Software ties marks to digital text

By Kimberly Patch, Technology Research News

Even though it introduces an extra step into the process, many writers and editors proof on paper using proofreading marks, then transfer the changes to a computer copy of the text.

Paper is a good interface for marking up copy, but the nature of paper does not allow the mark-up copy to be easily saved electronically.

Researchers at the University of Maryland are trying to bridge the considerable gap between paper and computers by allowing users to import annotation marks made on paper back into a word processor.

"While proofreading printed documents is [common] among word processor users... no word processing programs support the transfer of information from paper back into the computer," said Kevin Conroy, a researcher at the University of Maryland who is now a user interface designer and software engineer at Hillcrest Communications Inc. "This forces users to re-enter the corrections into the digital version of a document manually, a time-consuming and error-prone task."

The researchers' system includes a word processor that supports both digital and physical document annotation. A user can print a document, annotate it using a digital pen, then merge the changes with the digital source. "All of the proofreading marks you make on a printed draft are copied back into the digital copy and move with their corresponding text as you continue the writing process," said Conroy.

When a user changes the content, structure or layout of an annotated document, the word processor maintains the correspondence between an annotation and the document text, said Conroy. "As you edit the document, all of the annotations reflow, or move with the text, so that their meaning is preserved."

Key to the system is software that anchors annotations to a word processor's layout and formatting engine, said Conroy.

Previously developed systems allow annotation marks to be imported into word processing documents, but they either require the text to remain static or reflow annotations only with document-wide formatting changes, said Conroy. The researchers' system integrates the marks with the text.

The researchers' software includes two major components. The ProofRite word processor, which is a modified version of the open source word processor AbiWord, and distributed paper-augmented digital document software, dubbed PADD, that tracks annotations.

The distributed software enables users to annotate their own printed copies of a document, then gather all the annotations into a single electronic copy. "This infrastructure is vital to... group writing efforts often found in business, government and academic settings," said Conroy.

After writing a document, a user prints it out onto paper that contains a faint pattern of X and Y coordinates and a unique page identifier. The pattern is used by many commercial digital pens that have a normal ballpoint pen tip plus a small sensor that reads the pattern printed on the paper.

The paper-augmented digital document software keeps track of the correspondence between documents and annotations, said Conroy. "When a user prints a document, our database saves a copy of the printed document and records the page identifier for the paper the document is printed on," he said. "When the user plugs the digital pen into the computer, the annotations made by the user are uploaded to the database, which then determines which documents and which pages of those documents were annotated." The documents are then opened in the word processing program, and the user can choose which annotations to transfer to the digital copy.

Ultimately, the software makes it easier for people to create, edit and manage documents regardless of the physical or digital format, said Conroy.

The software is an open source project. The researchers are currently working on making it possible for the software to apply the annotations to the electronic text. So far, they have the automated cross-out function working, said Conroy. Getting all the annotations to work this way will enable "an office environment where users can print out their documents, gather around a table, and annotate their printouts," he said. "Once complete, users can go back to their computers, upload all of their annotations, and have the word processor apply some or all of the changes."

Conroy's research colleagues were Dave Levin and Francois Guimbretière. They presented the work at the User Interface Software and Technology (UIST '04) conference held October 24 to 27, 2004, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The research was funded by the University.

Timeline:  > 2 years
Funding:   University
TRN Categories:  Applied Technology; Human-Computer Interaction
Story Type:   News
Related Elements:  Technical paper, "ProofRite: a Paper-Augmented Word Processor," presented at User Interface Software and Technology (UIST '04) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, October 24-27, 2004


February 9/16, 2005

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