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Automatic document creation. How?

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I see two problems here: first of all, all the described solutions could more or less do what you want. If you knew any of them, that would be exactly the easiest solution. It is rather difficult to say which of them would be easiest when starting from scratch...

The other problem is that the requirements must be specified very precisely. Typography is more than "stuff with fonts". If one program is better than another with "typography" (which might not be the best way to put it, but let's leave it at that), it means that the final result looks or "prints" better - that is, you have more control over the placement of the elements, text and graphics are properly aligned (and tenths of milimeters count here!), justification is both precise and flexible, etc. I have laid out scientific books in Word and did a decent job with it, but any professional could tell that the tool used could be better.

This is important, as my preferred solution i.e. Word mail merge tools, could work well enough for you, but the printed output could be unacceptable for other people involved (this might also be an issue with Access).

Why Word mail merge? Because it is dead simple. You could start with a simple template and a table of elements and build it up to direct Access access (sorry :) ) and macro-managed scenarios. I will not go into details, I think the help is accessible enough as it is - basically you set up one document with text placeholders and conditional fields and then feed it with another document, database, text file, etc. (By the way, Indesign also has a similar function - data merge Maybe you should take a look at that first?)

Access seems to be very well suited for this as well. However, as I do not know it thoroughly, it would not be my first choice.

Finally, I would not dismiss xml - this is exactly the stuff was invented for. There are myriad solutions for going from database to xml and from xml to finely printed documents, you don't have to go fully DTD and xsl to do that any more (but you can).

JohnFredC, thanks for explaining, it's really helping.  I need to hear your thoughts on this because most people who talk about access don't really use access.  you do, and that's why i need to hear more from you.  The people I've spoken to TRAIN access users, but don't necessarily use it themselves.  Others KNOW about how Access works, so they say what it can do, what I SHOULD be able to accomplish, but they don't really use it, so I can tell that some of my questions will remain unanswered.

FYI, our product is PRINT ONLY.  I think our information is simple and consistent enough where an access database can be used to hold everything pretty easily.  There are only 4 elements from what I can see, so it would just mean a few tables, some relationships, and that's about it.

I'm also pretty sure it wouldn't be too difficult to make a report that can output the format of the book as it is right now.  The part that's going to be hard (I think) is the fine-tuning and twiddling around the elements to make them look perfect.  I'm afraid there will be a few parts of the book where I'm going to want to manually move this diagram or question a little to the left or something, and I don't know how that kind of fine-tuning will work within the Access workflow.  Can you advise on that?

Jabberwock, I am also currently looking into some nifty xml solutions.  I like xml, and wouldn't mind using it at all, if it proved convenient.  I'm reading a little bit right now about xml and Indesign and what I can do with that.

And as for typography, I still don't really understand what that means exactly.  What does indesign offer me as far as typography that Access doesn't in a report?  Are the fonts, letters, paragraphs going to look better in indesign?  or does it refer to the ability to move things around and place them exactly where you want?  i really don't have a good handle on this.

I'm afraid there will be a few parts of the book where I'm going to want to manually move this diagram or question a little to the left or something, and I don't know how that kind of fine-tuning will work within the Access workflow.  Can you advise on that?
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I noticed in the online page-flipper that your diagrams and answers sometimes nearly overlap or perhaps might get in each other's way.  A couple of approaches would be:

1. Standardize the layout of each question/answer/diagram group so that overlap never happens.  This might cause an issue with larger diagrams, or may not be space efficient, but is definitely the easiest solution.

2. In Access, each band in a report can have VBA event code behind it.  Put some "OnFormat" or "OnPrint" VBA code behind the record (the report "band") on the report itself to move/resize the diagram under certain circumstances you define.  For instance, a question will be a tuple (ahem, record) of a query that joins fields from several different tables: Questions, QuestionTexts, QuestionAnswers, QuestionDiagrams, etc.  If you have created a boolean field in the QuestionDiagrams table called [MoveMeImTooBig], then you can have the question record inspect that field during the printing and act to reposition or resize the diagram (or the question text or the answer radio controls group or whatever) anywhere on the report surface based on the value stored there for the diagram (or even something that occurred in the previous record when it printed).  

What does indesign offer me as far as typography that Access doesn't in a report?  Are the fonts, letters, paragraphs going to look better in indesign?
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If your concern extends to adjusting the kerning between letters or point by point adjustment of line spacing, then Access cannot do that.  A critical publisher of art books might find the Access output a bit coarse due to its inability to adjust kerning and line spacing increments.  I'm betting your customers won't notice any difference.

or does it refer to the ability to move things around and place them exactly where you want?

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VBA code in an Access report band can do that based on criteria it finds in the tables you design.

Do this:  open Access, start an empty database, use the automatic wizards to generate one of the built-in table structures, a query based on that table, a form based on that table, and a report based on the query.  Then open each object into design mode, display the properties window, click on various controls/elements, and browse through the properties supported, including the events.  If that doesn't get your creative juices flowing...

Thanks JohnFredC, I will start playing around with that.  Yes, i am not so concerned about kerning, character spacing, etc. right now, but I *may* be.  Is there really no way to adjust those properties in the text?  Even with all those options I see?

I spent 15 years of my professional life making my entire living as an independent Access developer so please bear with me.

No offense intended to anyone here, but those who poo-poo Access probably haven't used it professionally. -JohnFredC (June 13, 2011, 07:02 AM)
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Heh.  I've used it more than I'd wish professionally, and I can say that a good 40%+ of my time (and I'm being generous) was spent getting around limitations of it, whether with pure access development, or using access as a back end.  While it's true that some of my distaste is rooted in ODBC, Access can IMO be very easily misused.  That's not to say that with help it couldn't be a platform for the project presented here, but IME, outside of small-scale data entry projects, you quickly run up against it's limitations.  I've always thought this was the reason that MS has been marginalizing it as of late- because with misuse, it becomes a PR nightmare.


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