Best approach for complicated-ish tables

Participant ,
Dec 02, 2019 Dec 02, 2019

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I'm in the process of moving our old (Word/Excel) manuals to (unstructured) FrameMaker. I have the latest version of FM, downloaded a couple of weeks ago.

 

The old manuals include a lot of tables that have multiple columns with various levels of headers; here's an example. I started trying to create a similar table style in FrameMaker and gave up after a few minutes. I'm thinking it may be better to simply import the Excel tables into FrameMaker.

 

If I do this ...

 

The tables are stored in files all over the place, so I will need to collect them into a single, easily accessible area. I originally thought I would put them into a single Excel file, maybe with each table in a different worksheet. When I try to import from FrameMaker, however, I can't specify which worksheet I want to use. (Or can I? I haven't been able to find anything on this.)

 

The other option I thought of is to save each table into a different Excel file, though this would mean over 100 different Excel files with various sizes of tables (some very small).

 

I'm primarily looking for suggestions and feedback:

 

  • Is there a way to create a table in FrameMaker similar to the one I linked above? Would this be recommended? To me, and I guess I am answering my own question for the moment, it doesn't make sense to create a table style since the tables, while similar to the linked one, have varying numbers of columns and "column sections."
  • If I import individual tables from a single Excel file, is it possible to specify which worksheet within the file to import?
  • If I import individual tables from Excel, would the best approach be to just save each table in a separate Excel file?

 

I hope these questions make sense! I was just starting to feel like I was getting the hang of FrameMaker, and now this. 🙂

 

Thanks!

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Dec 02, 2019 Dec 02, 2019

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Unfortunately, FrameMaker does not handle Excel import as well as InDesign does. As far as I know, you can't specify a worksheet or a range to import. As far as table formats and based on your sample, you will have some things that will have to be done with custom ruling and shading. I would create a "base" format or two that will give you the basics of what you want, and then you will have to apply custom ruling and shading overrides to get specific formatting. FrameMaker doesn't have Cell Styles like InDesign does, so you are limited on automating custom formatting.

 

Note that if some of the custom ruling (for example, the bold rules in your example) is driven by content, you may be able to use ExtendScript to automate the application of custom ruling and shading. Please let me know if you want to explore this.

 

As far as getting the content from Excel into FrameMaker, it may be possible to automate this as well. Before FrameMaker 10 and the addition of ExtendScript to FrameMaker, I used FrameScript to automate Excel to FrameMaker workflows. FrameScript has a built-in EActiveXObject object that allows you to read (and write) data from spreadsheets, including the ability to access different worksheets within the spreadsheet. FrameScript is reasonable priced and if you have a lot of Excel data to work with, it may be worth looking at.

 

 

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Dec 02, 2019 Dec 02, 2019

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I don't have the tool anymore (left the employer) but the inhouse tech support there created a perl script that extracted the XML part of the Excel file out and then created individual XML files for each, so I know it's doable. If you expect to maintain these tables in Excel, you might want to see if you can find someone to do that for you. (ETA: The XML can then be imported into even Unstructured Frame, but individually; I don't think you need an EDD/DTD to do this, but I am not XML/Frame savvy. You might.)

 

Otherwise, there's always the BFME method:

 

  1. Copy (correction) all of the Excel tables into a Word file. Make sure there's at least two paragraph returns between each table (this keeps the anchors from overlapping when the file is imported into Frame).
  2. Use import by copying to get the Word file into a blank Frame file that has your tags set up, including a table style that has your preferred ruling and heading shading (if any). (I do this to prevent weird Word styles showing up in my working documents.) Frame will let you map Word styles to Frame styles so a lot of clean-up is pre-done for you.
  3. Apply the preferred table tag to all the tables.
  4. Use Rick's TableCleaner utility (cheap and worth far more than its cost) to do things like converting body rows into heading rows and removing custom ruling and shading.
  5. Go to each table and straddle cells so that your column headings look like they should. Straddling is like Word Merge Cells. Rick's TableCleaner utility will let you choose cells in multiple rows/columns and straddle only the rows or only the columns, which speeds things considerably.
  6. Once you're happy with the tables, copy and paste each into your Frame documents. 

 

Suggestions:

  • If you have a bunch that have the same layout (same number of columns, same number of heading rows), separate them into separate docs. You can then adjust column widths in one table and then use Rick's utility to copy those widths into all the rest of the tables in the document. You can also use Rick's utility to bulk convert the first row/two rows/etc. from body to heading, which saves time.
  • If you have different look/feels for some tables (different colors, and the like), separate those out, too. That'll let you do a Ctrl-A and then apply the table format to all the tables in the document at once instead of having to check each one for the style needed.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Dec 04, 2019 Dec 04, 2019

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Hi Ennar: You have already received excellent technical answers to your questions, so I'm just going to add something you might want to consider.

 

Many of my intro students come to class focused on learning how to recreate the exact same layout in FrameMaker that they used in Word. I try to encourage them to use the transition to reflect on the layout and use FrameMaker's strengths to improve the layout. If you can design the tables solely using a table style created in Table Designer, and avoid Custom Ruling and Shading altogether, you will save a tremendous amount of time formatting the tables, and more time when someone recommends that you update the formatting later. 

 

~Barb 

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