Enhancing learning by the use of the computer

A complement to the student’s companion

By M. Melcher
Translated from German by S. Hinrichs

About this text

This text was written to complement such guides as "Leichter studieren" (M. Burchardt, Berlin, 2000) by illuminating certain aspects of using personal computers, in particular the visualising representation of connections. I have to admit though that it was not inspired by the experience of my own (scientific) studies – at that time computer monitors were not equipped with all graphical refinements – but rather arose later on, while drawing up diagrams regarding not only scientific, but all kinds of interesting subjects at work or at home.

Even in those days similar visualisations at times yielded fruitful diagrams though, done on big waste sheets of heavy, expensive and most important “rubber proof” computer paper. Precisely the then negative experience of struggling endlessly through the jigsaw-like fragments of a "bottom-up"-method, until the bigger picture could be seen, strengthened my belief that visualisation and "top-down" are of major importance at a very early point.

This text advises a certain computer-assisted technique of visualisation and related IT methods, but in ideal circumstances habituating to this method also helps when working with pen and paper. I hope you will benefit and have lots of fun!


The significance, which IT has for brain-work is often misjudged. While many think, it could be used for little more than saving and transporting thoughts, others hope it might make thinking easier und to great extent unnecessary. However the many and diverse possibilities in between – possibilities for sorting, associating and linking or visualising connections by simply arranging and re-arranging things – are often missed.

In the following discussion I will show some practical methods using the possibilities of IT for improved learning and thinking, making it an instrument of thought.

1. Visualisation

Many people’s brains work visually. For them it is easier to understand and memorize connections, if those are illustrated by a conceptual diagram (chart), expressing closer or farther relationship of concepts or terms by closer or farther physical proximity, by shorter/longer, thicker/thinner lines or by other skilful grouping and arranging. Of course one could and still can paint such charts on paper, but one would have to do the picture over and over again, until the conceptual relationships are represented clearly and the connections are adequately understood.

The computer allows us to move the terms about with the mouse (e.g. in text boxes) so that the relationships (taking the form of connecting lines) are sticking to the terms, no matter how often the diagram is re-arranged. Such fixed connectors have been known at least since Powerpoint97, but the potential of this instrument of thought is not yet very popular, although one should positively go into raptures about it:

The most important part of the brain, the semantic declarative memory, which is mostly seen as a web of associations and linkages (semantic web) nowadays, can thus be depicted as a kind of map (one really speaks of mind “mapping”) in such a way that the restrictions of the one-dimensional funnel of language can be overcome and the most important sort of knowledge, the so called orienting knowledge, becomes available almost like geographical orientation does, including all the potentials of zooming either on the details or on the “backbone” of knowledge (as it were the trunk road network) by changing the scale of the map!

Like R. Horn puts it: "The alphabet is a funnel. Visual language transcends the constraining effects of the alphabet."

Klicken zum Vergrößern

The above illustration shows the lection titles from the book "Leichter studieren …" arranged as a web.

1.1. Procedure

With Microsoft PowerPoint XP the procedure is the following (I guess OpenOffice is similar):

Start > All Programs > Microsoft PowerPoint > BlankPresentation > (Blank Layout) > (Close the task pane by clicking the X beside SlideLayout to have more space) > (close the left pane Slides/Outlines by clicking X there).

1.1.1. Text boxes and connectors

Draw connecting lines by:

If you want to move one of the text boxes afterwards, you do not need to look after the connectors (at least in most cases, see below).

You only need to care about these lines, if you think a different connection point more suitable, because the line otherwise crosses the text or does not look neat.

1.1.2. Making room

If the picture gets packed and/or messy, do the following to make room and enhance clarity:

If there is still not enough space available, think about reducing the font-size. Start by reducing the size of the existing text boxes by

Now change the size of the future text fields of your presentation:

1.1.3. Some minor problems

Getting used to curved connectors may take a little while, for they can be fixed on all four sides of a text box, but only in a right angle. Therefore they sometimes take weird arches, which can to some extent be shaped using the yellow rhombic resizing handles, but these changes will only last, until you move the text box again. So my advice is to just give in.

In more recent versions of PowerPoint green dots do not only appear, if a connection has failed (see above), but also mark a pin-like grip for rotating objects. Just do not let yourself be confused by this instrument, even if it partly covers one of your lines.

In the case of encapsulated objects, e. g. text boxes inside additional frames, fixing the connectors can sometimes prove a little difficult, because the connecting points of the outer, bigger object will kind of push themselves on you. Avoid this problem by bringing the inner object to the front (Draw > Order > Bring to front). If this does not work either, cutting out the outer object temporarily (Edit > Cut) and re-inserting it after you have created the planned connection (Edit > Paste) helps.

After bundling a group for making room, the ends of the connectors sometimes are no longer neatly fixed to the outlines of the objects, but penetrate them. Mark the object (e. g. the text box) and simply move it up and down once by pressing the “cursor up”-key followed by the “cursor down”-key: the connection will be shown in the right way afterwards.

1.2. Possible styles of working

Different kinds of visualising charts serve many different purposes: convincing, explaining and memorizing, reminding and orienting or simply structuring thoughts. Some charts have to be very plain, not exceeding 7 chunks (see notes on arranging and labelling). Those charts are rather intended for others (e. g. for a seminar) than for oneself or rather as a quick reference than for learning by arranging.

1.2.1. Complexity

In the following I will discuss the latter, i. e. diagrams drawn up to structure one's own knowledge base, which may be complex and use all available features of EDP. In extreme cases a graph like this can resemble a pattern chart for sewing, containing too many lines to grasp at a single glance. They will rather be used as a main model, out of which single aspects are copied, or as a kind of road map that can be enlarged by zooming or generalising (simplification of details). Those charts tend to be quite unwieldy even if they are computer generated, but on the other hand only IT makes their construction and use practicable.

1.2.2. Handwriting

The greatest advantage apart from computer-assisted processing and searching is the following fact: The readability of very small printed computer fonts is still higher than that of small handwriting, so you can fit much more information on a comparable page. This is also of relevance, if you revise your computer-assisted structures on paper: Once there are too many hand-written remarks, you can key them in, print the resulting new graph and do further editing by hand. Besides that, cryptic abbreviations resulting from laziness in typing are better readable in computer fonts than those slovenly written by hand.

1.2.3. Cognitive effects

Not just the completed chart is of use in learning, but also and above all the process of arranging it. Once you are quite familiar with the most common features of your software and able to do the necessary moves without thinking, you can concentrate on the contents of the chart. Even if the single steps seem at first to be a vain extra burden, constructing the picture will result in a growing familiarity with the depicted terms and concepts.

Merely the need for shortening your labels (see Titles) often involves a rewarding processing of the concepts you want to grasp.

While the mouse operations done in moving text boxes sometimes seem to be annoyingly time taking, they really promote the memorization of the terms and concepts contained, because the principle of direct manipulation (see below), incorporated in all modern graphical user interfaces lets you actually touch the concepts.

Once you are familiar with the tools of your software and therefore able to use them transparently, simple clearance work, like re-arranging the connector ends after moving a text box or aligning or distributing for aesthetic reasons, serves as exercise in concentration and relaxation.

Searching for a possible structure for your diagram, which was not apparent in the original text or texts, will force you to give your material some extra thoughts. This different approach can stipulate new motivation for the examination of otherwise boring subjects.

A certain aesthetic is one of the general aims of graphic representation. A clear and elegant graph points to the fact that the context has been well understood and processed. Just move the objects about, until for example as little as possible connectors intersect. Do not despair, if you realise that a complicated subject can by no means be represented more clearly: This is at least one insight into the field concerned.

1.2.4. Direct manipulation

Within modern user interfaces all objects are visually represented and can be directly manipulated by physical actions (e. g. moving, connecting or creating shortcut links or moving to the recycle bin). This principle is also useful in the visualisation and administration of thoughts and information. You should give this perspective a try and imagine yourself actually “holding” the contained term or concept, when you pick up a text box with your mouse. According to this idea, every relevant bit of information must be turned into one of these representations; it is moved about, passed on to preliminary or lasting drawers, contexts or addressees, linked to other pieces of information, but normally never lost, because deletion without replacement is the big exception.

Administering thoughts this way requires an individual technique of notation (see there), but with the help of the computer it gets a lot more comfortable and flexible, because easier revisable. It is no problem for example to mark a connection you just realized by a broken line between the two terms, which may cross over the whole slide if necessary and at least reminds you of taking a closer look on the unspecified context later on. If you find your idea confirmed, you can then move the two text boxes closer together, resulting in a shorter and therefore less disruptive connector. One could also highlight a newly discovered correspondence of terms by changing their outlines (click the “line color” symbol) and specify the created categories or reform them by shifting the objects afterwards. If you can not immediately decide, where a piece of information belongs, you can easily open a new slide for intermediate storage, which will become superfluous as soon as you re-organise your diagram.

Working with index-card boxes (a method especially popular in the arts faculties and suitable for dealing with big amounts of rather interlinked than groupable micro-information) can be profoundly complemented by direct manipulation. The header of every single file-card can be incorporated into a web-structured graph as a kind of hilt on the actual card. This way the terms can be moved about without taking too much room in the diagram, but still carrying the attached context.

The new Microsoft Office program OneNote uses the idea of little yellow post-its that can be moved around on the screen, but lacks attached connectors.

1.3. Practical advice

1.3.1. Structure

One of the major means of structuring will be discussed in the next section (see 2. Hierarchical structures with cross references) along with its most common field of application: visualisation techniques for excerpts and transcriptions.

There are some general rules for arranging objects on the drawing area, which more seriously apply to charts made for others than for a graph intended for self-orienting, but should be considered, as long as new objects may still be freely distributed on the screen: The normal direction of reading – left to right – is usually employed in the pre-attentive processing of pictures, too; the best format for overview diagrams is landscape format; the observer’s eye scans the left margin from the top down; the left upper quadrant receives most attention. This does not necessarily mean that the starting point of every chart has to be in the left upper corner though; mind maps for example are always star-shaped around their centre.

It may be useful to use a colour range instead or in addition, extending from warm colours (red) to cold ones (blue), and/or with non-primary colours like green in between blue and yellow. Fill colours inside text boxes scarcely interfere with readability, if you create paler versions of colours: (click the triangle beside the symbol “fill colors”) > More Fill Colors... > Custom > (move the slider right beside the scale “brightness” far up).

Further structuring will now to great extent be grouping according to similarities. In the beginning, when the subject areas you are working on are not yet fully understood, you might start by “lumping together” all the ideas related to a new subject. The gradual differentiation within the resulting broad groups will be the subsequent concrete task, which might even stir your curiosity and give additional motivation while studying rather boring reading material.

Not only likenesses of objects/terms can be used in structuring, but also similar connections or links between objects; in which case those objects may possibly be presented as generic in the suitable ways (see section 1.3.5.).

In visualizing concepts in the context of schools of thought (or bibliographical references correspondingly) grouping according to the inner relations between these schools is of course most fruitful for your understanding, but holds some very special problems, too (see section 1.3.6.).

One very useful diagram for depicting a great variety of facts would be that of the marshalling yard: few incoming, few outgoing rails, but many in between. My favourite example is the German territorial history: incoming few duchies, outgoing few federal states, in the middle the whole variety of splitting up and reunifications of miniature principalities.

One common and useful way of presenting overview knowledge is that of parallel lines depicting certain mutually influencing developments, the interchange between which is illustrated by dotted arrows toing and froing between the main lines. This part corresponds with the centre of the above “marshalling yard” graph.

1.3.2. Titles

Titles and text boxes within a chart serve as a kind of handle for touching the represented contexts and directly manipulating them (see there) or function like a door-opener, which opens the access to the contents. While explaining charts, designed to introduce others, shall lead the observer towards the content concerned, the other kind of chart, orienting charts or "notes to yourself" are meant to activate information read or understood before, which means to find the passage back. That is why different criteria apply to the titles within such diagrams than for example to the chapter headings of a textbook you want to excerpt from. Those two objectives are grossly different; there is no use in trying to compromise.

Titles for recalling may be greatly shortened and do not have to stick to the processed texts literally. If the original heading contains two related terms, you may often choose the one, which seems to be more important, more typical or more general for your excerpt. If you have to find a new broader term yourself, you should consider contrasting it with others, which are excerpted literally, by bracketing it. Conversely, if most excerpt titles have been paraphrased, you can highlight the few literal ones by putting them in quotation marks, especially if the original wording is remarkable, peculiar or not yet understood. One sort of paraphrased titles are broader terms (see section 1.3.5.). Finding adequate titles is especially difficult when it comes to schools of thought or movements (see section 1.3.6.).

Of course the sometimes quite difficult task of shortening titles is not sufficiently justified by saving time in typing or higher readability alone. It is rather the simultaneous processing of the concepts and terms at hand, which makes it worth the effort. Our brain works on "chunks", i. e. little lumps of memory, and the harder you try to find a shortened representation of a concept, the stronger the process of chunking is supposedly promoted, even though or because it results in bigger linguistic poverty.

In order to more easily find the original passages it makes sense to incorporate the section numbering, page numbers or similar structuring elements of the cited text into the titles of the excerpt.

1.3.3. Arrows

If the relationship between two concepts consists in a chronological order or other kind of natural sequence, it is easy to choose the direction of the connecting arrow. If the arrow is to connect a term with an explanation, commentary or additional label in the shape of balloons, tooltips or other tags and legends, the arrow might point towards the pop-up element in accordance with the general aim of the chart being clarification. For orienting charts the opposite direction, away from the tooltip, is more suitable, which corresponds to the direction of the pointer and also the direction of cross references in dictionaries, the arrowhead being on the same side as the sharp end of legends or balloons.

Double arrows are the obvious means for the illustration of interactions, but if the latter are still unclear, you should use them with caution, because pseudo-charts often represent unspecified interactions as double arrows, leading the observer to suppose more understanding than the author really has. You might use a double arrow to distinguish indefinite connections of relationship, partiality, closeness or cooperation from a completely unspecified connection. In this case a dotted line might suggest a very loose connection. On the other hand a double arrow could also express opposition, contrary, rivalry or competition. Sometimes those arrows have different heads, which can easily be distinguished on paper, but unfortunately not on the screen, so consider an additional colour coding. To be honest, the notation of partners and opponents is a lot easier in handwriting, where lightning symbols rivalry and entwined rings stand for partnership.

1.3.4. Other symbols of notation

Unfortunately it is impossible to adopt the whole spectrum of notation symbols common in handwritten notes into graphic representation. You will at least need signs for

If time is tight, you can resort to temporary markings. Just change the type-colour to red for Question or To-Do or use bold type or italics. After the question has been answered or the task completed, just switch back to normal type. If you need a permanent marking, it may be worth the extra effort of adding or creating a unique AutoShape or Clipart. But now we have come to the point, where I will not make any recommendations: Tastes differ.

1.3.5. Generic terms

A node in a web comfortably depicts the generalization of a term, e. g. as a pile of text boxes one behind the other, partly covering each other with white fill colour. Manipulate them by Draw > Order > Bring forward/Send Backward and line them up by Draw > Align or Distribute > Distribute Horizontally/Vertically. The matching label might contain placeholders in italics (e. g. xxx in "department xxx") or may be a broader term of one’s own composition, to be contrasted with the literally excerpted ones by putting it in brackets.

1.3.6. Schools of thought

The most fruitful object of visualising would have to cause the greatest problems of course: It is the web of mutually influencing schools and movements, theories, groups - or (especially concerning collections of bibliographical references) fraternities and mutually quoting authors of anthologies.

First of all this web is an extreme example for the knowledge, lecturers and authors have in their heads as matter of course, but do not communicate through the funnel of language: It literally goes without saying, partly because a network like that is really difficult to put into linear sentences, partly because experts just fail to realize the necessity of explaining what they take for granted, but most of all because, out of a certain courtesy and reserve, it is not customary to clarify all the facts. They recoil from judging and filtering information on behalf of the learner to show him or her, which are the major roads on the map of the history of the scientific development and which are nothing but the opinions of weirdos. Last, but not least everybody thinks his works the hub of the universe.

If there are essentially just two leading schools of thought, learners tend to confuse them even more easily. This mental process, called inhibition, is the same in little children, who are confronted with the terms left and right to early and at the same time. Because the second term is introduced to them, before the first one is firmly established, they will almost inevitably hold out the “naughty” hand. In these cases it is hard to tell whether the influence of one intellectual movement caused a positive reception of its ideas or an opposing countermove.

Even borrowing a name for these schools and theories is difficult, because the more common name is usually rather empty, while the more accurate term carries biased connotations and has a slightly negative overtone.

Which practical consequence can be drawn from these difficulties in handling schools or movements of thought then? Simply take a great deal of care over this area; you will be rewarded with a high level of orientation.

2. Hierarchic structures with cross references

One possible and very common structure for visual summaries is the hierarchic order (tree structure), provided the latter suggests itself, like in the chapters and sections of a scientific text you want to excerpt.

As soon as the hierarchic structure does not fit properly anymore, if classification of reality gets problematic, you will find out, how different the ideals are and disintegrate into two apparently incompatible basic patterns: web versus tree. I will not explain in all detail, how evident this fundamental contradiction is in all the information systems and knowledge media. Just that much is to be said: In my opinion the matter is complicated by the great importance of taste and disposition. While some in doubt try to bend their classification system to catalogue the whole world, others praise the diversity of the web, the tree being nothing but a boring special case of which. They key in more and more new searchwords and as response get an increasing amount of data waste.

I simply advocate that you dig into the chaotic web-structure to excavate the skeleton of a hierarchic tree-structure, which can be complemented by cross references if necessary. Nowadays quality information can be gained only by filtering the stream of over-information, which also means to get rid of chaotic or dummy links and extract a clear hierarchy of important references.

The predominant operation in the transformation of a web into a tree with cross references would be shifting within an orienting chart.

There is a simple practical rule, which applies to this procedure:

  • Hierarchic connections are represented by AutoShapes > Connectors > Elbow Connector
  • Cross references are primarily symbolized by AutoShapes > Connectors > Curved Connector.

The below example once more shows the lection titles of the book "Leichter studieren …", this time after they were transformed from a web into a tree.

Klicken zum Vergrößern

Besides you can see, how the achieved clarity makes room for further details and notes.

2.1. Structuring the tree

After lumping many headwords together, i. e. collecting them in one corner of the graph, those terms have been grouped according to similarities or relations. Affinities of that kind can often be depicted hierarchically: e. g. “is a”-relation (hyponymy, i. e. broader term) or "is part of"-relation (partonymy). Members of a family, which are sharing the same properties, can be grouped under the prototype (a highly typical example) or more precisely a basic category; features (in componential analysis of meaning) can be summarized in different dimensions of characteristics and sometimes even be presented polyhierarchically. The more important or more central links within a network, the main roads or "backbone", can also be hierarchically related to the less important ones (regardless of whether the backbone itself is tree-shaped).

The graduate differentiation of the concepts you need to grasp gains new quality by grouping them in hierarchies. The additional concrete question, what to put into which category, makes you curiously read on and motivates (see also Turbotipp). These effects are not confined to the possible hierarchy among the newly learned terms, but also include their relation to the existing knowledge, the most important phase of "linking" information into one’s foreknowledge or knowledge tree. For example: If you realize that (right mouse button on My Computer) > Properties has the same end like Start > (Settings >) Control Panel > (Performance and Maintenance >) System, this does not just tell you, that two ways within the web lead to the same node, but you have found a short cut for a hierarchically longer, but safe way, which will strengthen the aha experience.

2.2. Excerpts and transcriptions

For an orienting chart or overview concerning a piece of literature or the contents of a lecture, intended for recalling the facts later on, the most natural structure for the diagram would be the original division of the author.

If this seems too boring to you or if the division the author or lecturer uses does not seem to be the most suitable to you, you can still put another structure beside it and draw cross references from one tree to the other. This method produces a type of chart very often applied: the “mapping” of one hierarchy into another. It helps overcoming most problems arising around a system of classification, which proves to be less than optimal. One simply maps it onto another, likewise imperfect, categorization. This procedure can be repeated with other hierarchies if necessary.

If you combine this technique with the so called fisheye perspective (i. e. enlarging closer objects and zooming away from the distant ones), you get that type of “view”, which often is needed for introductions or positionings of academic courses or (proposals for) research projects: Cross references link from one’s own work to the “state of the art” and to the spectrum of relevant neighbouring sciences, which are of course structured hierarchically, too; fringe areas are less elaborated than the own special area of interest.

Using the solid hierarchical skeleton of an essay or lecture as foundation offers a useful starting point for the incorporation of cross references.

This method does not only transport factual knowledge, but also familiarizes you with the “culture” of a field of knowledge. This is where the hypertext theorists tie on their hope for a more effective transfer of knowledge by means of hyper-linked resources like virtual libraries or hypertext disks, which “use linking to model the kinds of connections that expert in a particular field make." (Delany/Landow 1991, p. 23)

Using tree structures with cross references for excerpting has one more effect: It can stir your motivation and teaches you to skim through a text, which is indispensable for every student. If every branch of the tree chart, every section in the essay can be put:

you will know, that this question is on one hand sufficiently specific to stimulate curiosity and on the other hand clearly enough defined to find a satisfactory answer after shortly reading into the section or scanning the text for certain key words. This is, after all, how skimming and fast reading function.

2.3. Some practical advice

If your Elbow Connectors do not look neat, just mark all subordinate text boxes again and do: Draw > Align or Distribute > Align Left.

Elbow Connectors are more suitable for the enumeration of objects in a certain order than Straight or Curved Connectors.

Since you will have to use Elbow Connectors very often, you might want to have the symbol on your toolbar:

If you decide to use an Elbow Arrow Connector with arrow(s) afterwards, you can switch them on or off any time by clicking the symbol "Arrow style" (on the draw toolbar), or take the long hierarchic clickpath via AutoShape. Same applies to Curved Connectors.

When using plain Elbow Connectors attached to the underside of the superordinate term to illustrate the hierarchic relation, longer titles unfortunately cause a great waste of space. For that reason text boxes of higher hierarchic levels should be split into two or more lines if need be (just press the “enter” key to start with a new line).

By the way, once you got used to the possibility of cross-linking broader categories to others, you will find it extremely hard to do without this technique anywhere. In the filesystem of Windows links to folders appear as folders themselves. In Windows-Explorer they are not to be found in the (left) navigation pane though, but in the (right) folder window. These facts to some extent impair the perception of direct manipulation discussed above.




3. Data Bases

Without the very comfortable tool of cross references, working with hierarchies and classification systems may appear a rather intimidating task, since it is often hard to decide, whether a term or category should be grouped within this or that broader category. Now we are in the position though to easily relativize subordination by using cross-referring links ("see also"). One can quickly come up with provisional categories for the preliminary structuring of large amounts of terms.

If you are working with Microsoft Access (I guess the same applies to Works, but rather not to OpenOffice), after importing the terms you want to organize, you can simply insert an additional column e. g. "Cat" for the categorization and then type provisional shorthand symbols consisting of one or few letters into the datasheet view.

After completing a promising subset you can arrange a little query for sorting and perhaps another one for counting and identifying the biggest categories, which have to be further divided.

The titles once fitted into the data base can by means of a macro be imported into PowerPoint automatically (see section 3.3.), in order to use them for visualization (see section 1.).

3.1. Procedure

Start > Programs > Microsoft Access > Blank Database > (name or choose file) > (choose a folder, where to Save as: or accept the proposed one)

3.1.1. Importing

File > External Data > Import... > Find in: > (open the File Type selection by clicking the triangle on the right) > (scroll down to) > Text Files (*.txt, *.csv, *.tab, *.asc)

If you use the text import wizard, the advisable path is: Delimited > Next > Tab > Next > Creating New Table > Next > No Primary Key > Next > Finish

3.1.2. Inserting an additional column

(Data base window) > Tables > Design > Insert > Row > (enter field name, e. g. "Cat") > File > Save.

Choose the Datasheet View (if necessary to be found under View) to fully concentrate on content work, like for example typing category names into the column “Cat”.

3.1.3. Allocating categories

Use the mouse or simply the arrow-down key to mark a (record) row and enter shorthand symbols into the column "Cat" to name the categories. While typing you will see a little pencil on the left; as soon as you move on to the next row, this symbol will disappear and the content of the field is automatically saved. (Unlike in other applications File > Save is unnecessary or even annoyingly different in this case).

3.1.4. Sorting query

In the Datasheet View you will see them sorted by categories.

When closing the program, you will be asked whether you want to save your query. Starting a simple query from the beginning every time is somewhat easier than remembering the name.

3.1.5. Counting query

The procedure parallels the one of the sorting query up to the double-clicking of the field names. This time just

3.1.6. (Extension:) Adding category titles

Once you are no longer satisfied with the provisional shorthands you chose for your provisional categories, you may type a small translation table and incorporate it into the sorting query and/or counting query.



You may use a variation of this procedure to incorporate such an additional table or query into an existing query:

In the toolbar on top you find a button showing a yellow plus sign besides a table. Use it to choose further tables or queries > Add > Close.

3.1.7. (Extension:) Sorting categories by size

Similar to above section 3.1.6., where we added a small translation table to our query, you can also add the counting query from section 3.1.5.:

Again you should see two lists of field names in the upper area of the Design View, both of them containing the name of the category field e. g. "Cat". The list of field names of the counting query shows on the right, left besides it the other. The joint field "Cat" once more allows the joining of both queries.


If further sorting criteria are to be taken into account, you may have to rearrange the order of your columns: Start with the first sorting criteria on the left (e. g. "Count of Cat") and continue with the others to the right (e. g. "Cat") and you will get an alphabetical order according to "Cat", provided that the count is the same.

To move a column, you need to

If you do not succeed to move a column this way, there is another possibility for rearranging:

3.1.8. Minor Problems

If you want to slightly change or expand the content of a field, there is a little difficulty, which might make you reach for the mouse. From the ergonomic point of view this is really a nuisance, because everything else could be done with the keyboard. If you use the arrow and tab keys to navigate towards a field content, the latter will be marked completely. The usual procedure for moving the cursor to the end of the character string (using the arrow-right key) fails and takes you to the next field instead. You can use function key F2 to get to the end of the character string though. Now you may add text or start the desired change using the arrow keys or backspace.

If you get confused by too many existing query titles, try View > Details > double-click Modified in the data base window and use the date of the queries to remember the ones, which were interesting lately.

3.2. Practical Advice

If the alphabetical sorting of the category titles does not satisfy you, you might add an extra field to the translation table, which contains a numerical classification code, and use this code for numerical sorting instead. It is easier though to incorporate the code into the category title and make it "alphabetically" sortable, i. e. the codes of the same (or single) hierarchical level must have the same number of digits, e. g. 01 through 17.

You might use the classification code as shorthand for naming the category, but this is usually inadvisable, because compared to a preliminary shorthand the code is rather unwieldy as mnemonic.

3.3. Importing into PowerPoint

Start by making a temporary table containing exactly what you want to transfer into a PowerPoint slide. For example enter a certain category in the line  Criteria, deactivate the tick below Show, then Query > Make-table Query > Table name e. g. "tmp". It is advisable to keep the data base window open, when you start PowerPoint, in case you need more than one attempt, or if you want to make more than one temporary table for different slides.

In PowerPoint

Below you find the possible content of the macro (of course the dismembered long lines will not work unless you mend them).

Attribute VB_Name = "Modul1"
Sub textimport()
Set Db = OpenDatabase(Name:="c:\db1.mdb")
Set Rs = Db.OpenRecordset(Name:="tmp")
vizVpos = 0
vizHpos = 20
For I = 0 To Rs.RecordCount - 1
    If I = 16 Then
        vizHpos = vizHpos + 200
        vizVpos = 0
    End If
    vizVpos = vizVpos + 30
    vizText = Rs.Fields(0).Value
    ActiveWindow.Selection.SlideRange.Shapes.AddTextbox(msoTextOrientationHorizontal, vizHpos, vizVpos, 14.5, 36).Select
        ActiveWindow.Selection.ShapeRange.TextFrame.TextRange.Characters(Start:=1, Length:=0).Select
        ActiveWindow.Selection.ShapeRange.TextFrame.WordWrap = msoFalse
        With ActiveWindow.Selection.TextRange
            .Text = vizText
            With .Font
                .Size = 12
            End With
        End With
Next I
End Sub


Start simply by clicking the symbol "Play" on the toolbar, it resembles a little triangle-shaped arrow facing right like you find it on media players.

The content of the first column of the table should be imported; otherwise you would have to exchange the 0 in Rs.Fields(0) for a higher number (1 for column 2, etc.). I hope you will not be too disturbed by the fact that the macro will at first write beyond the margin.

If you are using the PowerPoint file somewhere else, you should remove the macro at some point (click > File > Remove Module in the project window), otherwise there might be problems regarding the trustworthiness of such an unsigned macro.


(Chapter 4 not translated)