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Researching articles. Writing school assignments. Quoting other people in blog posts. During each activity, I usually cut text from one document and paste it into another.

The resulting text may make sense, but it often ends up looking like a ransom note, with different sections of text cut out of the headlines of various magazines and newspapers. That’s because the original publishers of the source texts use their own formatting, which can make words appear in different colours, fonts, sizes and so forth.

This isn’t a good look. Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent this problem from happening. Here are two.

Use a web browser’s address bar

I sometimes copy text from a document and paste it into my browser’s address bar to search for that text. Recently, I read a tip about how the address bar strips formatting from any text pasted in it.

So I tried this experiment.

  1. Copy all the text from a seven-page PDF. This document uses formatting that’s distinct from the formatting of my target document.
  2. Paste that seven pages of text into my browser’s address bar.
  3. Select all (from the Edit menu or the keyboard shortcut, which appears in the Edit menu).
  4. Copy the text.
  5. Paste the text into my document.

Voilà! The text gets pasted, stripped of formatting. You may need to separate paragraphs and sentences, but you won’t need to reformat anything.

Paste and Match Style

Safari, the browser I used in the experiment above, has an option in the Edit menu called “Paste and Match Style.”

This option appears in many programs that handle text. It might also be called “Paste and Match Formatting.” In older software, it might be hidden in the “Paste Special…” option.

Options like these save me plenty of time when I want to write a document that not only reads well, but looks good.

Do you use any time-saving tactics when you create a document using pieces of other documents? Please share them in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on luigibenetton.com]

 

Today’s tip is part tech, part research. It’s a simple reminder to give a little love to your RSS reader.

(You ARE using an RSS reader, aren’t you? You’re not? Here’s a nice primer on why RSS is more important than ever in 2018.)

Whether you use Feedly, Inoreader, The Old Reader (my personal favourite) or something else, why not take a few minutes to check whether you’ve got any dead/defunct feeds among your subscriptions.

If a feed is dead or hasn’t updated in a really long time, does that mean the site is no longer publishing? Maybe the blog or news area got moved and the feed address changed, so you’re no longer getting updates from that site?

Investigate the source site and make sure you’re not missing anything you thought you were still getting.

While you’re at it, take a look at all your subscriptions and ask yourself whether each one is still useful to you.

Then ask yourself whether there are sites you’re NOT following, but could be. Do you have email subscriptions that could be replaced with RSS subscriptions, thereby reducing the email that accumulates in your inbox?

Lastly, consider whether upgrading your reader might be money well spent. Generally, paid accounts will let you subscribe to more feeds and give you more control over how you organize them, and for usually no more than the cost of a cup of coffee per month. Many readers give a choice of annual or monthly payment options.

Got a tested-and-true method for keeping your reader working optimally? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

People who try to recall an email after they’ve sent it might think it’s a good idea to close the barn doors after the horses have all fled.

That bit of snark comes courtesy of email systems that boast “recall” tools. I tried the one in Microsoft Outlook about a decade ago. It didn’t work for me, and I dealt with the fallout from a misunderstanding.

So I switched tack. Now I prevent fallout from poorly worded emails so I don’t have to perform after-the-fact damage control.

How do I do that, you ask? Simple: I wait an hour or more between the time I draft an important email and the time I send it. Reading it with “fresh eyes” helps me prevent most (not all) email mistakes.

I don’t do this with all emails. Sometimes I send quick, innocuous-enough messages with no real review. Every now and then a typo seeps in. But when the message and the recipient matter (especially in business) and the topic merits deep thought, I slow down.

I regularly used two methods to help me make sure I send the thoughts I want to convey. Both involve preventing emails from being sent until I feel they’re ready.

Write the email offline

I often write messages in a text editor. We all have these on our computers. They come with names like Notepad (Windows), TextEdit (Mac) and Microsoft Word (both Windows and Mac). The beauty of text editors (sans plugins) is that they don’t have an easy-to-access Send feature. Just save the message and set it aside for later review and sending.

Delete all recipients in a reply

You can write a reply in an email as long as it has no email addresses in the To, cc or bcc lines. If these fields are empty, your email software can’t send the message anywhere. You can then save the message in the Drafts folder for later review. Note: some email programs don’t show the Drafts folder unless you have actually saved one or more drafts.

How do you keep yourself from landing in email-fueled hot water? Do you use email recall systems that work? Or have you become a maestro at smoothing ruffled feathers? Let me know in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on luigibenetton.com]

 

Are there fillable PDF forms on your website?

When loaded within a browser, the fields in forms like these generally can’t be filled out – the PDF will need to be downloaded in order to be filled out.

Why not cut out a few extra steps for your site’s visitors, and make the PDF automatically download rather than load in-browser?

A hat tip to Gabriola Graphics for this super simple solution to do just that:

“All you have to do is add the word download to your <a> tag and if your browser supports it your visitor will get a Download Where? prompt.”

 

Do you have two or more email addresses? Tired of flipping between web pages to check them all? Why bother. Instead, set them all up in one email client.

Here’s what this looks like on my computer.

When I click “Inbox” I can see all inbox messages from the six accounts listed here. To focus on the contents of just one inbox, I click the name of that inbox.

Given how much time people still spend on email, this tactic ought to help save time. Also, I can file all my email in my own folders, offline, by having them come into a mail client.

The screen shot above shows how this looks in Mac Mail.app, but most email software lets you do this. I have this set up on my Mac, iPad and iPod Touch. (I don’t do this on my phone – long story – but I likely will when I eventually spring for an iPhone.) I could also create this setup in Microsoft Outlook and other email software.

There are other ways of doing this. For instance, you can have all email accounts but one forward messages to the one you want to use. The only shortcoming is that you would need to sign in to another address to reply from that address, if the original email wasn’t sent to your “main” address. (Switching addresses in software like Mac Mail is as easy as choosing the “from” address from a drop list.)

That said, email forwarding is a great way of keeping messages coming from addresses you eventually want to get rid of. Soon enough, the only messages going to that address will be spam.

Do you use multiple email addresses? How do you keep track of correspondence in each of them? Let us know in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on luigibenetton.com]

 

Imagine if your email system could look like this at the end of your day (presuming your inbox is empty):

This is more likely to happen if email lands in the right folder without you having to triage it from your inbox. Dealing with each message in the order it was received in your inbox can lead to context switching — a major drag on productivity. The time spent doing triage can instead be used to handle business email.

To minimize email triage time, build these five email habits:

1. Set Up Folders in a Logical Manner

Having folders scattered all over means you mix contexts. And that makes you less able to target the messages that matter. Here’s how I set up my work email folders (and document folders, for that matter):

2. Put “Tags” in Email Subject Lines

Include the matter name or number in the subject line of each email you send. Use this habit for things outside client matters, too. You’ll understand why this is important when you read the next habit.

3. Create Rules to Automate the Filing of Incoming Messages

Rules are automatic actions your email program performs when triggered by criteria or conditions you have specified for incoming or outgoing messages. Email rules can be based on many criteria. Here’s a list from Mac Mail. The options in Microsoft Outlook and other email software are much the same.

Here’s the Mac Mail list of actions the software can take when a message meets defined criteria. Again, other email systems feature similar lists.

All these options might make email rule creation seem daunting. It isn’t. Here’s the type of rule I suggest you set up:

If Subject Line contains “Project 1” move message to folder “Project 1.”

That’s it.

This rule works reliably well since few people bother to change subject lines during email correspondence. On the few occasions that correspondents do change the subject line and remove the “trigger text,” the email lands in your inbox. Get automatic filing back on track by changing the subject line when you reply.

By the way, each email rule needs a name. In this case, name the rule “Project 1.”

4. Create Rules for Other Types of Emails

In the same way that you want to direct business or client email to your business or client folders, you can have your email software file newsletters, family correspondence, news about networking events and other types of messages as they come in. This won’t happen all at once, of course. You’ll need to continually train this auto-file feature. If you stick with it, though, you’ll spend less time on email triage and more time focusing on your priorities.

5. Run Email Rules on Your Sent Items Folder

Messages you write can matter just as much as those you receive. That’s why you may want to file relevant messages you’ve sent into the right folders.

Once you’ve created rules, there’s an easy way to have them take effect on sent items. Go to the Sent items folder, select all messages, right-click (or Control-click), and run your email rules. If you haven’t visited your sent items folders in a few years (or ever) and they’ve piled up, sit back and let the process chug along. Once it’s done, your email will be much more organized.

Prevent Inbox Busywork

These email automation habits are powerful ways to prevent inbox busywork. As you work with rules, you can explore other ways they can automate tasks you commonly perform. But what matters is that you create the rules you need as soon as the need arises.

Do you have any favorite email automation tips? Please share them in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on Attorney at Work]

 

Each time an electronic document comes into being, metadata is created along with it. People often add their own, too. From the obvious (like page numbers) to the obscure (like dates of creation and author names), every piece of metadata serves some purpose.

During discovery, document metadata can prove just as important as the visible contents in the document. That’s why legal teams need to comb every document for metadata. (It’s also why many use metadata “scrubbers” on documents they share with other people.)

Things can get interesting when one legal team unwittingly sends documents to opposing counsel that contain metadata they weren’t aware of. The following tips cover some of the most common “accidental” metadata disclosures. These types of disclosures don’t always happen, but they’re worth checking for in files. And if you find such metadata, disclose your finds to opposing counsel. (Be sure to check for related ethics guidance in your jurisdiction; the American Bar Association has a handy resource for checking state metadata ethics opinions here.)

Turn on Track Changes in Microsoft Office Documents

Modern document revision often happens in the margins. Well, the right margin of Word documents. That’s where authors place comments and questions, each one labeled with their Office user ID. (The “Track Changes” feature can be called different things and be in different places in other types of documents.)

When authors choose to view a document in its “final” form, that margin and its notes disappear. Doing so means they might forget to get rid of Track Changes content before sending the document on to others. If that happens, that document will travel with all commentary and suggested additions and deletions. These threads can reveal deeper thinking behind a given document and offer hints to a legal team that wasn’t supposed to see those threads.

Check Document Properties

Ever wonder who the actual author of a document happens to be? How about when the document was created? If you’re checking a photo, was it ever opened using Photoshop? You can learn all this and more by checking a document’s properties.

Look for Hidden Rows and Columns in Spreadsheets

Sometimes an author will hide rows or columns to conceal information they contain. You won’t know until you unhide them.

Spotting hidden columns or rows should be straightforward. For instance, if one column is labeled F and the next one you see is J, that means three columns have been hidden.

Check Document Headers and Footers

From author names to Bates stamps to file paths, headers and footers can contain plenty of useful information.

For instance, sometimes authors redact documents by “cutting” them down once they reach the PDF stage. You may be holding a four-page document that says, in the bottom-right corner, “Page 7 of 19.” If you see something like this, you should go “hmm …”

Look for Speaker’s Notes in PowerPoint Documents

Sometimes presentation files contain entire scripts on crammed slides in fonts only bald eagles could read. And sometimes content is kept to a minimum, interspersed with tastefully chosen images that engage the audience.

That’s what the audience sees. What the audience doesn’t see is any speaker’s notes created in the spot reserved for such notes with each slide. Short of a video or audio recording of the presentation, this user-generated metadata may provide the most insight available into what was said.

Does a PDF Contain Redacted Parts?

If you receive a redacted PDF, try this:

  • Select and copy redacted bits.
  • Paste them into a text editor like Notepad, TextEdit or Microsoft Word.

If you don’t see anything “under” the redacted parts, the PDF’s creator knows how to redact a PDF properly.

But if all the creator did was draw black lines on top of the material to be redacted, those black lines don’t carry over when the material is pasted into a text editor. Who knows what fun stuff you might learn?

Mining for More

Expect disclosures such as the ones outlined here to become less frequent as more lawyers learn how to prevent them. That said, they haven’t all learned yet, so the above tips are certainly worth trying whenever you review electronic documents during discovery.

These aren’t the only ways to look for valuable metadata in documents. Did I neglect to mention your favorite tactics? Share them in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on Attorney at Work]

 

A picture is worth a thousand words, and pictures of your device’s screen are no exception. Those screen shot images can help people troubleshoot problems with your device — and help you better communicate how-to instructions as well.

Sometimes you will see people taking pictures of their device screens with their own (or other people’s) phones. Don’t do that. There’s an easier way. Instead, investigate your device’s built-in ability to take screen shots — also known as screen grabs or screen captures.

Types of Screen Captures

You can capture your device’s behavior in several different ways.

Static captures

These are simple “photos” that show your screen at the precise moment you “click the shutter” (that is, hit a keystroke or key combination, click a menu option or button, press a button). Most, if not all, computers and smartphones enable static captures out of the box.

Timed captures

Have you ever perched a camera on a tripod, hit a timer button and rushed into a group photo to be in the picture when the shutter activated? Most screen shot software offers this feature, too. It helps you bring up menus, dialogs and other graphical elements that may not appear in a static screen shot.

Video captures

Sometimes the behavior you want to show can’t be effectively captured by one static shot or a sequence of shots. That’s when you need to record a video of what happens on your screen.

Built-in Screen Shot Tools

Smartphones and tablets usually enable screen shots. For instance, on any iOS device, press the power and home buttons simultaneously. The screen flashes, the device emits the sound of a camera shutter and the picture is saved in the Photos app.

Both Windows and Mac computers ship with built-in tools. In Windows, it’s called the Snipping Tool, and on a Mac, it’s called Grab. Both Windows and Mac also feature default keystroke combinations that let you capture a segment of a screen, the whole screen or a specific window, without starting up an app.

Annotating Captures

Both systems also ship with annotation tools. Once you take a screen shot, you can add comments, arrows and shapes to it. This can be more effective than pointing out the things you want to highlight using text that accompanies the screen shot.

In Windows, the Snipping Tool itself offers an annotation interface. To do more sophisticated annotations, open Paint. On a Mac, use the Preview app. (The screen shot below shows Preview’s Annotate menu.)

Video Captures

The Mac also ships with QuickTime, which lets you perform elementary video screen capture. The Xbox app in Windows features a screen video recorder as well.

Note: Video files get large quickly, so consider using a file-sharing tool instead of email, or posting the video to a video-sharing site like YouTube.

Third-Party Screen Capture Options

I’ve used a variety of paid tools to capture software behavior to insert into documentation and, to a lesser extent, to report bugs.

Sometimes these tools enable better manipulation of screen shots than software included with the computer. They automate parts of the workflow. When you take upward of 100 screen shots a day, you appreciate having the software handle sizing, file types, file locations and other mundane chores associated with each shot.

For static and timed shots, I’ve often used Snagit ($49.95). When it comes to producing screen video that I want to narrate, Camtasia ($199) is a better option than QuickTime. TechSmith makes both tools, which range from $49 to $199 and come bundled for $224.

These paid programs don’t cost much compared to the efficiency they provide, but most legal professionals don’t need to take screen shots every day. The tools embedded in modern computing devices meet most people’s screen capture needs.

Do you have a favorite screen capture tool? Please share your tip in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

This tip originally appeared on AttorneyAtWork.com.

 

When I start to write a document, the ideas in it never get to the page in publishable order. (I know I’m not alone in this.) Pieces of the “story” float about.

Many writers feel a compulsion to write from the start of a new document. That compulsion could make writing feel like cycling while gently holding the brakes. In more severe cases, it seems to lead to what some people call “writer’s block” and painful delays in drafting a document.

What writers need is a method they can use to create a first draft. Of course, lots of magic happens during revision of that draft, when writers refine their thoughts. (That’s when they apply Word styles.) But they need a first draft to work from. If getting to that first draft is difficult for you, read on.

Writer’s Block, Begone!

I don’t get writer’s block. That’s because, when I start writing, I just write the first things that come to mind. I write each “piece” as it “floats into view” and worry about order later.

In my pre-computer high school days, I was taught to write individual sentences on cue cards, or index cards. Then I could order the cards on a large surface (often a floor in my parents’ home) and move them around as I saw fit. I could also create new cards and remove ones I no longer needed. This was my introduction to mind mapping.

Enter Mind Mapping Software

I’m no fan of cue cards. Instead, I now write those individual sentences in “nodes” using mind mapping software. I open a document, label the central “root” node, then start adding nodes connected by branches. (Do you want to see what that looks like? There’s an example further down this post.) Later on, I move nodes or add and delete them as needed.

Here’s the big advantage of doing this using software: Once I have my nodes lined up the way I want them, I copy the root node into a text document so that I can begin writing. All my points appear in the order I set, waiting for me to link them together, to write from point to point. That’s when I have the first draft.

That first draft is half the battle, and it takes much less time to write than it would using other methods.

A Quick Demo

I use MindNode to create mind maps, but there are plenty of tools available, from free to “enterprise-grade” (i.e., pricey).

Here’s what the mind map for this article looks like.

This is a read-only version. However, you should be able to:

  • Navigate the map.
  • Zoom in and out.
  • Mouse over nodes to fold and unfold them.

(You can also go directly to the MindNode site, here, to play in a larger screen.)

(You might notice that this version does not read the same way that this post does. Remember — the map is only a first draft. I refined the post further after I mapped it.)

And here’s what the mind map looks like when I paste the root node into a text editor. The first line is the mind map’s root node. Subsequent lines are indented according to how “deep” they are in the map’s hierarchy.

As this video shows, MindNode diagrams can be exported in various formats and shared in different applications and devices.

Reasonable Expectations

Mind maps don’t fix all writing woes. (Other tools might help you handle some of those.) But mind maps do help you complete a first draft. Just don’t censor or edit yourself too early in the process. Worry about grammar, spelling and other corrections and refinements later.

Other Possibilities for Mind Maps

Mind maps have many other uses besides writing. You can use them to do things like:

  • Plan projects.
  • Create organizational charts.
  • Create lists of all kinds.

Explore mind maps beyond simply writing. You might find they boost your creativity in ways you never imagined.

Do you use mind maps? If so, what tools do you use? What do you create with them? Let us know in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on Attorney at Work]

 

Does your firm or organization have shortened office hours over the summer? Or perhaps you’re taking some time off over the next couple months and therefore closing up your office for a week or two. Either way, you want to make sure potential clients aren’t showing up at your office but finding it unexpectedly closed.

If your office hours will be deviating from the norm this summer, make sure you load those exceptions into your Google My Business profile so that they automatically appear in your maps and search listing.

To do so, log into your Google My Business account and click on your business listing. Then click the “Info” tab on the left-hand side menu. Below the hours section, you’ll see a spot for “Add special hours” – click on that.

Now you can add your closures, and rest assured that your Google business listing will be working even when you’re not.

Happy summer holidays!