Tips and Tricks: Harmonizing With MS Office, Managing Large Complex Documents

Wednesday Sep 24th 2008 by Eric Geier

In this fifth and final installment of Eric Geier's OpenOffice Tips and Tricks series, we learn how to harmoniously swap documents between OOo and MS Office. And we explore OOo's powerful time-saving Navigator tool for managing large complex documents such as books and long reports.

We’ve covered many tips and tricks about working between (OOo) and Microsoft (MS) Office, however now we’ll address the formatting issues experienced when converting between the two formats. We’ll give you a few ways to make your documents convert better, so you can share your work with those who only use MS Office. You’ll also discover the Navigator in this tutorial. This window in OOo can help you jump from here to there in your document and gives you a quick way to modify the structure. Lets get started!

Converting OOo Documents to Microsoft

When converting between the OOo and MS Office formats, you shouldn’t see any majors problems with basic formatting and features. Bolding, fonts, most custom styles and tabs, hyperlinks, bulleted and numbered lists, tables, and columns, for example, should stay intact through the conversion process. However, the conversion of some items, such as headers, footers, and mail merges, are less than desirable. Headers and footers disappear and mail merges lose their database connections during the conversion.

If you’ve already converted documents to MS Office format and are disappointed in the results, don’t throw in the towel yet. There are a few things you can do within your OOo documents that makes for a better conversion. Consider these tips before giving up on OOo:

  • Think about exporting to PDF: If you are sending a document to someone that’s OOo-less, but they just need to read or print it, you can simply export to PDF and forget all the formatting issues. Your documents should export to PDF with no problems and look just as you designed them. Simply click File, Export to PDF, and adjust the settings to your liking.

  • Change anchoring of objects: If objects such as images, graphs, and frames are left with using the default anchor setting, to paragraph, they can’t be moved in the resulting MS Office document. You can however anchor these items as characters, which will let you move them around within the document. Right-click on the object, select Anchor – As Characters.

  • Edit objects before exporting: Before exporting to the MS Office counterpart, you should finalize any text and formatting of objects such as graphs, images, frames, and shapes. These items will become static images in the MS Office format. Thus, you won’t be able to edit any text in frames, change color of shapes, change graph settings, and so on.

  • Use frames to make headers/footers: Though content in the official headers and footers disappear when converting to MS Office format, you can make your own. One way is to insert frames over the same space of the header or footer and type in your desired text and content. You won’t though have the convenience of the real thing; you’ll need to copy and paste it on all the pages.

  • Keep OOo up-to-date: It’s not a secret that the OOo to MS Office conversion utilities need improvement. Thus, you might see better results in OOo updates in the near future or better third-party converters that may arise. Keep your fingers crossed.

OOo Writer includes a feature or window called the Navigator, which is useful in larger documents such as books, chapters, manuals, and long reports. This window lists categories of varying elements that can be present within the document, such as headings, tables, text frames, and hyperlinks. Under each category is a list, by name, of the related elements, such as Header 1, Table 1, and Frame 1. The window also contains buttons and fields to navigate through the document.

The Navigator can come in handy when you want to visit each element or object of a particular category. Say you want to make sure you’ve added a caption to all your figures or graphics. Instead of scrolling through the document and taking the chance of missing a figure, just select the first graphic listed in the navigator and keep hitting the Next Graphic button. You can also double-click objects to move around.

In addition to being able to navigate the document easily, you can manipulate the document with Navigator. For example, if you feel Chapter 5 should now come after Chapter 6 and want to swap the two, simply select the Chapter 5 heading from Navigator and click the Demote Chapter button; it’s done, no copying and pasting necessary. You can also change heading levels. For instance, say you ramble too long in a section within Chapter 6 and now it should become its own chapter. Instead of copying and pasting the content into the right place and then changing the heading style or level, you can use the promote/demote level and chapter buttons to move everything around.

The Navigator also provides a way to insert hyperlinks in the document that are linked to objects within. For example, say you introduce the topics in the first paragraph or section and want to link to where you discuss the specifics for each topic. Instead of inserting bookmarks in the detailing sections and manually creating hyperlinks in the introduction, you can click and drag an object from the Navigator into the document, which will create a hyperlink to that object. Before dragging, you would just need to make sure you’ve selected Insert as Hyperlink from the Drag Mode drop-down list.

To change to the controls for a category, click the Navigation button, the second button on the top left of the Navigator window. You can change the amount of objects shown by adjusting how many levels you want to work with in the Navigator window. For example, if you only want to work with items on the main or first level, like items in Heading 1 and Heading 2, but not sublevels, select 1 from the Heading Levels Shown drop-down list.

To skip to a certain page in the document, you can type a page number into the text box to the left of the Drag Mode drop-down list and hit the Enter key. You can also use the up and down arrows of the field to navigate the pages. We’ll leave you with one last tip: right-clicking on objects in the Navigator window gives you a few more options to explore.

This part wraps up our tips and tricks series, at least for now. If you haven’t yet, make sure you check out the previous parts. In Part I we discussed adding templates, clipart, and a grammar checker to OOo. Plus we figured out how to spilt windows, to mimic the Spilt Window feature available in Microsoft to show two different views or windows of the same document. Part II discussed importing the custom dictionary and document templates of MS Office into OOo. It also discussed where to set OOo to automatically save in MS Office format. In Part III we discovered OOo’s equivalent to WordArt, called Fontwork. We also had fun drawing organizational charts and diagrams and found out how to insert page numbers. In Part IV we fumbled through the options and preferences in OOo, exported documents to PDF format and discovered tips to help when working with images. Finally, this tutorial showed you ways to make your documents more suitable for the conversion to MS Office format and introduced you to the Navigator.

Eric Geier is an author of many computing and networking books, including Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (Wiley 2008) and 100 Things You Need to Know about Microsoft® Windows Vista (Que 2007).

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