Tips, Tricks & Thoughts on Microsoft Dynamics GP
Report Writer Series: Toolbox Tips
I'm a bit behind in my blogging lately, time to catch up a little bit! Today I'm digging into some of the lesser-used items on the toolbox, and finishing this topic up next week. How can I tell these tools are not used much? The answer is simple: I've seen a lot of ugly reports - fields formatted poorly or not lined up with the header fields they match up to, etc.
I do cringe when I see simple things like a block of address fields (for instance) not aligned, when there are tools there for you to eliminate this issue forever.
So far, I've gone through a number of things relating to Report Writer, most of which are aimed at an audience of new Report Writer users. This is likely the last two posts of the "starter" topics that I plan to cover unless something interesting comes up! There are lots of blogs out there on FAR more advanced topics, which I will point people to shortly, instead of re-inventing the wheel and writing articles on topics already out there.
Most of this article is focussed on two areas: the Arrange tab of the toolbox, and then next article will be some notes on Drawing Options.
The "Arrange" tools
There are a few tools on this tab. If you can't find it, it is the second tab on the toolbox when you are in the Layout view of Report Writer. CTRL+B opens the toolbox if you have closed it inadvertantly. By default you always see the Layout tab which contains the fields & tables, plus the most common toolbox items like shapes and text.
First, alignment... it's not an exaggeration to say I use these four tools ALL THE TIME. It is a rare day if I am modifying a report, that I don't have to use this to line something up to another field.
What is it for? Lining up two or more fields together along one of their "sides". There are four types, aligning left edges, right edges, top edges or bottom edges. Note: This does not affect the "alignment" of the text within a field, which is what I refer to as "justification". To alter that requires editing the properties of a text field itself in Drawing Options or applying a format in Report Field Options. More on this later...
How to use it? First, select two or more fields, using the CTRL key to select multiple text objects. Second, click on the Align field of choice, which will align all of the selected fields to the left/right/top/bottom-most object you selected. In other words, if I am trying to line up four fields that are the titles of some data, I might use the Top or Bottom align to ensure they are on the same horizontal plane. If I have moved some data fields, I might use the Left or Right align tools to line up the title fields to the data fields below. Since there are often title fields in the Page Header (PH) and Report Header (RH) this makes those little tweaks a little easier.
Unlike other report writing tools, the Align features are all based on the left/right/top/bottom-most field of your selection, and the order in which you select your fields does not matter. In some other tools, the Align is based on the first or last field you have selected, which does not apply here.
The Size tools are useful in a few circumstances. Typically I use these tools if there are fields where the default size is too big to fit on the report. Often currency fields are very wide, and may not need to be that big. Making them a little smaller width-wise, may allow you to fit more information on a page, or improve the readability of a report.
What is it for? Making two or more fields the same size, either by height or width, OR resetting a field to it's default size based on the font size it is.
How to use it? Similar to the above Align tools, the first step is select two or more fields. Then, click on whichever Size tool you wish to perform. If you hover your mouse over the buttons, a tool-tip will display to show you what each one means. Each tool will resize based on the size of the smallest/largest/tallest/shortest field you select. In other words, if you are resizing to make fields the same size width wise, first determine if you want them smaller to match the least-wide field you chose, or wider, to match the widest field you chose.
Similarly to the Align tools, it does not matter which order you select your fields in, as it re-sizes based on the smallest/largest/tallest/shortest field you select.
The "resize to default" option, the middle button of the Size tools, is useful if you have changed font sizes but the field did not automatically resize itself. In Drawing Options, when you change a font size or style, there is a tickbox called "Resize To Default". If that is unchecked, the field size itself says the same, and the text is resized. Why does this matter? Well, it doesn't really, depending on the change but a properly sized field to the text within it is easier to align with other fields. Sometimes if you increased the size of a font, and didn't allow Resize To Deafult, when you print the report you will see the text is cut off. So, this option is there to quickly and easily resize it without having to change the font size or style. Simply select a field, and click the middle button on the Size palette, and it will be resized.
This tools is the hardest to explain, and I haven't used it often. However there are times when it really is useful to quickly space items out, in a columnar type of report layout for instance.
What is it for? This is used to space fields out by a certain number of characters, either horizontally or vertically.
How to use it? Again, select two or more fields. Next, type in the amount of space between the fields you want to have, with zero being "no space between the fields". Then, click on the appropriate align button to space things out horizontally or vertically. For instance, let's say you have a report with five "columns" of information all dollar fields, all approximately similarly sized bits of data in them. They don't look right on the page right now and you want to try to space them out evenly. Select all of those fields, and play with the Space value to get them spaced out correctly. A tip: the fields say multi-selected when you use this tool, and often it is a guessing game to get the right spacing value. I'm often putting a number in, clicking on (in this example) Tile Horizontally, and seeing the results, changing the number, clicking it again, etc. until I find the right value for my spacing needs.
Hopefully that helps some users out there! Next report writer post will be about Drawing Options and wrapping up the series...