Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am the Studies Coordinator at a College and we currently have somewhere in the order of 100-200 unit outlines that are created at the beginning of each semester. Those outlines need to have information like:

  1. Unit Name
  2. Unit Code
  3. Course Type
  4. Assessment Item 1 Name
  5. Assessment Item 1 Distribution date...

And the list goes on and on. All up there are anywhere between 50-150 pieces of data that teachers enter into their outlines depending on the 10-20 different types of outline they might be creating.

Currently we have staff entering data into one of many different Word documents with editable fields. This works okay, but every time the outlines need to have a change made, you can imagine the work involved. The outlines also look poor because different table rows move across different's just messy.

We have tried using InfoPath files...maintaining those was a nightmare and the school won't go back to that.

I am contemplating a solution where teachers enter the unformatted/raw data into some kind of front-end (I was thinking an Excel file) and then I write a program that sweeps through the data and generates outlines for me.

I've been experimenting with simply using Mail Merge but this doesn't give me the flexibility to tailor the end result based on the data coming in (different numbers of Assessment Items for instance)

I am looking for ways to streamline the whole Unit Outline process.

share|improve this question

I see two main ways to develop this system.

Office solution

The first is to write some VBA that parses a file (such as an Excel worksheet or an Access database) and builds a Word document. I would suggest if you go down this path you use a properly designed database.


  • You can still edit the files in Office
  • Staff are familiar with the system


  • Ties you to a proprietary platform
  • Might be harder to find the expertise.

Web solution

The second proposition I would give to you is to have a simple web application developed using a MySQL database and a web interface to edit. You would have the page template defined and use PHP to "fill in the blanks". The pages could be printed and formatted easily as PDFs.


  • Easier to find developers able to do this sort of work
  • Available through a web browser


  • You won't be editing in word.

I also suggest you look at having students build the system. I know my university had it's own projects along with other commercial projects for students to choose from.

share|improve this answer
Hmmm...I think I've underestimated the magnitude of this project. I was hoping to have it up and running by next semester but both of those solutions will require more than just my spare time :-) I think I'm going to need to ponder this further and maybe start with a DB design. Thanks for helping clarify some options! – MisterWeary Mar 6 '13 at 8:39
You're welcome, if you have any further questions, do post them! – Sam Mar 6 '13 at 8:44

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.