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Data preparation
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Data preparation and conversion

Strange Software can help you with editing and preparing text, images and databases for publication or with converting data from one format to another.

We've worked with various publishers to produce directories, databases, websites and printed publications derived from databases. On some projects, we spend as much time editing, formatting, checking and correcting data as we do writing software.

Many databases contain errors from partial and corrupt records to spelling mistakes, inconsistencies and typing errors. We've seen (and dealt with) databases where disgruntled operators have deliberately added obscenities, where the town name Stoke-on-Trent has been typed eight different ways and even where a group of fields has been shifted up one record, associating the wrong data with thousands of entries.

Database errors can exist on-disk and on-screen for many years but become major flaws if the data is ever published in print or, in particular, in a searchable electronic format when even a minor error can suddenly stick out like a sore thumb in indexes and searches ruining a product's credibility.

At Strange Software, we've our own in-house database proofing tools that check spelling, and consistency, automatically highlighting suspect records and missing or questionable fields and data to help ensure a finished website, CD-ROM or printed project is as flawless as possible.

Similarly, some projects involve sizing, cropping, correcting and managing hundreds or thousands of images. We use Adobe Photoshop automation and various command-line image manipulation utilities to batch process hundreds of images in sequence and have built custom viewing and printing applications to ensure the right images appear in the right place with the right data (it's easy on a 10 page website... a bit harder on a CD-ROM with 13000 records referencing 5000 pictures).

Data conversion and extraction

We've worked with many file and disk formats over the year using various third-party conversion tools and, where necessary, our own custom-written tools.

We are able to read many types of media in-house or to arrange transfers where we do not have suitable hardware (we no longer run a range of tape and DAT drives in-house though we still have some older formats such as Syquest and Jazz available if needed).

We can reformat documents or databases between popular and not-so-popular applications, including non-ASCII based files such as IBM EBCDIC.

If original data is no longer available or readable, we can sometimes extract usable data from finished applications, CD-ROMs or websites by using macros and screen-scraping to display records or documents and 'read back' the data to a new file. We've used these techniques to recover data from encrypted databases and CDs (appropriate permission must of course be demonstrated for copyright or licensed material).

Data collection and questionnaries

Strange has helped to automate the process of compiling and collecting the information for a number of publications, directories and databases, using custom-written software supplied on floppy disk or CD-ROM or running over the web to replace paper forms, questionnaires. This process has many benefits on a typical project:

  • A good response is encouraged because data subjects find it quicker, easier or just more interesting to enter and check their information.
  • Time is saved on regular publications or updates because previous data can be presented on-screen and data subjects just asked to check and correct it rather than re-enter from scratch.
  • Data quality is improved because entries can be checked and verified with the data subject at the time of entry.
  • Data quality also improves because data entry errors from misreading or miskeying are eliminated. The software can in many cases correctly format and encode data for subsequent use without the need for manual intervention.
  • Schedules are shortened because collected data can be returned, verified and imported at speed, eliminating rekeying and proofing stages. 'Intelligent' import processes tuned to the particular dataset can easily query or collate entries that may need further attention... for example, producing a single report of new items that may need to be coded or considered separately from existing ones.
  • In some cases, providing electronic data collection is enough to tip a project from a traditional weekly, monthly or annual format into a real-time database, providing new marketing opportunities for on-line services or up-to-the-minute book-on-demand publishing.

Web-based questionnaries are relatively easy to produce and can be operated stand-alone or alongside traditional paper versions as an alternative for those who prefer them. We will typically issue a user id and PIN number for each data subject to securely access their own questionnarie; this can be included in a covering letter or perhaps just sent by e-mail. Each subject can then review and complete their questionnarie on-line in as many sessions as they wish before marking it complete and ready for use.

Data from questionnaries is stored centrally and a huge advantage is that a complete picture of where data entry is up to at any time can easily be gathered. For example, it's possible to take a snapshot of data collected so far or to see who has and hasn't entered their data yet. You can even spot particular users who might be having difficulty with the system... we find that clients love the ability to get on the phone to a particular user and to open their questionnarie at the same time as the user is editing it. Both can then work together to ensure the data is entered promptly and correctly.

Our electronic data capture systems can return data on floppy disk or other media, via e-mail or by upload to a web server or by a combination of these methods as appropriate. They can, in some cases, also produce records or output files that are of further use to the data subjects, such as summaries of their information that can be imported into their own databases or publications. Web-based questionnaries are typically compiled in a central store on server and can be reformatted as required for subsequent use, for example by being collated into a database import file, analysed to compile statistics or simply submitted as a series of documents to the editorial department.

Contact us to discuss your requirements

Custom electronic data capture application

Electronic Data Collection by CD-ROM Much data preparation, data entry and formatting has been eliminated for an annual directory of plant suppliers by a custom Windows application developed for the publisher by Strange Software. The program is distributed to over 400 data subjects on a duplicated CD-ROM which contains encrypted versions of each subject's existing entries in the database (some subjects have a handful of records, other have thousands). On installation, a user id and PIN select the appropriate data set and the user can make amendments for next year's publication, mostly with a few simple mouse clicks to delete, retain, amend or add entries. The software automatically encodes entries ready for import into the publisher's existing database system and completed updates are returned on floppy or by e-mail. A data capture manager utility at the client's site logs each submission and produces a selection of reports to aid the compilers in checking any queries or additions that may require editorial input.

This system was successfully introduced over six years ago, has been appropriately updated over time (from floppy to CD and DOS import to Windows) and has gone from being used by a handful of guinea pig subjects to accounting for the majority of entries made to the database.


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