Developing? Start with Plain text

Starting development with plain text
There are so many times that I have been preparing learning objects destined for online courses and have muttered to myself, “You did it again”! I find myself keying in content that I know I have already typed in the past. Repetition of tasks is frustrating, but many of my peers agree that from term to term we fall into this trap because we feel there is not enough time to organize our files due to instructional schedules and additional responsibilities associated with teaching. Developing learning materials, while important, takes a backseat to assessing, instructing, meetings, administrative duties and fencing with various technologies across the institution.

As a teacher-developer, being efficient means producing requisite activities and more time for core tasks. One way to be a more efficient teacher-developer is to get into the habit of stripping text of all formatting before inserting it into learning objects. Starting with plain text make sense because developers can insert it into digital development tools such as H5P, Quizlet, Moodle and Captivate to name a few. Once the text is in the tool, it can be positioned into appropriate functional positions and then formatting can be added.

Benefits of using plain text
Beyond transference efficiency, the benefits of using unformatted text while developing online learning objects include the following. If you have any additional ideas or experiences, please feel welcome to share in the comments area below.

Once the digital information is converted to plain text, it should be saved as a separate document, ready to be used in the future for another purpose. Normally, this occurs in close chronological proximity as the development of a module, unit or course can use the same information in different andragogical formats such as an interactive vocabulary activity, a digital presentation, a word search, a crossword, a comprehension quiz, an interactive video, a drag and drop activity an audio transcript accompanying a media presentation. The repurposing of text content is the biggest benefit when developing with plain text in mind. If the text is always drawn from a common file so much inauthentic labour can be realized. Too many times, I have found myself inputting the same data into different authoring tools. I am sure that some of you will agree.

Developing with plain text promotes good organization and archiving practices as taking intentional steps to strip text of formatting demonstrates an awareness of good development practices.

Working with plain text is essential if text is being copied from internet pages, blogs or wikis. Using plain text removes hidden tags from the text. These can be an issue if imported into a word processor or an authoring tool as formatting from the original source includes links to images or color references may arrive with the text, which makes editing a frustrating experience.

When dealing with structures such as columns, tables and templates it is necessary to strip formatting from text before using it to develop learning objects. If you want to display a table in your learning object, it is usually good practice to remove the table formatting and rebuild the table within the authoring tool to ensure a reliable display.
All authoring systems and programs that teacher will use read plain text. It is a good idea to create your base information file for a learning object module in plain format so it can be easily transferred for your development purposes.

Unformatting text
There following are four ways to strip text of formatting. If you know of alternate ways to remove formatting from text, please share in the comments area below this post.

  1. The first way is to clear all text formatting within in a word processor.
    Open your document in a word processor. Select the part of the document to have formatting removed, in MS Word click on the Use the Clear All Formatting feature (It is an icon in the toolbar that has a pink eraser placed over the uppercase letter A.) or use the key combination CTRL M in OpenOffice Writer.
  2. Another common way of removing format in a text document is to save the document as a plain text document. These can be recognized by the “txt” file extension. Normally MS Word documents have the “docx” file extension.
  3. Another more deliberate means of stripping formatting from a body of text is to use a third party web tool. Examples of these are Strip HTML or textCleanr. Simply paste your document text into the text box and these tools remove all of the text’s formatting.
  4. Finally, a body of a document can be pasted into NotePad (Windows) or TextEdit (Mac). The result is a plain text version of the document. This document can now be saved and the text used in authoring tools.

Final thought
When developing learning objects for our own students it is desirable to use the core information, which is usually in textual form and repurpose it into a variety of usable designs. For the reasons above, you may consider removing formatting from text, saving the resulting data in a plain text format and copying and pasting the plain text into authoring tools.

Tools Referenced
Strip HTML
text Cleaner

John Allan
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John Allan

John is a Canadian who writes about learning object development and online facilitation from a teacher's perspective.

2 thoughts on “Developing? Start with Plain text

  • 16th January 2020 at 10:55 pm

    This is a very sensible idea indeed.
    I tend to use ‘Paste and match format’ or ‘Paste as plain text’ more than I use simple ‘Paste'(!) because I don’t want to carry across all the hidden code and formatting.
    I haven’t found a need to use a web-based format cleaner, as a Mac user I tend to use TextEdit (and Pages).
    I also love my “Pasta” App – try it out if you haven’t found it so far!


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