:
- Use Destination Theme & Embed Workbook
- Keep Source Formatting & Embed Workbook
- Use Destination Theme & Link Data
- Keep Source Formatting & Link Data
- Paste as Picture
Options 1, 2 and 5 have always been available. The news is with 3 and 4, where linked data for charts becomes a new possibility. But along with this fresh opportunity comes a problem that hasn’t been addressed by Microsoft. It’s very nice to link charts, but the Microsoft default is always to hard code the link path. This means that moving the presentation and Excel source to a different computer destroys the links. The charts are no longer editable, because the link path has changed.
Remember the poor step-child analogy? Here it is again: Windows versions of PowerPoint allow you to edit the links in the program so you can fix the path problem. But no such facility exists on the Mac. To update those linked Excel charts, you need to … hack the XML!
If you’re new to XML hacking, please read my introduction to the subject. Since this topic is specific to OS X, it’s also vital to read XML Hacking: Editing in OS X as well. I assume that you have figured out the correct path to the Excel file on the computer where the presentation has been moved.
Updating linked Excel Charts with XML Editing
After unzipping the presentation, you’re going to look inside the folders for ppt/charts/rels. Office XML files are full of rels folders that contain the relationships between the components of the document. Each chart in the presentation consists of a file i.e. chart1.xml with a corresponding chart1.xml.rels inside the rels folder. The number in the chart name increments for each additional chart linked.
The contents of chart1.xml.rels looks like this:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" standalone="yes"?>
<Relationship Id="rId1" Type="http://schemas.microsoft.com/office/2011/relationships/chartStyle" Target="style1.xml" />
<Relationship Id="rId2" Type="http://schemas.microsoft.com/office/2011/relationships/chartColorStyle" Target="colors1.xml" />
<Relationship Id="rId3" Type="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/officeDocument/2006/relationships/oleObject" Target="file://localhost/Users/server/Documents/Dockets/Test/Excel/LinkTest.xlsx" TargetMode="External" />
The lines of code are long, please scroll to see where I’ve bolded the path and file name, this is the section you have to modify to update the linked Excel chart.
Just as a comparison, here’s the analogous information from a PowerPoint 2010 file. In this case, there is not a chart folder containing chart.xml files. Instead, the charts are part of the slide files and are found in slide1.xml. The rels file is slide1.xml.rels and it looks like this:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" standalone="yes"?>
<Relationship Id="rId3" Type="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/officeDocument/2006/relationships/oleObject" Target="file:///I:\Dockets\Test\Excel\ExcelLink2010.xlsx!Sheet1!%5bExcelLink2010.xlsx%5dSheet1%20Chart%201" TargetMode="External"/>
<Relationship Id="rId2" Type="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/officeDocument/2006/relationships/slideLayout" Target="../slideLayouts/slideLayout7.xml"/>
<Relationship Id="rId1" Type="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/officeDocument/2006/relationships/vmlDrawing" Target="../drawings/vmlDrawing1.vml"/>
<Relationship Id="rId4" Type="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/officeDocument/2006/relationships/image" Target="../media/image1.emf"/>
A close examination shows that much of the same information in a Mac file is also here, but the file and path is Windows-style. Using this information, you’re ready to update those linked Excel charts with the best of them!
Are you managing styles in your Word documents? A hallmark of a professionally-created template is the appearance of the Quick Style Gallery. If I open a template and see this:
I realize the person who constructed the file doesn’t know better or doesn’t care. The clue are the 4 zombie styles on the right side. If you expand the gallery, you’ll see 8 more zombie styles. These 12 are automatically generated in every new installation of Word. Nobody uses them, they just clutter the interface. If you’re managing styles, you’ll make them disappear.
These 12 can’t be deleted, they are termed built-in styles and the Delete button is disabled in the style management dialog. But in Word for Windows, there is a Style Management panel called Recommended, where you can Hide them or optionally apply Hide Until Used. This last attribute keeps the style out of the Quick Style Gallery until the first time you apply it in a document, at which time it becomes visible.
But where is the Recommended panel in Word for Mac? Did someone Hide that too? No, it’s just not an option for Mac users. Microsoft left it out (speculate at will). But all is not lost: You can still manage style visibility on the Mac, you just have to do it with XML Hacking.
Begin by creating your template and creating the styles needed for that document. When you’re ready, we’re going to unzip the Word file, modify the XML, then re-zip the files. On a Mac, you have to take some extra steps to ensure that Mac attributes are not added to the files and folders by the Finder. Please take a moment to read my previous post about Editing XML in OS X
When you first open an Office XML field, the content is linearized and difficult to read. In BBEdit, apply Markup>Tidy>Reflow Document, leave the options at their defaults and click on the Reflow button. Voila! Readable XML!
Managing Styles with XML Editing
The style order in the XML file has nothing to do with the order of styles in the user interface, so it’s best to search for them. Start with the Title style. The default listing looks like this: (You may see a somewhat different collection of tags from different Word versions.)
<w:lsdException w:name="Title" w:semiHidden="0" w:uiPriority="10" w:unhideWhenUsed="0" w:qFormat="1"/>
The Styles list: a good place to display occasionally-required typestyles.
To make this style disappear from the Quick Style Gallery, but still appear on the Styles list, just delete the w:qFormat="1" tag. If you want to remove a style not only from the Quick Style Gallery, but also from the master list of recommended styles, then don’t bother with w:qFormat="1", just remove w:semiHidden="0". Finally, to give the style the ability to remain on the Styles list, then be added to the Quick Style Gallery when it is first used, leave the other tags as is and change w:unhideWhenUsed="0" to w:unhideWhenUsed="1".
Besides the Title style, the other zombie styles you’ll probably want to remove are:
Book Title and
Another useful edit you can make to styles is to change the number beside w:uiPriority. Decreasing this number moves a style up the list, while increasing it moves it down. For all styles that have the same level number, they are displayed in alphabetical order. I usually rank them in the order they are likely to be used, with the body text and headings at the top, followed by bulleted, numbered and lettered styles. Often you’ll have styles that serve a function in a Word file, like unique styles that are referenced by StyleRef fields. If the user doesn’t need to apply a style, hide it. The simpler you make their interface, the fewer mistakes they can make.
Save the XML file, then in the finder select [Content_Types].xml plus the folders. Right-click and choose Compress 4 Items. Change the ending of the resulting Zip file to .docx and click on the Use .docx button when OS X asks. Open the file and check out the beautifully clean Quick Style Gallery, thanks to you managing styles!
Note: I’ve included the original article text to describe the background issues about XML editing in macOS, but to retain your sanity, be sure to follow the May 2016 update at the end and use a text editor that doesn’t require unzipping and rezipping the files
When you’re hand-editing Office files in Windows, it’s pretty straight-forward: unzip file > edit > rezip, you’re done. Editing in macOS requires a couple of extra precautions. This is because the graphical user interface adds Mac attributes to files and plants hidden files in folders. Office will not tolerate either of these:
XML error message in 2008
XML error message in 2011
XML error message in 2016
If you use macOS’s Archive Utility to unzip or zip the files, Word will refuse to open the resulting file. On top of that, if you look in any of the folders using the Finder, a hidden .DS_Store file will be created in the folder. When re-zipped, Word will not accept the extra file and again report an XML error. The solution to these issues is to use the command line, like the Unix warrior you want to be! Remember to run each Terminal command by pressing the Return key after typing the command.
A valuable utility for this is OpenTerminalHere. Open any Finder window, click on OpenTerminalHere and a terminal window opens pointed to the Finder window. So download and install it, then follow these steps to open, edit and re-zip Office files:
- Move a copy of the Office document (let’s call it TestDoc.docx) to a separate folder and open that folder in the Finder.
- Click on OpenTerminalHere to open a copy of Terminal aimed at the folder.
- In the Terminal, type
then press Return. The file is unzipped into several folders plus a file called [Content_Types].xml.
- Do not look in any of the folders using the Finder, or you’ll have to start over. To examine a folder’s contents, use the Terminal to change the folder, then list the contents:
- To go back up to the previous folder, type:
- To edit the files, open your text editor, then navigate using the File>Open dialog to find the file. Edit the file, then save and close.
- When you’re all done, double-check that terminal is pointing at the original folder holding the documents and the expanded folders. If you’re unsure, close terminal, then click on OpenTerminalHere to reopen in the right spot.
- In Terminal, re-zip the files with this style of command:
zip -r RevisedDoc.dotx [Content_Types].xml _rels docProps word
This example is for Word, but the correct syntax after zip -r is to type the name of the final document, followed by the file and folders, each separated by a space. The file is reassembled into an Office file.
- Test that you can open it. If you get an XML error notice, re-read the above steps and try again.
Please note: these editing techniques are required when editing in macOS with Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents and templates, plus Office Theme files (the kind exported from PowerPoint that combine all Theme elements.
If, on the other hand, you are editing a Font Theme or a Color Theme, those are simple XML files. They don’t need to be unzipped or re-zipped and Office doesn’t seem to care about macOS attributes attached to them. These plain XML files don’t need to be handled through the terminal, just use the Finder.
Next time, we’ll be looking at managing Word styles in macOS. Finally, a way to get rid of the zombie styles automatically created by Word! Happy hacking!
March 2016 Update
An (somewhat lame) alternative to working entirely in Terminal is to work on a network disk. Then you can open Terminal in your choice of folder and run the command:
defaults write com.apple.desktopservices DSDontWriteNetworkStores true
While this will prevent future generation of the .DS_Store files in that folder and any subfolders, it’s very likely you already have such files, since they’re created almost as soon as you view a folder’s contents in the Finder. So I recommend that while Terminal is open, you also run:
defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles YES
The second line restarts the finder to force a refresh of the view. Now you can see any .DS_Store files and delete them before re-zipping the files into an Office document. You’ll have still have to do the zipping in Terminal. Also, no .DS_Store files means OpenTerminalHere doesn’t work, so you’ll have to navigate manually via Terminal commands. Now you know why this is a lame alternative.
If you try this technique, you can always restore the clean file view by running:
defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles NO
May 2016 Update
BBEdit 11 now has the ability to open and edit Office files directly, avoiding all of the above hassle when editing in macOS. However, you still have to be a little careful about your working procedure:
- Open your Office file in BBEdit 11. In the left-hand pane, you’ll see a folder tree of the files contained within, so no unzipping is required
- Select the file you want to edit. The file opens in the main BBEdit window, displaying two lines. The first is the XML header, the second is the actual content.
- Click at the left end of the second line.
- Choose Markup>Utilities>Format… (Format with three dots after it, the plain Format command will wreck your document!)
- Very Important: Uncheck the first Option Normalize tag case. Leaving this option checked will cause Office to see an XML error in the file!
- Change Mode to Strict Hierarchical and click on Format. The XML is formatted as indented multi-line text.
Make your edits and save. It’s not necessary to linearize the XML. The Office program will do that anyway the first time you save it. However, if you like to leave things exactly the way you found them, click in from of the first line of content (after the header line), choose Markup>Utilities>Format… again, change the Mode to Compact and click on the Format button. Save the file and test your editing in macOS.