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Re: st: RE: Dialog Programming

From   Phil Schumm <>
Subject   Re: st: RE: Dialog Programming
Date   Wed, 30 Jul 2008 13:55:30 -0500

On Jul 30, 2008, at 1:09 PM, Richard Williams wrote:
I too rarely use dialogs; I just call up the help on a program. I would love to have some sort of super-easy smcl editor, e.g. a "save in smcl" addon to Word. For me at least, writing programs is kind of fun, writing help files is extremely painful.

I agree that constructing help files is not as easy as it could be, and that this probably affects people's likelihood of writing them. For me, this is primarily because there are so many different ways to control spacing, emphasis (i.e., highlighting), etc. In this regard, writing a help file is a bit more like using a word processor (i.e., wasting time futzing with formatting) rather than creating a structured document. For this reason, it's often easiest just to start with an existing help file as a template and modify it as necessary (which is exactly the way a lot of people use Word).

I too have over the years given some thought to the possibility of writing help files in some other format and then translating them programmatically into SMCL. You probably wouldn't want to use Word for this, in part because not everyone uses Word, but, more importantly, because there isn't a very good correspondence between objects in Word and SMCL tags. Using some other type of markup (e.g., HTML, Markdown, reStructuredText, etc.) would make more sense, and would be easier to implement (i.e., the translation could probably be done via an XSLT stylesheet).

The real question is, is it worth it? SMCL is used for formatting output (which is done programmatically) and writing help files, and that's about it. You're not going to write a paper or a book in SMCL. Given this, a few helper functions in your text editor would probably go a long way toward easing the production of help files. The downside of this strategy is that it would have to be implemented separately for each text editor; however, if someone spent some time defining an appropriate set of helper functions, each of us who maintains a Stata mode for a text editor could then just implement those definitions easily enough.

-- Phil

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