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I have a site for writing tutoring that currently requires the student to copy and paste from Word into an HTML textarea, removing all formatting.

We've thought about letting the student upload the actual document and commenting on that, but I've also considered using/requiring Markdown instead, because then I don't have to parse out the Word 2007 document format.

any thoughts?

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3 Answers 3

One common way this design problem is addressed is with a paste function specifically designed to clean up the trail of slime left behind by word without totally nuking the formatting. It's sad that such program specific features would even be necessary, but many online html WYSIWYG editors include a "paste from word" function, some of them even going so far as to make this the default paste or prompting the user on pasting data that looks messy.

You might consider using a one of these rich editor widgets just for that function. You would end up with whatever limited subset of formatting you defined as allowable without forcing strict ANSI text.

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Like @Jason answered, I'd agree that using Markdown is probably not be the best route to go.

However, uploading files also leads to pretty clumsy UX (in my opinion). As for copying/pasting from Word, that sounds like a UX nightmare. Copy/paste is meant to be a helpful "cheat" for the user - not a feature that you as a developer should expect your users to employ in the normal course of using your application.

My recommendation would be to use something like CKEditor to get rich text input from your users.

You can very easily customize the look/feel of most rich-text UI's to only provide the toolbar options that your users need with a graphical layout that is easy to understand.

Tip: If you do go with CKEditor, change the new-line mode to insert <br /> tags instead of surrounding text with <p> tags when the user presses Enter/Return. That mode more closely matches how non-web-based editors behave.

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I don't know which non-web-based editors you use, but MS word definitely creates a new paragraph when the user presses enter. It creates a <br /> like effect when they user presses shift-enter. –  Nico Burns Jul 29 '11 at 15:10
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Copy/paste is not a helpful "cheat"; it's the most-commonly used feature in word processing. Pasting from word might sound like a UX nightmare, but users are much more likely to try it than to learn a new rich-text formatting tool, and much much more likely than to learn something like markdown. –  vincebowdren Jul 15 '13 at 16:23
    
@vincebowdren - I agree. In the two years since I posted this answer, my mind has definitely changed on the subject. If I were to answer this question today, I'd give a very different answer. Seeing as how this post has gotten 172 views over 2 years, though, I'll probably not bother. –  Ryan Jul 15 '13 at 19:54

Markdown is fantastic, and I use it everyday. However, there is a learning curve to overcome. Depending on how often the student uses the system, and for how long a period of time, it can be difficult for them to remember the syntax.

Also, this might be a stretch, but if the student is being tutored, one might surmise that they don't pick up on things as quickly.

Additionally, there are some tricky quirks to the markdown syntax that can produce unexpected results (always bad for ux). There is always the case of _unclosed or_wrongly _closed characters that might throw off the user.

As for using Word docs - I can't stand working with Word format, and having to support different versions, handle complex file uploads/downloads, and not being able to track changes as you can with a text based system.

Personally, I would stick with plaintext.

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