Hide and Go Seek with Writer Content
Why would you want to hide content in an OpenOffice.org Writer document? The most common reason is to maintain two similar versions of a document within the same file. For instance, if you are a teacher preparing an exam, you might want to use the same file to print a version of the exam to distribute to students, and another one, complete with answers, to give to markers. If necessary, you can view the complete document on the screen, but when printing or sharing files, you can hide or reveal content depending on what you want each audience to see. By using Writer's hide functions, you no longer need to worry about multiple versions of a document remaining in sync.
Another reason to hide content is if you are commenting heavily on a document, either as a collaborator or an editor. As many people have found, a note is inconvenient to use in Writer, because you have to click on a small, often hard-to-see field to read it. Rather than using a note, you might prefer to use hidden content instead.
Whatever your reason for using hidden content, you have three possible methods: using fields, sections or styles. The features of each of these methods overlap, but each has pros and cons that you'll need to know so you're not hopelessly frustrated as you hunt for the content you've hidden and set up the file for each audience.
Until version 2.0, fields were the most versatile way to hide content. From Insert→Fields→Other Functions, you can choose Hidden text to conceal less than a paragraph and Hidden Paragraph to hide a complete paragraph.
Setting up either type of field is relatively easy. In both cases, the content is revealed by setting the condition in the field's dialog box to 0, and the content is hidden by changing the field to 1. If you want to hide the field more deeply, you can set the condition using Boolean logic and the properties defined in Files→Properties→Description or the user listed in Tools→OpenOffice.org. For example, if the title listed in Files→Property is Introduction, you can set the condition for a field or section to TITLE EQ Introduction. By changing or removing the title before you distribute the document, you can be reasonably sure that nobody else will ever read your hidden text or paragraph.
However, in other ways, both fields are awkward to use. For one, despite the names, the two types of fields function differently. Using hidden text, you either highlight the text you want in the field or type it in the dialog box. By contrast, a hidden paragraph field is a marker you can place anywhere in a paragraph. In addition, as you use either one, you need to know that Writer can be set to display either type of field, regardless of the conditions set if you select Fields: hidden text or Fields: hidden paragraphs in Tools→Options→OpenOffice.org Writer→Formatting Aids. You'll want to remember the formatting aids option if the fields don't seem to be working, and possibly to turn them on and off while you are setting up the fields. But, unless you're using both types of fields regularly, all these quirks can be frustrating.
Each of these fields also has its own limitations. To use hidden text fields successfully, remember to put the spaces on one side of the hidden text so that the rest of the paragraph is set out correctly when the field is hidden. Moreover, as should be obvious from the name, hidden text does not work properly when the field extends over the end of a paragraph. Nor are hidden text fields the easiest to find and edit when fields are set to display in the default gray--although, once you find one, you can use the Previous and Next arrows in the dialog to move among them. Hidden paragraph fields are just as awkward to edit, requiring that you turn on the formatting aid option to view them.
But perhaps the worst feature of both is that managing a large number of them is almost impossible. Neither hidden text nor hidden paragraphs can be arranged in groups, such as text that you want to activate only in the teacher's copy of an exam. Instead, each must be managed separately. This limitation makes either type of field impractical for any wide-scale use.
My advice is to avoid using either type of field for hiding text. You should know that these options are available, because they might be used by others, or in older documents, but, if you are using version 2.0 or higher, consider them deprecated features. If you are using Writer in a business setting with sophisticated users, you also should discourage their use in the office style guide. With later versions of OpenOffice.org, you can get the same functionality in other features with fewer difficulties.
-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)
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