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A Bit Retro: Top Ten FrameMaker Conversion Tips

A few months back Samartha Vashishtha from the Adobe India office created a PDF of his “Top Ten FrameMaker Tips.” Most of the tips were for using the newer features in FrameMaker 9.0. As I read the article, I thought about my own Top Ten FrameMaker tips (regardless of version).

Once I had my list written down, I realized that many of my tips relate to converting documents from other formats to FrameMaker. In the light of DITA and other newer document encoding schemes, it felt a bit retro to be posting the list. After all, some of Scriptorium’s business involves converting documents from FrameMaker.

However, I also realize that there are many organizations using FrameMaker, and those groups still need to import documents from various formats to FrameMaker. (And I’m always surprised by the number of people who say “I wish I had known about #1 a long time ago.”)

So, here we have it: Simon’s Top Ten FrameMaker Conversion tips:

  1. Improve pasting from MS Word. When copying from MS Word and pasting to out-of-the-box FrameMaker, the text is pasted as an annoying OLE object; you have to use the equally annoying Edit > Paste special to paste as text. Relax; there’s a fix. Find your maker.ini file (in Program Files\Adobe\FrameMaker x), make a copy of the file (just in case you mess something up), edit maker.ini using a text editor (such as Notepad), find the line that begins with “ClipboardFormatsPriorities=” and move the word “TEXT” to the beginning of the list (so the beginning of the line reads “ClipboardFormatsPriorities=TEXT, FILE, …”). Save the file, then restart FrameMaker. Now the text is inserted as text when you paste. It’s a miracle!
  2. Copy and paste isn’t just for text. You can copy the paragraph or character style of the current text selection using Edit > Copy Special > Paragraph or Edit > Copy Special > Character (that’s ESC eyp or ESC eyc, if you’re an Escape code kind of person). To apply the copied style, select some text and use paste (CTRL+v). With a style on the clipboard, you can quickly scroll through a document and apply the style where it’s needed. In addition to paragraph and character styles, you can copy conditional text settings, table column widths (see next), and attributes (structured FrameMaker).
  3. Copy table column widths To copy column widths, use Edit > Copy Special > Table Column Width (ESC eyw). This can be applied in two ways:

    When converting documents, I often encounter tables that are so wide many of the columns don’t appear on the page. The fast solution is to make the first column relatively narrow, copy the first column width, select the entire table, and paste. The single width is applied to all columns in the table. With any luck, the table will now fit on the page and you can resize the columns as needed. (Yes, you can use the Table > Resize Columns command; I just find this to be faster.)

    The second great use of copy column width is that it allows you to apply a consistent set of column widths to a number of tables. The only downside is that copy column width can store only one column width at a time. You have to copy the width of the first column, apply it to all first columns, then copy the width of the second column, apply it, and so on.

  4. There’s power in Change By Pasting. The Copy Special features become incredibly powerful when you combine them with Change: By Pasting in the Find/Change dialog. To quickly apply a character style to a frequently occurring string: search for the string, use the standard methods to apply a new style to the text, then copy the style with Edit > Copy Special > Character Format (ESC eyc). In the Find/Change dialog, set the Change field to “By Pasting.” Now search for the next instance of the string and use the Change button to apply the change (as a test). After a couple more tests, use Change All to change the rest of the occurrences.
  5. Use SHIFT when resizing table columns. At some point in your document conversion you’ll need to adjust your table columns. Normally, resizing a column width using the mouse causes all columns to the right to move a corresponding distance (and causes the table width to change). To move a column border between two columns without affecting the rest of the table, hold the SHIFT key down before clicking on the column resize handles. Now when you drag, you only change the width of the column and its neighbor to the right; the overall table width remains unchanged.
  6. Search for “\P\p” to eliminate blank lines. It’s inevitable: when you’re converting a document from Microsoft Word, you’re going to find that someone used blank paragraphs to create vertical space. But how do you search and replace blank lines without messing up your formatting? If you search for “\p\p” and replace it with “\p”, you’ll eliminate the blank line, but the first paragraph acquires the formatting of the following paragraph, which is not good. Instead, search for “\P\p” and replace it with “” (an empty string). The capital “\P” means beginning of a paragraph and lowercase “\p” means the end of paragraph.
    Note that you might also need to make a second pass, turning on wildcards and searching for “\P|\p”. With wildcards enabled, the vertical bar means any number of spaces or punctuation.
  7. Use File > Import > Formats to remove manual page breaks. You may have noticed the Remove Manual Page Breaks checkbox in the Import Formats dialog. Well, it works even when you’re “importing”
    formats from a file onto itself. To start afresh on a pagination pass, use File > Import > Formats (or ESC fio), make sure Import from Document is set to “Current”, clear all Import and Update checkboxes, check the Remove Manual Page Breaks check box, and click Import. If you’re daring (or very confident), you can use the same technique to clear formatting overrides.
  8. Drag and drop works at the file level. A fast way to build FrameMaker books is to drag and drop the individual FrameMaker files from Windows Explorer into FrameMaker book file. For even faster building, you can select several FrameMaker files in a folder and drag them all at once into the FrameMaker book. One the files are in the book file, use drag and drop to rearrange them as you need.
  9. MIF stabilizes documents. When importing large Microsoft Word documents with many images, the resulting FrameMaker file can sometimes be unstable. You can eliminate a number of problems by immediately saving as MIF, closing the file, re-opening the MIF file, and saving as a FrameMaker file. Saving as MIF is often a good first step for correcting corrupt FrameMaker documents.
  10. Learn about FrameMaker add-ons. For a relatively small amount of money, FrameMaker add-ons add real power to FrameMaker. Some of my favorites are:

I’m sure as soon as I hit the “Post” button, I’ll think of number 11…or 12. If I do, I’ll let you know.

What are your favorite FrameMaker conversion tricks?

Author: Simon Bate

Senior Technical Consultant at Scriptorium with 30+ years experience in technical communications. Specialize in practical uses of DITA and customizations of the DITA Open Toolkit. Love to write programs, scripts, transforms, macros, anything to get machines to do my bidding. My motto is "let the computer do the work." CompTIA CTT+. Train people in DITA, DITA Open Toolkit, XML, Structured Authoring, Scripting, FrameMaker, and other areas. Birder, chef, lyric tenor.

8 Comments

  1. I have found Paragraph Tools by Silicon Prairie Software (http://www.siliconprairiesoftware.com/index.html) very handy for conversions.

    That FrameMaker add-on lets you map old formats to new formats. You set up a conversion document containing a table with source and destination tag names, and then you run the conversion by selecting a menu choice.

  2. ceers bro for sharing are there feeds to your blog? I’d like to add them to my reader

  3. Excellent tips, Simon! And thanks for mentioning the PDF I created. :-)

    In recent months, we put together some more tips that would help Technical Communication Suite users. Quick links to those articles are at http://blogs.adobe.com/samartha/2010/06/robohelp_tips_article_in_indus.html

  4. Do you know if Frame7 works on Windows 7 Operating System?
    I’ve gotten mixed answers (some say if it’s a 32-bit system). Others say NO way!

    Thanks, Lee

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