• United States

The miracle of the apostrophes

Jan 05, 20064 mins

* A document here may not look like the same document there

One of the six fundamental attributes of information that we protect is integrity, one aspect of which is consistency with the originally stored data. When someone goes to the trouble of producing an elegantly formatted memorandum or other document and sends it out to recipients, everyone would like to preserve data integrity by seeing the same appearance on all the systems sharing that document.

Unfortunately, sending formatted messages as e-mail messages (as distinct from attachments) does not guarantee preservation of the exact appearance of the source material.

Attractive, well-formatted e-mail messages with boldface, italics, different point sizes and the like usually get transmitted as HTML to recipients’ mailboxes, where most people’s e-mail clients (Eudora, Netscape, Outlook and so on) allow the funny-looking code to be reconstituted into something similar to the original.

I say “similar” rather than “exactly like” because HTML does not necessarily control the final appearance of text on a recipient’s system. The codes refer to types, not exact matches, of fonts; thus a sender might want to use, say, 24-point Arial as a Heading 1 display but a particular recipient might have defined Heading 1 as, say, Times Roman 14 point. A two-page original document may appear to be a three-page document to one recipient and a one-page document to another recipient.

More significantly, though, many people turn off HTML e-mail for security reasons. All such formatted e-mail gets converted automatically into plain ASCII text. The fragment of message below (demarcated by the > and

>Note: The on-line course evaluation system may be used from room, lab and home ? anywhere Internet access is available.

Overview: . . . . Failure to complete a course evaluation will result in a ?hold? being placed on the student?s final grades.

When this message was auto-converted to ASCII, the apostrophes turned into question marks — probably because the writer was using “curly” characters instead of the straight ones in your word-processing package or e-mail editor. If you care to prevent this peculiarity (if you’re using Word), turn off the option in the [TOOLS | AUTOCORRECT | AutoFormat As You Type] screen: uncheck the box labeled [“Straight quotes” with “smart quotes”].

In addition, it looks like a dash character may have been in the text in the first line. You can turn that conversion off in the same menu by unchecking [Hyphens (–) with dash…].

Some people try to send files that should look the same on a recipient system and the originating system by attaching word processing documents; e.g., Word DOC files, WordPerfect WPD files, or Rich Text Format (RTF) files (and so on). Unfortunately, even these attempts don’t necessarily work as planned, since lack of shared fonts, different default paper sizes (different countries may use different sizes) and different printing margins (resulting from installation of different printers) may cause the documents not to look precisely the same on all systems.

So if the exact appearance of a message you are sending via e-mail is critically important to you, you can send the content _and_ its format in a way that is (largely) platform independent: Acrobat PDF files. Although even they don’t necessarily result in perfect rendition of the author’s intentions across systems, PDF files are far more likely to succeed than the other methods mentioned above. You can create PDF files in a number of ways; some systems have Adobe Acrobat installed so that you can either “print” to an Acrobat driver to create the PDF files or even just click a toolbar button to do so from within your word processor. Other packages exist that are less expensive (and generally less feature-rich) than the full Adobe Acrobat software but nonetheless allow users to create PDF files easily. Type “create PDF” into a Web search engine to find lots of choices.