The Order of the Stick: Utterly Dwarfed
The Order of the Stick: Utterly Dwarfed - Coming in December and available for pre-order now
Results 1 to 10 of 10
  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
    Join Date
    Sep 2014

    Default MS Word mail merge equation editor truncation issues

    I'm having an irritating problem with MS Word. First, I acknowledge that, on some level, the answer is probably for me to use LaTeX instead, but there are also some major advantages to using a program that other people in my school district already know how to use so I can share tests with other math teachers more easily.

    Anyway, I'm using Word to make math tests, with copious use of the Equation Editor. I then run the thing through a mail merge so that student names are pre-printed on their tests, along with a number that I use to alphabetize the tests by later. I currently output that to a pdf and then print from the pdf so I can more easily double-check that none of the merged names threw off the pagination and a few other things that I spot-check. Most of these merges will have between 20 and 40 records.

    Ever since getting a new Windows 10 laptop last school year, some (but not all) equations are getting a character truncated in some (but not all) copies of the merged document. It is not predictably the same student or on the same page of the test in the various different tests throughout the year, or consistent if I run a different mail merge on the same document ("all" versus a range, for example). It does seem to be consistent in terms of which character gets truncated within a specific test, so if test A for class B had the last character removed from problem 7 on page 3 on Timmy's test, that's also the one that would be removed on Jenny's test (but not for the other 30 tests in that class run in the same merge, and Timmy and Jenny aren't next to each other alphabetically).

    This is a problem because sometimes it's a pretty important character that gets removed. I got lucky with the most recent one since it changed a constant in a linear equation and the new equation was one that was equivalently hard to solve, but it's also removed variables and important constants like π in the past that have led to test questions getting thrown out for some students.

    Ideally, I'd like suggestions on how to stop this from happening at all, but failing that I'd like suggestions on how to run some sort of automated comparison of specified pages of a pdf so I could at least detect that it happened and re-run the merge. (I'm imagining some kind of utility where I could tell it to check say, pages in the category 1 mod 4, 2 mod 4, 3 mod 4, and 4 mod 4 in a 100+ page pdf and tell me which copies of my four page test had a weirdness on page 2 other than differing student names so I could quickly find out which of my tests are affected before rather than after they're in the hands of students.)

    Any thoughts?

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    DeTess's Avatar

    Join Date
    May 2017
    Gender
    Female

    Default Re: MS Word mail merge equation editor truncation issues

    I'm not enough of an expert in word to be able to help you with your main problem, but I can suggest a workaround. Rather than having the equations as a direct part of the test, have them on a separate sheet instead, with the tests referring to equation X, Y and Z on the sheet where applicable. You could then create and print the sheets separately from the main test without any of the merging or personalizing, avoiding problems with this particular flaw.
    Jasnah avatar by Zea Mays

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Bugbear in the Playground
    Join Date
    Sep 2014

    Default Re: MS Word mail merge equation editor truncation issues

    Quote Originally Posted by DeTess View Post
    I'm not enough of an expert in word to be able to help you with your main problem, but I can suggest a workaround. Rather than having the equations as a direct part of the test, have them on a separate sheet instead, with the tests referring to equation X, Y and Z on the sheet where applicable. You could then create and print the sheets separately from the main test without any of the merging or personalizing, avoiding problems with this particular flaw.
    That seems like it would be a lot of extra pieces of paper for the proctors to keep track of though. The main reason I have names pre-printed on the exams is because I have multiple courses testing in common testing periods and I used to have issues with students getting tests for courses they aren't taking before I went to putting names on them in advance.
    Last edited by Algeh; 2019-11-02 at 06:24 PM.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Kobold

    Join Date
    May 2009

    Default Re: MS Word mail merge equation editor truncation issues

    Does the name only appear on the front page, or is it repeated on each page?

    Have you been able to determine whether the issue is related to the length of students' names?

    The workaround that occurs to me is to put the names /any other merge fields in their own self-contained frames (sorry, can't remember what the term for them is in Word, but it's a way of removing them from the main flow of text so that they don't affect other lines or paragraph spacing).

    Edit: textboxes, that's what they're called.

    Another tweak worth trying would be to define a fixed line spacing as part of the paragraph style definition, rather than accepting the default (which allows line spacing to vary if you're including content like equations or graphics).

    But I don't know if it would work. Sounds like a pretty subtle bug, could be really hard to be sure you've beaten it.
    Last edited by veti; 2019-11-04 at 03:36 AM.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Bugbear in the Playground
    Join Date
    Sep 2014

    Default Re: MS Word mail merge equation editor truncation issues

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    Does the name only appear on the front page, or is it repeated on each page?

    Have you been able to determine whether the issue is related to the length of students' names?

    The workaround that occurs to me is to put the names /any other merge fields in their own self-contained frames (sorry, can't remember what the term for them is in Word, but it's a way of removing them from the main flow of text so that they don't affect other lines or paragraph spacing).

    Edit: textboxes, that's what they're called.

    Another tweak worth trying would be to define a fixed line spacing as part of the paragraph style definition, rather than accepting the default (which allows line spacing to vary if you're including content like equations or graphics).

    But I don't know if it would work. Sounds like a pretty subtle bug, could be really hard to be sure you've beaten it.
    The names are in the header of all 4 pages of the test. Most, but not all, names fit on a single line in the header, and making sure that names that need an extra line don't ruin pagination or other formatting is already part of my pre-print document checking. I believe all of the times this issue has happened have been with shorter-to-average names that stay on the first line. This year's example that I can remember at the moment certainly was (10 characters for first and last name combined for one of the two tests affected last month).

    Since all of the mail merge features are in the header and the equations are in the body, it shouldn't change the flow of the equations within their paragraphs as the names change length.

    It's also true that if I run that student's test again the error disappears (and may re-appear for different students), so it's not something about their name triggering the bug.

    Yeah, the subtlety makes it REALLY HARD to troubleshoot. I was hoping someone would know of a program that could at least automatically check pdfs for differences so I can at least find the bugs faster, but that may just not be a thing.
    Last edited by Algeh; 2019-11-04 at 03:49 AM.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Kobold

    Join Date
    May 2009

    Default Re: MS Word mail merge equation editor truncation issues

    Adobe offers its own "file comparison" tool. There's also a few online tools that claim to compare PDFs. I haven't used any of them so can't vouch for them.

    There's also a utility in Windows itself called Windiff. It's a lot better than you might assume.
    "None of us likes to be hated, none of us likes to be shunned. A natural result of these conditions is, that we consciously or unconsciously pay more attention to tuning our opinions to our neighbor’s pitch and preserving his approval than we do to examining the opinions searchingly and seeing to it that they are right and sound." - Mark Twain

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Griffon

    Join Date
    Jun 2013
    Location
    Bristol, UK

    Default Re: MS Word mail merge equation editor truncation issues

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    Adobe offers its own "file comparison" tool. There's also a few online tools that claim to compare PDFs. I haven't used any of them so can't vouch for them.

    There's also a utility in Windows itself called Windiff. It's a lot better than you might assume.
    "diff" is a really old program, perhaps from before Unix, certainly from before PCs. It compares raw text to raw text, so it ought to find any differences, but it would show all of the formatting commands as text too, and if you don't normally see those it might be confusing.
    The end of what Son? The story? There is no end. There's just the point where the storytellers stop talking.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Bugbear in the Playground
    Join Date
    Sep 2014

    Default Re: MS Word mail merge equation editor truncation issues

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    Adobe offers its own "file comparison" tool. There's also a few online tools that claim to compare PDFs. I haven't used any of them so can't vouch for them.

    There's also a utility in Windows itself called Windiff. It's a lot better than you might assume.
    Quote Originally Posted by halfeye View Post
    "diff" is a really old program, perhaps from before Unix, certainly from before PCs. It compares raw text to raw text, so it ought to find any differences, but it would show all of the formatting commands as text too, and if you don't normally see those it might be confusing.
    Would any of them work to compare different pages within the same file? I usually have the entire class mail merged to a single pdf, so I'd be wanting a list of all of the ways that pages 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, and so on differed to check for problems on page 2 of each exam (and similar lists to check pages 1, 3, and 4).

    I suppose I should poke at whatever Adobe has, assuming that it's part of the pile of things in Creative Cloud that I have access to. I'll see what I can figure out.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Troll in the Playground
     
    Kobold

    Join Date
    May 2009

    Default Re: MS Word mail merge equation editor truncation issues

    Quote Originally Posted by Algeh View Post
    Would any of them work to compare different pages within the same file? .
    I doubt it. You'd have to split it into separate files, which is easy but time consuming unless you can figure out how to automate it. And then you'd have 30 files to fiddle with. Not ideal.

    Better to fix the problem, if possible. I still think text boxes might be the answer. In theory you should be able to keep every part of the page from interacting with every other part, which means you have to manage the layout manually but that's easier than the kind of messing around we're talking about now.
    "None of us likes to be hated, none of us likes to be shunned. A natural result of these conditions is, that we consciously or unconsciously pay more attention to tuning our opinions to our neighbor’s pitch and preserving his approval than we do to examining the opinions searchingly and seeing to it that they are right and sound." - Mark Twain

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Bugbear in the Playground
    Join Date
    Sep 2014

    Default Re: MS Word mail merge equation editor truncation issues

    Quote Originally Posted by veti View Post
    I doubt it. You'd have to split it into separate files, which is easy but time consuming unless you can figure out how to automate it. And then you'd have 30 files to fiddle with. Not ideal.

    Better to fix the problem, if possible. I still think text boxes might be the answer. In theory you should be able to keep every part of the page from interacting with every other part, which means you have to manage the layout manually but that's easier than the kind of messing around we're talking about now.
    It really doesn't seem to be an issue with parts of the layout shifting into other parts, though, so I don't think putting the merge fields into a text box would make any difference. The only fields that change are in the header, and the equations are not in the header, and the times that a character gets truncated the rest of the equation is not shifted as would happen if it was a layout flow issue (the missing character is replaced by blank space). It also doesn't stay consistent where the same test for the same student will have the truncation if I re-run the merge.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •