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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Two Useful Websites for Online Writers

As a working professional writer, I find that I am increasingly writing and editing content for publication on the web. And that often means adapting content originally written for another medium.

A common scenario involves converting material originally written in Microsoft Word, either by me or someone else, into a 'web-friendly' format. That typically involves stripping out the special characters inserted by Word that make written documents look good but often don't reproduce properly online.

The classic example is Word's 'smart quotes'. If you try to reproduce these in website text, you simply get a string of nonsense characters where the quotation marks should be. Other characters that typically fail to display correctly include dashes and ellipses (...).

Going through a long document stripping out the Word special characters can be a real pain. However, I recently found a useful (and free) online tool that does 90% of the job for you. It's the Replace Smart Quotes tool on the Hochman Consultants website. You simply copy and paste your word document into their online form and click on the 'Remove Funky Punctuation' button. A version of the text with smart quotes turned to straight ones and dashes turned to hyphens then appears, ready for you to copy and paste into your chosen application.

The Replace Smart Quotes tool doesn't replace all of Word's special characters - ellipses are removed, for example, but not replaced by a single full stop, which would be my preferred solution. But I still find this tool a big time-saver, and you can't beat the price, clearly.

Another free online tool I find useful is this HTML Stripper from (which also offers a range of other free scripts/tools). It works in a similar way to the Replace Smart Quotes tool. You can paste any text with HTML into it, and the HTML characters will automatically be stripped out, leaving you with plain text.

I don't use the HTML Stripper as often as Replace Smart Quotes, but that's simply because stripping out HTML isn't a task I have to do so often. But when these occasions do come round, again, this application saves me an awful lot of time and effort.

Thanks very much to the developers of both of these free tools for making my working life a little easier. Both now have places of honour on my Favorites list!

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Blogger Athlyn Green said...

Hi Nick,
Thanks for the heads up on these two free tools.

Internet writing calls for additional skills and, as writers, we can use all the help we can get.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Athlyn. Glad you found this post useful.

8:53 PM  

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