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What is an ASCII file?  When do you use an ASCII file?  What can you do with an ASCII file?  Which ASCII format is the best for your client?

These are great questions!  The best way to answer these questions is to go back and start by defining an ASCII file.

The term "ASCII file" refers to a "text" file that is readable by the naked eye (it only contains the letters a-z, numbers, carriage returns, and punctuation marks).  Conversely, a binary fie is not readable by the naked eye (it contains the ASCII characters in addition to binary codes).  Therefore, any file that one can read with a common editor is considered an ASCII file.  This resolves the question "what is an ASCII file."

CAT systems maintain transcript files in a binary-coded format.  A binary file (i.e. a transcript file in ProCAT) format is almost always unique to a software program.  In other words, you cannot copy the binary- coded transcript file from ProCAT into WordPerfect (or any other word processor) and expect it to work.  WordPerfect does not understand the meaning of the binary codes in our transcripts.  Therefore, you must export your transcript to another software using a common (see the caveats below) language – such as the ASCII language (but we are not recommending the use of certain ASCII files  with common word processors).

An ASCII file (as stated earlier) is a file that humans can read with a simple Windows Notepad program or the editor built into MS-DOS.  An ASCII file does not necessarily  refer to a particular format adopted by a body.  There are certain "defacto" standards that are incorporated into an ASCII file created by CAT systems.  So, if there are no "exact" standards, which ASCII formats does ProCAT Winner2000 (including both the 16- and 32-bit software) support?

We at ProCAT use the following language to describe the "ASCII" features of our software.  The term "page-image" or "ASCII" refers to an ASCII file that is prepared in the image of a transcript.  It includes the headers, footers, line numbers, time stamps, and page numbers. The borders are removed from the ASCII files because they are binary (graphic) codes. By definition, we cannot have binary stuff in an ASCII file.

You may view a page-image or ASCII file using the Windows' Notepad or WordPad program, but  DO NOT save an ASCII  after viewing it, as these programs will alter the file characteristics.  Be aware that an ASCII file viewed in Notepad will look different from the way the same file will appear in WordPad.  Notepad displays text with larger and bolder characters and does not recognize page breaks; conversely, WordPad displays an ASCII file with its default font, which is smaller, and also displays the page breaks.  Do not become alarmed if the page breaks are not in the same spots as the page breaks in your transcript.  You may import an ASCII file into a word processor (i.e. WordPad, WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, etc.), but do not expect the ASCII file to appear in its original format. Word processors apply their own page layouts to ASCII files.

Unlike the page-image format, which does not necessarily follow a certain set of standards, Amicus (another ASCII file format) follows a certain set of rules.  For example, in Amicus, each page starts with its page number, then the lines of testimony follow the page number.  Each line of testimony is preceded by its line number (the same line number that appears on the transcript).  There are certain products that require an ASCII file in Amicus format; it is therefore imperative to be clear as to whether or not your client will be importing your ASCII file into a product that accepts only the Amicus format.

The preceding ASCII  formats maintain their original formats to a certain extent.  As discussed, page-image looks like its printed counterpart. Amicus does not maintain the original look of the transcript, but it maintains the page and line numbers.  There is yet a third ASCII format we will refer to as the "raw" ASCII file.  A raw ASCII file produced by Winner2000 does not maintain any of the formatting information.  It simply displays lines of  testimony separated by carriage returns. There are some advantages to this format.  You can import a raw ASCII file into most word processors and, with minimum effort, change the content of a file and then reprint it.  The disadvantage of a transcript exported into a raw format is that the reader will not be able to distinguish between single- or double-spaced lines.

HTML is the language of the web.  HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language) has been used as the primary language to develop the web sites on the Internet.  Winner2000 converts (exports) a transcript to HTML format.  One of the advantages of using HTML is that It is very simple to view an HTML formatted file.  Simply double click on the file and your Windows operating system will open the file (transcript) in its default Internet browser (i.e. Netscape, Internet Explorer, etc.).  There are several companies that are creating Internet-based transcript repository systems.  HTML formatted files are ideal for this application.

Finally, there is RTF/CRE which is by far the most robust and complete transcript- exchange format.  

RTF has been designed and developed, and is being maintained by, Microsoft.  It was designed to be a complete set of instructions to allow the seamless exchange of data among many software products.  For example, a document produced with Microsoft Word may be imported into any other word processor (that supports RTF) while maintaining its format.  As you can see, this is the most promising and complete format -- most importantly, it has a big name behind it, which assures it longevity.

ProCAT was one of the major forces behind the creation of a standard dictionary- exchange format in the early 80's.  In the mid 90's, ProCAT became the force behind adapting RTF to court reporting.  With the help of the leading CAT vendors, a standard was created based on RTF and is now referred to as "RTF/CRE."  The CRE in the name stands for Court Reporting Extension.

Winner2000 supports the full implementation of RTF/CRE.  You may use this data- exchange format to export a transcript into other CAT systems or leading word processors without compromising the integrity of the transcript

In a nutshell, there is an ASCII file for every season.  The first and foremost question one must ask is:  What is the ultimate use of an ASCII file?  For a simple, unsophisticated search, one may settle for the page-image.  Amicus is typically needed for specific litigation support software (i.e. Summation).  Raw format gives the user the flexibility to "massage" the file. RTF/CRE gives the user almost unlimited upside potential -- an RTF/CRE file may be imported to other CAT systems and all popular word processors. 

The following table summarizes the features of the ASCII files:

Feature Page-Image Amicus Raw HTML RTF/CRE
Headers and footers included Y N N N Y
Page number Y Y N N Y
Line number Y Y N N N
Border N N N N N
Steno N N N N Y*
Time stamp Y N N N Y*
Pictures (exhibits) N N N Y Y+
Publish on the web N N N Y Y+
May be edited using a word processor with minimum effort, and maintains its original format N N N N Y
Maintains boldface, underline, and other attributes N N N Y Y
May be reformatted with minimum effort N N N N Y
File extension PRN AMC TXT HTM RTF
File size Large Med Small Very Large Extra Large

* These features are unique to RTF/CRE only.  They are not available in RTF.
+ These features are unique to RTF and they are supported by Winner2000.  They are not a standard features in RTF/CRE.

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Last Updated: Monday, February 27, 2006 08:47 PM