The Macros Workshop

By Kathleen Davis

Before I attended the NCTA Workshop on Macros for Microsoft Word and Excel, I had studiously avoided using macros at all. I knew that they could be used for global changes in documents, but since I was not familiar with exactly how they worked, and because I had heard of computer viruses or worms that worked through macros, I had carefully set my security level to high in order to dis­able any macros. However, I soon became annoyed every time I attempted to open a Word document, as I had to click on three different macro-related pop-up windows, all of which reminded me that the macros were disabled.  

When the NCTA Macros Workshop was announced, I thought it would be a good chance to learn more about macros and what they were used for. With this knowledge, I would be more likely to use them. I could also set my security level to medium and thus avoid the “annoying three”—those little macro-related pop-up windows.

From Basic to Expert

The workshop was held on Saturday, April 29th at the Mechanics’ Institute in San Francisco and was presented by two very knowledgeable people, Karl Pfeiffer and Wassim Nassif. The presentation was given in two parts, each section being addressed by one of the two speakers. In the first part, Karl concentrated on general aspects of macros, such as definitions, the history of macros, and examples of how they can be used. In the second part of the program, Wassim gave some detailed examples of using macros to make life easier for the translator and to accomplish tasks faster.

Macros are based on BASIC (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), a family of high-level programming languages. Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is a set of event-driven programming languages that utilize macros to automate repetitive processes. The latest version of VBA, which is 6.3, and VBE (Visual Basic Editor) are normally run with host applications such as Word and Excel. VBA macros can be used to prepare glossaries for multiterm import, for repetitive formatting, automate frequently used sequences, and much more.

Macros and CAT tools

Macros can also be used to prepare a Translation Memory Workbench (TMW) export for selective editing. An example of this would be distinguishing between source and target segments to selectively check and update spelling in either the source or target segment. A macro could also be used to clean up a list of terms with multiple identical entries, without having to delete the identical entries one by one. The list could be sorted and the extraneous entries easily eliminated. The interface between VBE and the Microsoft applications is through the Tools tab on the toolbar, leading to Macro and then to Visual Basic Editor (VBE).

The most important example presented by Wassim, in my opinion, was that of counting words in an Excel file. I don’t know how many times this use of a macro would have been helpful to me, if only I had known about it. A macro can be written to sum up the words in a cell and then, applied to a range of cells, to sum up the words on an Excel sheet. This definitely saves time, energy, and eyesight; using a macro for an Excel word count will prevent having to laboriously count words by hand. Never again, thanks to Wassim and this seminar!

Although some in the audience found the information presented in this seminar a little too complex, as I heard at the mid-point break, I felt that the basic concept presented for macro design was useful and fairly easy to understand. The presenters were well prepared and in command of their topic; the essence of their presentation (in 66 pages) is available at This handout (actually, I should say, a handbook) gives several case studies, which were also presented in the workshop, as well as VBA concepts and terminology (as applied to both Word and Excel), and a short history of BASIC and Visual Basic.

As in the workshop presentation, the handbook provides examples of problems that macros can solve for you, including setting up a tab-delineated bilingual glossary and its conversion, as well as cleaning up a list with multiple identical entries. Other possible time-saving uses for macros are multiterm find-and-replace operations, more accurate word counts in PowerPoint and other Microsoft applications, and automatic calculation and customization of rates charged based on these word counts. In all, the NCTA Macros Workshop was well worth the afternoon and certainly opened my eyes as to the many benefits of macros.


For further information on how macros operate and what they can do for you as a translator, try the following URL references, which provide more information than could be squeezed into the half-day seminar:

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