23 December 2014

Editing tips: Removing field codes

Are you ever annoyed by blocks of text (often within bibliographies that have been created by bibliographical programs like Endnote) that turn grey when you click somewhere within them? Do you ever want to get rid of an automatically updating date? Or remove lots of hyperlinked URLs without applying the Remove hyperlink command individually?

All of these are examples of field codes in Microsoft Word. These are pieces of tagged text which allow advanced users of Word to do clever things with their documents. Some of the things that field codes allow you to do include
  • Building a document automatically in response to information provided by the user. Thus, you could create a template which prompts for a list of standard paragraph names and then assembles the specified paragraphs into a new document.
  • Inserting information about the document into the document itself. For example, you might want to create a document summary sheet, showing the document’s file name, the author’s name, the date created, word and page counts, and similar details.
  • Performing calculations. You could use expression fields to create an ‘intelligent document’, such as an invoice or purchase order which automatically calculates line totals, discounts, or tax amounts.
  • Producing complex numbering systems that go beyond the capabilities of the Bullets and Numbering dialogue.
So field codes can be extremely useful. But for most editorial purposes, they are superfluous. And one of the basic rules of on-screen editing is that all superfluous formatting or coding should be removed from a document before passing it on to the typesetter.

Fortunately there is a very simple way of removing superfluous field codes in just a couple of seconds:
  1. Select the section of text you want to remove fields from. (Ctrl-A selects the entire document.)
  2. Hit Ctrl-Shift-F9. (If this doesn’t work, it could because this key combination has been reassigned, e.g. by Editorium’s Editors’ Toolkit.)

Health warning: Make sure those field codes really are disposable before hitting that key combination! For example, if the document you are editing contains equations, do not use this method to deal with unwanted hyperlinks or the coding associated with an automatically generated bibliography. If you do, the equations will become uneditable graphic objects. Such a mistake can be embarrassing, expensive, and time-consuming. (Imagine a maths or physics textbook with thousands of such equations, which would have to be retyped or pasted in from the author’s original text. You did keep a copy of the original? Of course you did!)

PS If you want to learn more about Word field codes, the Techsupportalert website offers a useful document, ‘Understanding Word Field Codes’.

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