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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Continuing my post from yesterday, one of the interface components that we want to work is that, when a user clicks a paragraph, the first sentence is selected so that they can immediately begin translating, seamlessly hitting enter to move to the next sentence etc. I’ve been working on this while my colleague has been creating the sidebar interface.

It turns out, though, that selecting a specified sentence of text in javascript is not easy. Very few browsers support selecting TextNodes in their raw range functionality.

Fortunately, I know that can do this, because it is core to what they have achieved. The challenge was understanding how we could repurpose this for our own effort.

The initial CoffeeScript that I wrote to handle this is as follows:

Annotator = require('annotator')
$ = Annotator.$
xpathRange = Annotator.Range
Util = Annotator.Util

  makeSentenceSelection: (event = {}) =>
    # Get the currently selected ranges.

    desiredText = ||
    desiredText = desiredText.split('.')[0]

    full_xpath = Util.xpathFromNode($(, document)

    data = {
      start: full_xpath
      startOffset: 0
      end: full_xpath
      endOffset: desiredText.length

    anchor = new xpathRange.SerializedRange(data).normalize(document)


To talk through how this works… Firstly we establish a function called makeSentenceSelection that is an event handler. Elsewhere, I’ve bound the document’s click event to this function. We then strip out the text content that we want to match (by doing a string split on the “.” character and returning the zero-element in the array) and store it in “desiredText”. After this, I use a util class from the Annotator shipped with to create an xpath expression that uniquely identifies the clicked node.

Once this is done, I bundle up a data dictionary that will tell the SerializedRange to start at the xpath element, end at the xpath element, start counting text from position 0, and highlight the length of the earlier-calculated desiredText. I then create a new SerializedRange object, passing it this dictionary, and tell it to create a “normalized” (that is, browser-compatible version) of itself. Finally, I remove all other selected ranges and then add the value of anchor.toRange() as the current selection.

And… tada! This succesfully highlights, in most cases, the first sentence of a clicked paragraph. Now, there’s much more still to do here, but this is a good first step on our interface front.