Monday, November 26, 2007

How do I convert a PDF to a Word document?

In my translation business I often get PDF files which the customer wants translated and returned identically-formatted. The only way I can do this (partly because of the software we use to help us in translation) is to somehow convert the file to Word format and do the editing/translating there, and then convert back to PDF if necessary.

You probably have a similar situation, where you have a PDF file that you need to convert into a Word file so you can then continue editing the document in Word for whatever reason, and you want formatting preserved.

I have decided to test VeryPDF's PDF to Word software, one of the solutions that are out there for converting PDF files into Word documents, and see how well a product like this really works.

What I decided to do was get a PDF file and try converting it with PDF to Word to see if it really does the job. I opted for a really exciting document, the British Government's SA-100 tax form, which is full of nice formatting which ought to trip up the program. Here is a snapshot of the file (this is from page 2, click for full size):

The easy way
Of course, you could just open the file in Adobe Reader and copy/paste the text into Word. So let's try that.

You basically get an unformatted text file, like so (click for full size):

As you can see, it's next to useless - there is no formatting preserved and you would have a real job trying to reconstruct the original document from this.

Now, if Adobe Reader had an option like Save As -> Word Document... That would be nice, but they want you to buy the full Acrobat software for that, costing 100's of dollars! And having used it in the past, I was not overly impressed with its export to Word function, though this may have improved.

The VeryPDF way
I downloaded trial versions of several PDF converter programs, and they all did the job fairly well, but I eventually decided to demonstrate VeryPDF's, mainly because it offers a fairly generous trial period - 99 tries and only a 5-page limitation in trial mode. Some of the other programs (such as this one) seemed to do a good job, but obfuscated the results with asterisks and stuff. I understand they need to do to ensure sales of the full version, but it was very annoying and did not allow me to properly trial the program. VeryPDF's PDF to Word software is very easy to use so I won't go into details - all you have to do is select the source PDF and name the target Word file and in a few minutes the job is finished. And here is the result (yes, this is a screenshot of the resulting Word file!):

I am impressed - I honestly wasn't expecting it to be that good! I expected some bits of the PDF to be converted to graphical elements in Word but they were not - every bit of the text is editable, as far as I can see. And the actual formatting is perfect. The only issue is the main font, where it didn't use a sans-serif font. I guess this is because the font was not a standard Windows one, and this little glitch may be fixable through the options, though I couldn't find anything like that.

Also, of course, the results would be a lot different if the document contained scanned text. I can't show you the results of this because I tried it on a confidential document, but you should know that this program does not appear to OCR text that is in the form of a bitmap.

All in all though, these are small niggles and I was most impressed with this program. I will have to seriously consider buying the full version as it could give me a huge competitive advantage to be able to supply the customer with a translated AND fully-formatted Word/PDF document. At only $35, the product would pay for itself very quickly

Buy the PDF to Word converter here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Symbols in Word

OK, reaaaaally simple, but it's amazing how many people do not know this. You often have a situation in word where you want to use a symbol that is not represented on the keyboard. For example ¥ (Japanese Yen), © (copyright) or ยต (Greek symbol micro-).

There ARE keyboard shortcuts to get these symbols, but your first port of call will probably be the insert symbol function (just go to Insert and choose Symbol).

You will be offered this grid of symbols which are contained within the font you are currently using, though you can choose another font from the drop-down menu, e.g. one of those Dingbats type fonts:

Just double-click on the symbol you want and it will appear in your text at the current cursor position. You can also see the list of recently-used symbols below the main grid, which will probably be a quicker way to find the symbol you are looking for.

Symbols Shortcut Key
You will also notice that you can define a shortcut key by pressing the button that says... shortcut key! But most of the major symbols already have a predefined shortcut key. For example, the copyright symbol is inserted by pressing ALT+CTRL+C. However, in this example, the Yen symbol is inserted by pressing a strange looking combination, ALT+0165. If you don't know what this refers to, then stick around because we will give you a quick explanation in a future article.

Happy symbol-inserting..!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Using speech recognition in Word

WORKING speech recognition in Windows, with Dragon NaturallySpeaking! Buy now!

I have to briefly rave about this discovery, even though it's not directly related to Microsoft Word! Just watch the video and you will get the gist of it!

Must be a trick!
Amazing, huh? Now, I have been using this product, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 by Nuance, mostly in Microsoft Word, for a couple of weeks now, so I can give you a quick low-down.

Well, in short, it really does work just like in the clip! Okay, so the people you see in the video are quite proficient in using the program, but the speech recognition really does work that quickly and accurately! It has really revolutionised my use of Microsoft Word - I'm involved in the translation business and for us, time, or rather typing speed, really is money. But there is an upper limit to how fast anyone can type, especially if they are a translator, since translators are not usually professional typists. Even for those who do type quite fast, like me, the hours per day we need to spend typing at high speed really do take their toll on our finger joints.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking has drastically reduced the amount of typing I need to do and now my most common bottleneck is the actual thought process involved in writing text, rather than the limit imposed by typing speed, which is how it should be!

What's the catch?
Of course there are downsides. Although Dragon NaturallySpeaking has an exceptional dictionary, it cannot possibly cater for all possible proper nouns that one might wish to type. So for example in a historical text, you are likely to encounter the names of people, places and events which DNS simply can't cope with. You will probably need to enter those manually, though you can program in new words, which DNS then recognizes perfectly. It's just a question of whether you feel it's worth taking a few seconds (it's that quick) to train the new word, or just type it the few times it appears.

Obviously, although you can talk very quickly when using the program, you do have to enunciate quite clearly, and any time you stumble over a word (which is quite often in my case) DNS gets confused. Also, I have a cold at the moment, and this has slightly affected accuracy!

This is not intended to be a full-blown review, I just want to open up the possibility to you of using a speech recognition program such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Maybe you tried this program, as I did, a few years ago, and weren't very impressed. Now all I can say is, buy a decent microphone, make sure you do some of the training routines after installation, so that the programme is calibrated to your voice, and give it another try! I think you will be blown away!

For the first time, it really occurs to me that we could be seeing the beginning of the end of the keyboard as a practical data entry device! I have no hesitation in recommending this amazing software, and at $160 for the standard version, it is a bargain! In my job, the increase in productivity that it brings means it could pay for itself in less than a week!

Now you just have to think about how you are going to keep the people around you quiet while you are trying to type, or rather speak!

P.S. Oh, I forgot to mention, this whole article was written using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. With the exception of a few minor corrections and alterations, the entire text was spoken by me and recognized by DNS.

P.P.S. There are several versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Standard, Preferred and Professional. Preferred is the most popular, and the one you will probably go for. Standard is a somewhat slimmed down version that seems to be intended for family use, while Professional is a fully featured, quite expensive version, with advanced scripting facilities which you would need to know why you need. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a demo version, but I believe on-site demonstrations are available for potential corporate customers.

You are TOO SLOW in MS Word!

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