Electronic Editing: With Your Computer, Not Just On It
March 16, 2004
Computers have become just as much a part of the editing life as pencils, and these newest tools have spawned their own special set of issues that can make working with words both a pleasure and a royal pain. Hilary Powers, freelance editor, electronic editing specialist, and former BAEF chair, has been editing online since 1994. She shared some of her favorite tips and tricks at the March BAEF forum.
"It is possible to be very fast and very solid," Powers said, adding that she usually plans on doing seven to twelve pages per hour for a medium-level edit. "But you have to stay alert all the time and use your tools the way they're supposed to be used."
Rather than talking about the meat of editing, Powers focused on the word processing functions in Microsoft Word that can tremendously ease the repetitive, mechanical tasks that editors have to do in addition to wordsmithing. (She's using Word 2003 now, but most of the advice works at least as far back as Word 97.) For example, Powers has created many custom macros that automate stripping out extra spaces, stripping out extra returns, replacing date fields with true text, and adding words to her style sheet. She has also programmed her own hot keys for commands that she uses over and over again, so that she doesn't have to take her hands off the keyboard -- one way that she keeps up a rapid pace.
"One secret to making this stuff work is to count keystrokes," she said. "If you find yourself doing things over and over again, figure out how to let the computer do it better and faster. The purpose is not to have to think about anything but the job."
Tips and Tricks from Hilary's Toolchest
- In Windows, you can customize your screen appearance to make it easier on your eyes through the Display Properties dialog in the Control Panel. The Advanced button on the Appearance tab allows you to set colors and typefaces, which you can then save as a theme.
"It's not that my way is better, but that your way is better," she said. "The white background fries my eyes -- I do better with a slate-blue background and dark blue letters."
- Set up Word to show full menus, rather than just the last used commands, by clicking on Tools/Customize/Options, then checking Always Show Full Menus.
"Under Tools/Options [not the same place as Tools/Customize/Options] is where most of the gotchas are," Powers said. "You want to hit every single tab and clip its wings."
- You can also tame some of Word's more irritating automated behaviors under Tools/AutoCorrect. You'll want to go through every tab, uncheck most options (especially under AutoFormat), and perhaps add some under AutoText, such as queries that you use over and over.
"One of the joys of working on-screen is that you can be polite and write queries that really say what you mean," she said.
- Create custom macros under Tools/Macro to save keystrokes that you repeat over and over again, for example, removing hard returns at the end of lines in text files.
"The next time you clean up a copy of an e-mail message, turn on the macro recorder," she said. "You'll never have to do that manually again."
Once the macros are saved, you can add them to menus, create keyboard shortcuts, or add them to your button bars. Powers has named one of her menus "Tricks." "Items in Tricks are things that I might want to do with any project regardless of what client I am working for," she said.
According to Powers, the Editorium (www.editorium.com) also offers Word add-ins with macros tailored for editors. She highly recommends FileCleaner, MegaReplacer, MultiMacro, NoteStripper, and WordCounter. And if you've never customized your system at all, take a look at the Editor's ToolKit, which is as good as a few years' experience all by itself.
"In Word all documents have templates," she said. "But you can get to macros without attaching a template by loading that template as global."
- Client-specific actions such as query styles and typecoding conventions can go into custom templates, saved under the client's name, that all use the same hot keys for the same functions -- Alt+Q for the Query menu, for example, and Alt+1 for a first-level head and any typecoding for following paragraphs. She loads those templates as needed to work with different projects.
- Powers also recommends virus checking all files that come in and saving copies of the unedited files under different names than you give the edited versions.
"You can go into Windows Explorer by pressing the Windows key + E and then make copies," she said. "Always virus check, because even if the last ten jobs were OK, the eleventh might not be. You should make a copy of the unedited files so that you can go back and see what they really looked like in the beginning if you need to."
- At the beginning of an edit Powers recommends turning on hidden characters (Ctrl+Shift+8) to see exactly what's happening in the document. Once you see whether there are hard returns at the end of lines, soft returns in between lines, two spaces after periods, etc., you can decide which macros to run.
- Powers also recommends looking at the document in Print Preview mode at the beginning of a job. Unlike Normal view, this will show headers and footers as well as other printing elements such as text boxes -- all items that you will have to deal with as an editor. Set it up to show you six pages at once so you get a fast overview of the troubles in store -- you don't have to read at this stage.
- WordCounter from Editorium is a useful tool to get an accurate page count of a job. As we all know, a page in a word processing program can differ widely from the 250-word page standard. After running WordCounter on the sample files, the Word 31 pages turned out to actually be 45 pages, a situation that would prompt Powers in the real world to call the client.
"A page is 250 words, not how many words can be crammed onto a sheet of paper," Powers said. "I would be on the phone with the client because I need to either adjust what I'm doing or what I'm being paid."
- If the document has been formatted using styles, you can choose to view the styles in the document in a pane by selecting Tools/Options/View and changing the Style Area Width to a measurement such as 0.75".
- Useful keyboard shortcuts:
Alt+V, D to change to the Document Map view
Ctrl+Z to undo the last action
Ctrl+Y to redo what you undid
Alt+F8 to show the list of macros
- Find/Replace is one of the most useful word processing functions, Powers said. You can extend the power of Find/Replace by using wildcards; however, you may have to turn off Track Changes to make the wildcard searches work properly.
"At the end of a job you can use Find and Replace to search on all your queries; you can go through and check for bold and italics; I use wildcard routines to check for tabs in the middle of paragraphs," Powers said.
- Powers also has an exception dictionary set up to guard against potentially embarrassing spelling errors (e.g., pubic instead of public). You can access this under Tools/Options/Spelling and Grammar/Custom Dictionaries.
- And when you're ready to send the job back to the author, you can protect the files for Track Changes under Tools/Protect Document.
Troubleshooting, or Word Happens
Powers recommends closing Word and restarting it if it begins to misbehave. The moment a key or a menu item doesn't do what it should, it's a sign that something is wrong. Especially before Word 2003 & Windows XP, it may be necessary to restart Windows, too.
If one file is causing trouble, copy everything but the last paragraph mark and paste it into a new blank file, then save under a new name and delete the bad file. That usually fixes it, but remember -- "The mantra of the Word users group is 'Word happens.'"
If you make a mistake, the most useful command out there is Ctrl+Z, which will undo the last action.
"The nice thing is that it doesn't cost you much if you screw up," Powers said. "And if Word is making you crazy, make it stop."