Database Publishing Tools, Consolidated Posting and Thank You

Subject: Database Publishing Tools, Consolidated Posting and Thank You
From: "Engstrom, Douglas D." <EngstromDD -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 3 Jan 1997 13:54:15 -0600


First, I want to thank everyone who responded to my query about database
publishing tools for a company phone book project. I posted quite a
while ago, and got a flood of replies. I couldn't both reply to all the
mail and get the project done, so I elected to get the project done and
tell you about it afterwards. Please accept this as both a follow-up
summary post and thank-you to everyone who offered advice.

First, a description of the original problem:

>It has been my misfortune to pick up the task of producing my company's
>international phone book. Actually, I've been at it for about a year now,
>and the data is finally in something like manageable condition, and we know
>how we want to organize it. (We've also suffered from scope creep, massive
>reorganization, and assorted other ills, but hey, who's counting?)
>We want a main section that organizes everyone by country, and then by
>organization and Site. This is the "main entry" containing name, title,
>business address, home and work phone numbers, fax numbers, etc. We crank
>this out as an MS Access report. Although assembling, cleansing and
>formatting the data has been a bit of a bear, that's done.
>We also want a table of contents listing the page number for each
>organization and country. This is not hard to do in, say, MS Word after
>exporting the Access report to a .RTF file.
>We also want a alphabetical listing of all the names, with a page number for
>their main entry and (ideally) a phone number as well. And therein lies the
>rub. The document is big (250+ pages, a little fewer than 4,000 entries) At
>this size, the MS Word index marking algorithm "gets tired" and starts
>skipping entries after a while, and won't index anything containing a hyphen.
> (Tech support informs me these are "known flaws." !?!?!) So Word is out.
>We've tried exporting to PageMaker, but that requires and incredibly
>convoluted index-marking routine that requires us to hand assemble and
>disassemble the main section. Art support time is becoming more expensive, so
>we need a more automated solution.
Suggested solutions were all over the map.

1) Framemaker (or another high-powered publishing program we don't have
at the moment). Many people wrote to say that Framemaker could do this.
Although Framemaker is undoubtedly an excellent piece of software, the
consensus decision here was that we didn't want to expand the toolset
for the sake of a single project. Occasionally, architecture has to
count for something. However, if this type of project becomes more
common, I'm going to try to push the powers-that-be toward a more robust

2) An MS Word-based Mail Merge solution. Several people suggested
using the MS Access data as the data file for a merge template in MS
Word. The problem here was that the Site, Organization and Country
headers have to contain information such as street addresses and
international dialing codes, and Word's Mail Merge paradigm does not
seem to allow for the concept of a "break header".

3) Custom Programming. Various people suggested custom approaches to
the We gave this some very serious thought, but due to the expense
involved, the team decided we (OK, actually, me) should take one more
crack at it with the existing tools before going outside.

Fortunately, inspiration struck.

MS Access could produce a report containing all the information that we
needed, in the right order and in the right position. Setting up
headings for each Country, Organization and Site in the phone book was a
simple matter of sorting the data by those values and creating break
headers in the report. What MS Access couldn't do was create an index
and a table of contents, because it didn't understand page numbers.

The answer turned out to be macro programming in MS Word. Each separate
piece of information was given a different color in the MS Access
report--the country headings were red, the site headings were green, the
names were blue, and so on.

The macro is a series of search-driven loop structures. Each loop
searches for text of a certain color, does something to it (including,
always, changing it to black), and then searches for the next piece of
text with that color. The loop continues until it can't find any more
matching text. At that point, the program exits the loop, and moves on
to the loop for the next color. For example, the first thing the macro
does is search for red text. Each time it finds a piece of red text, it
marks it with the style "Country Heading" and then moves on.
(Naturally, you have to create the style "Country Heading" in advance
and save it in the same template as the macro.)

This approach got around all the problems we had with the "concordance"
indexing scheme. Instead of relying on a separate word list, the macro
loop for blue text marked it for indexing using the MARKINDEXENTRY
statement. This approach swallowed hyphens without difficulty and seems
to be capable of handling any number of entries.

Once the entries were properly marked, generating the index was a simple
matter of using the Insert Index function in Word. The Table of
Contents was just a matter of creating a table based on the styles
assigned by the macro.

It took a couple days to write, test and verify, but once all the pieces
were in place, the system seems to work fine, and we used it to produce
the phone book. While it's not the most elegant thing I've ever done in
my life, it does work and shouldn't be a maintenance nightmare. I hope
this experience helps you with a similar problem.

Again, thanks to all those who offered help.


Doug Engstrom "No one gets to miss the storm
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com of What Will Be, just holding on
for the ride...."
-- The Indigo Girls

Similarity between my expressed opinions and those of Pioneer Hi-Bred
International is completely coincidental.

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