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Rulers and Styles - III

The top level in the formatting hierarchy is User-Defined Styles. In Nisus, the term Style in this context does not refer to paragraph formatting per se. It may involve character font, character size, character styling, or paragraph formatting by way of a ruler name - or any combination of these. (You will notice that paragraph formatting, as we have been discussing it so far, has not involved character features in any way. Pasting a named ruler, for example, will do nothing to the font, size, or style of any characters in the document.) This is the level on which you really want to operate, because it is the most global and convenient. Any change made to any part of the definition of a User-Defined Style is instantly reflected in all text to which that Style is attached; and you make your changes quickly and easily in a dialog box. Nisus is incredibly intelligent about remembering why text looks the way it does; you can cancel the effect of a User-Defined Style upon text, just by selecting the text and choosing the Style from the Style menu (whereupon it unchecks in the menu); and when you do, characteristics of the text that are imposed by that Style are removed - but characteristics of the text that are imposed by other Styles applying to it, or that were imposed manually (by choosing Italic from the menu, for example), are not removed.

The price of this power, though, is that User-Defined Styles work in a tricky way. The options available to the user when defining a Style include Named Ruler, font, size, color, and character styling. Now, if a User-Defined Style does not include a ruler name, then when you choose it from the Style menu it applies to the character formatting just of any selected material, or to the insertion point and any subsequent typing. But if it does include a ruler name, then, when you choose it from the Style menu, no matter how much text is selected, the ENTIRE paragraph containing the insertion point will take on the character formatting defined in the Style, - and the Named ruler in question will appear to the left of the paragraph. <more>

Well, you may disagree, but I find this more than a tad confusing. <more> However, let me get one thing perfectly clear: despite these confusing behaviours, I LOVE the way Nisus handles Rulers and Styles, and I think they put Word completely in the shade; Nisus gives you a power and convenience that Word just cannot match. <more>

A noteworthy aspect of Rulers and Styles is the way in which these are made transferable from one document to another. If several documents are open at once, the User-Defined Styles of all of them are available in the Style menu (those that are not in the frontmost document are marked with the name of the document they are in). If you select a User-Defined Style that is not in the frontmost document, it will be applied in the frontmost document, and it will also be transferred into that document. Thus a single action can change the character and paragraph formatting of a paragraph, and create a new Named ruler in your document, and define a new User-Defined Style in your document. Since you do this with only those Styles that you desire in your document, you have a method of making paragraph formatting and character styling match that of another document which is, I think, far better than that of Microsoft Word.

You can also create style and formatting libraries. A document called "Nisus New File" in the same folder as Nisus will contain all the formatting information for new files, so you can create styles in that document and then delete all the text, leaving just the styles to use later on in each new document you create. Or you can have the styles live in an ordinary file, since, remember, any window (including a macro file) that you open on the screen will have its styles available for use in any other document. <more>

Named rulers also provide a handy way of navigating your document. If you hold down the Shift key while selecting the name of a Named ruler from the pop-up menu at the top of the window, Nisus will find the next instance of that Named ruler for you. As you will doubtless assign a Named ruler (most likely by way of a Style) to every heading your document, for example, you can now quickly page through the sections of your work. (You can also find character styling or User-Defined Styles in Nisus; see below.)

Missing is any way to arrange Named rulers or Styles into a hierarchy, by defining one in terms of another, as Word does. If I change the principal font of my main paragraphs, I probably want that of my subordinate paragraph types to change to match it. In Word you can arrange to have this happen automatically; in Nisus the onus is on the user to select beforehand all paragraph types to which a change is to be made. (However, once you do this, changes made to a Named ruler or Style are of course reflected instantly throughout the document.)

A very important thing you cannot do from within a Style definition is to require that your paragraph be kept on the same page with the start of the following paragraph. There is thus no way, from within the Styles dialog, to ensure that a heading will not become isolated from the succeeding paragraph, appearing instead alone at the bottom of the page. (Indeed, this error occurs several times in the Nisus manual.) This is not to say that there is no way whatever to ensure that a paragraph will be kept with following material; but again, this is a place where Nisus's philosophy of what level a feature should dwell on might strike one as perverse. Under the Format Menu is an item, Keep On Same Page. I don't know why this is under the Format Menu; it does not in fact alter formatting; Keep On Same Page is in reality a style (I think of it as a pseudo-style), and what choosing it from the menu really does is to impose this style on your selected text. If you want to prevent material from being interrupted by a soft page break, you have to impose the Keep On Same Page pseudo-style upon the entire run of material yourself. What you would need to do in order to keep headings from being separated from their following paragraph, for example, is to write a macro which selects every heading and a couple of lines of whatever follows, and imposes the Keep On Same Page style onto them. In the same way, Nisus does not come with any automatic prevention of widows and orphans: it is possible that as you type, a single line from the start or end of a paragraph will wind up isolated on a page. To prevent widows and orphans in your printed document, you run a macro (included with Nisus): it selects the first two lines and the last two lines of every paragraph, and imposes the Keep On Same Page style.

You have to adjust your working method to accommodate this way of doing things, and you may find it just too inconvenient to do so. It is up to you to remember to run these macros relating to widows and orphans just before print time; and you dare not run them any sooner, either, for if you impose the Keep On Same Page style onto a run of text, and then find you need to make alterations to that text, your Keep On Same Page style will be incorrectly attached in the document - being a style, it is attached to specific text, and is moved or expanded or deleted with that text. Moreover, there is no way to render the presence of Keep On Same Page style visible on the screen, so it is easy to make an error in this regard (though admittedly you could make such text temporarily visible by writing a macro to select it - but this is only a workaround, not a real solution). A macro is included for simply removing all Keep On Same Page styling, and you certainly would need to run this, if you have previously run the Widows and Orphans macro, before making any changes to your document that might alter the first or last lines of any paragraphs, or else your widows and orphans will come out wrong; but this can hardly be termed a solution. What if some of your paragraphs or paragraph styles intentionally include Keep On Same Page formatting that you would rather not lose (such as a small columnar table that needs to be kept together)? The macro will undo that styling as well! <more>


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