Get smart with quotes and save a lot of time

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 April, 2000, 12:00am

Every so often I get a question - or in this case a question with a solution attached to it - that is worth publishing for a laugh alone. To have it address a problem that has plagued people the world over, and certainly a few readers of this column, is indeed a bonus.

Last week the on-line editor of this section, Neil Taylor, had had enough with the often-unwanted SmartQuotes function in Microsoft Word. He not only worked out a solution but decided to spread the word to other editors at the paper in an e-mail that simply has to be shared with a wider audience. I pass this week's column over to Neil.

'When you get as old as I, you begin to think about the smaller things in life. Like how many minutes, how many seconds even, one has left on this earth.

'I'm reminded of just how fleeting is my moment of mortality, each time I open a text file for editing.

'Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, insists on formatting documents without asking for permission, and it replaces quotation marks with SmartQuotes (a misnomer if ever there was one).

'When text with SmartQuotes is turned into text [only], the quotes become weird combinations of apostrophes, which the sub-editor then has to remove and replace with quotation marks. Manually.

'I've calculated that it takes about two seconds to replace the quotation marks on the average quote. Not much, I sense you thinking.

'But if the average story contains four quotes and a couple of jargon terms, that's six pairs of quotation marks, or twelve seconds. A longer story will contain at least double that. If the sub-editor has to correct eight regular stories and three long pieces per day, that adds up to about 168 seconds per day. Over a five-day week, that becomes 840 seconds. If a month has 22 working days, the time spent replacing SmartQuotes would add up to 3,696 seconds. In a year, allowing for holiday time, that would be 39,144 seconds, or 652.4 minutes, 10.87 hours, spent correcting Microsoft's DumbQuotes with correct punctuation.

'Ten hours. That is virtually an entire day. Just think of the things one could do with a whole day.

'If we added up all of those SmartQuote days wasted in a 30-year career, we could save the world! 'Here's my solution: In Word, go to Tools/Autocorrect. Click on the tab labelled 'Autocorrect as you type' and uncheck all the boxes under the 'Replace as you type' section.

Well put, Neil.

Larry Campbell is publisher of The opinions expressed in this column are his own. E-mail comments and questions to . Questions to Tech Talk will not be answered personally. Technology Post reserves the right to edit letters.