For use by USGenWeb State File Managers

One of the responsibilities of a USGenWeb State File Manager is to ensure the readability of the files in their Archive. Since most files are in text format, this page is to give general tips and explore various methods for giving text files a pleasing appearance.

There are really only three things you have to think about to ensure readability:


The width of most screens is 80 characters. In most cases, you should endeavor to keep it at this length to avoid forcing the reader to scroll right on every line. In some cases where a wide table format with multiple columns is used, for example, the census, it is impossible to keep it to this width. In those cases, it would probably be worse to break it up.

Keeping your file to 80 characters is very simple. Simply put a hard return at the end of every line on you screen. Some programs will automatically convert if a "save as text with line breaks" option is given.


This is the hard part. Text format does not recognize tabs, tables, or other methods of easily formating columns. The only thing it does recognize is spaces. How to get these spaces in is the question! You could, of course, do it the old-fashioned, hard way of manually typing in all these spaces, but if you actually have a life and would like to have the time to live it, there are several other methods available to take care of those pesky spaces! These are presented below based on the software you have available. Click on the appropriate one and you will get a detailed explanation.


You don't want it to be. Much harder to read. If it is double spaced, it is usually because you transfered it as a binary file instead of as a text or ascii file. This is a common mistake but easily remedied. Just retransfer the file as an ascii file.

Using any word processor and MS Access

(contributed by Maureen Reed)

Using MS Excel

(contributed by Joy Fisher)

Converting Tables to Text

(contributed by Joy Fisher)

  • 1. Position cursor somewhere in table.
  • 2. Click on "Table" on the Menu Bar -- then click on "Select table"
  • 3. Copy the table to the clipboard - "ctrl-c" or "copy" icon on tool bar
  • 4. Open a new document and paste the table in it.
  • 5. Save table under a new name. {Steps 1-5 not absolutely necessary, I don't want to screw up my only copy of a file!!}
  • 6. Do a "File" "Save AS..." -- and choose "HTML" as the file type. You don't really want html, but it will preserve the table format.
  • 7. Open Excel and then open your html file in excel.
  • 8. Globally change the table to "Courier New" font and choose 10 pt as the font size.
  • 9. Adjust the column widths so there are no hidden charcters.
  • 10. Modify the justification on the columns so that the text won't run together from one column to the next.
  • 11. Do a "File" "Save As..." and choose Space delimited text as the file type.
  • 12. Start up Word and load your *.prn file in it. Don't get upset about the word wrap -- and don't try to change it. Notice the double spacing between rows -- that is what we are going to fix.
  • 13. Use the "Replace" command in "Edit" on your Menu Bar. In the "Find" box put "^p^p" (without the quotes) and in the "Replace with" box put "^p" Click "replace and notice that the first double spaced line becomes single spaced. Now click on "Replace All".
  • 14. Save your file. Don't change the name or file type.

    Archive Tips for Fortunate Mac Users

    (contributed by Joe Patterson)

    Tips for MAC users preparing files (or trying to) for upload to the USGenWeb Archives.

    First, a list of programs and utilities which I found to be most helpful in deciphering files.

    If you need a bit more help, email me at

    All of this is done with Tex-Edit Plus with whom I have no affiliation, but have a lot of satisfaction in using.