MS Word’s most useful editing tools and how I use them
This page is for those who are inexperienced with Comments and Track Changes in Microsoft Word. And a refresher for those of you who haven’t used it since you wrote your last novel. It’s not meant to tell you everything you need to know; rather, it’s a starting point for you and me to discuss our editing procedures.
Introduction: Technology Really Does Help
The first time I edited a book, it came to me in the mail on 8-1/2 X 11 paper, double spaced, one side only. I used a fine-point red ball-point pen to make corrections and ask questions of the author. The author then hired a typist who re-typed the edited manuscript—with 90% accuracy.
Over the years, word processing and email have improved the entire procedure. It’s faster. It’s cheaper. Since you don’t have to re-type anything, you mostly avoid adding new typos. There can be a dialog between the author and the editor regarding plot problems. And with the author and the editor each having the manuscript on a computer screen, and the cost of a phone call being negligible, your choice of editor is unaffected by distance.
But there are two drawbacks: The computer can make mistakes much faster than a human being. And you have to invest some time in keeping up with the technology. You have spent months, maybe years, doing the creative part of the job with your computer; now you’re going to have to do the tedious part. (Unless you trust your editor completely!)
If you’re new to Comments and Track Changes, study the following until you feel comfortable. I’m always happy to discuss this with my clients. Even if you have had experience with these features, you’ll benefit from knowing how I plan to use them. And maybe you know something that will inspire me to improve my plan.
Now Here’s My Plan. . .
If you select me to edit your work (and I hope you do), here’s how I usually operate. Everything is negotiable, but let’s use this as a starting point.
I will make two passes at editing your manuscript. In the first pass, I look at every word, every space, every punctuation mark—all half-million or more of them. Unfortunately, you have to do the same when I pass it back to you. That’s when you, in effect, edit my edits, accepting or rejecting each of them as you go. You then email your results back to me; I edit only your changes one more time, and email it back to you; you accept or reject my latest edits—and STOP! We’re done.
I know this sounds like a lot of work for you, the author. But it would actually be more work if you skipped this step. One author—whose prior experience hadn’t included the labor-saving devices that are part of Microsoft Word—didn’t do it this way and, well, made a mess. Later, when he heard I was writing this document, he asked me to include his horror story. In his own words:
You may want to mention that you worked with an author who opened up 2 sessions of Word. One with your changed document and one with his original. He then re-typed the changes into his copy rather than use the Track Changes updating method that you described. It caused numerous errors that weren't caught until after publication. This means that the authors [sic] changes weren't tracked so that you could see them for your second edit. The only way to fix it at this stage is by resubmitting the manuscript after another update.
Not using the tracking feature also meant that it took longer than it should have.
The types of errors made were typos, missed words, missed corrections and tense changes. All of which could likely have been avoided if the author had been more capable with the Comments and Tracking tool.
I wish I'd known more about this when we started. It should be very helpful in the future if your authors are willing to learn.
I say Amen. Two more points here: I will never reveal the identity of the author just quoted. And I have since changed my strategy of editing so that it now includes making sure my new clients are aware of how these tools are meant to work.
Disclaimer: No Size Fits All
What I am writing here is not authorized by Microsoft, nor has it been reviewed by them. Any errors you encounter are solely the responsibility of yours truly; feedback on this document is hereby solicited, even if you choose another editor for your work.
Microsoft Word is the most widely used word-processing software in the world, which is why I adopted it, years ago, on my Macintosh. But like the English language, which is also used worldwide, Word looks different to every user. The features work essentially the same way in each version of Word, but the controls might be in a different part of the screen. And every published manual on using Word tries to cover everything, while you and I are only interested in two specific editing tools that are true labor-saving devices. This is not rocket science. But the manuals make it look difficult because they try to be all things to all users.
So your version of Word, running on your operating system on your computer, probably doesn’t work the same way mine does. Your mileage may vary. Here I concentrate on what we want to do. As to which buttons you need to push, we can probably talk about it and figure it out. How this stuff works is documented on websites that I will provide links to, on the assumption that the information wouldn’t be there unless its authors wanted you to have free access to it. Here’s the main one:
The computer software will help us only if you and I agree on how to use it. We’ll use two features of Microsoft Word, one called Comments, and the other called Track Changes.
Comments are easy. Have you used footnotes? Very similar. I can make a comment at any point in your manuscript; I just click, where I want the comment to show, in the main body of the text; then click the New Comment icon. Now the body of the text has one or more words highlighted in color (showing where I first clicked); another pane will open up outside the main body of the text, and that’s where I type the comment.
When I return the edited document to you, one of your jobs will be to delete the comment. To do that, just click on the circled X in the comment box.
Track Changes is a little more complex, especially your part of it. I googled the term and got 1,100,000 responses—more than I wanted to read! But I found a website that covered the essentials, and you might profit from reading it. Then come back here.
Make sense? Every minute spent reading this should save you hours during the edit process—and we just might outwit Murphy’s Law. Now that you’ve got all the pieces, let’s put them together in a work flow:
The Editing Process
When I edit your manuscript, I first make sure Track Changes is ON, so that you will have a visible record of everything I do.
I delete some things you wrote, and replace some of them with additions. Or I add some words, or punctuation, without deleting anything.
When I don’t understand something you wrote, I insert a comment.
I email your edited manuscript back to you.
When you work the edits, first make sure that Track Changes is still ON, so that I can see what you’ve done.
Go to the top of page 1 in your manuscript and click the Next Change button.
If you agree with my suggested change, click on Accept (√); if you disagree, click on Reject (X). NOTE that most of my changes will consist of a deletion and an addition; make sure you work them both.
Any time you want to add something, again, make sure Track Changes is ON.
Click on Next Change, to, well, go to the next change.
When you encounter one of my comments, consider whether you want to change anything in the text, either here or somewhere else; then type it in wherever it belongs. Then delete the comment. Sometimes you and I will disagree, and you will feel that my comment requires no response. Fine! After all, you’re the author. But please, delete the comment, unless there is something that you think we should discuss.
When you’re done, email the manuscript back to me.
When I re-edit the manuscript, I of course first make sure Track Changes is turned ON.
I start at the top of page 1, looking for comments. If I find any, I will stop work at this point and call you. The edit will be incomplete if there are unresolved comments.
I go back to page 1, and look for changes. These should be new material you inserted after my first edit. I edit these the same as I did in the first pass.
When I get to the last page, I email the manuscript back to you. At this point, I have completed the edit that I agreed to do. You still get to review the changes I made, accepting or rejecting them as you see fit. And you can add more material.
I hope you don’t make any typos here. This is an iterative process that could (theoretically) go on forever, but my time and your money and the publisher’s patience are all limited; so at this point the publisher will say, “Shoot the editor and the author!” and send the manuscript to the printer.
If you’re still not satisfied after two passes, we can negotiate the next step.
In some projects, we will mutually agree to break the job down into segments. I suggest that you begin by breaking the manuscript down into separate files, and then we can perform the above steps without tripping over each other.
Please make sure you understand these procedures before I edit your book. I would rather answer a dozen questions than edit the same book twice.