March 29, 2000
Move over, pen and paper; make room for macro and mouse. Along with shopping, investing, and chatting, editing online is gaining converts every day.
Gathering to discuss the promise and perils of electronic editing on March 29 were BAEF members Hilary Powers, Lisa Gluskin, and Mark Halpern. They covered the peaks and valleys of editing onscreen plus client maintenance and management, equipment, ergonomics, and getting started.
Please note that the panel addressed software programs from Microsoft Word 6 onward. Word is considered today's standard in word processing; Word 6 was the first version with a revisions feature, allowing clients to track edits and choose whether to accept or reject them.
So why go electronic? You can write queries as long as you like, and there's no problem with legibility. You can strike out an author's pet phrases and other bugaboos through the search-and-replace function. You can rest assured your edits will not be misread, since you are the one typing them in. And you can use macros to assign multiple tasks to one keystroke. With a little practice, you can even begin talking to your computer, as Hilary does through a program called Kurzweil Voice. By using voice macros, such as "Style that!" to add a word to a style sheet, she avoids the repetitive hand motions that can lead to injury.
There are a few things to watch out for. No paper trail means multiple levels of editing, making it imperative to maintain untouched versions of original documents. And Mark pointed out a glitch in Word: its "comment box" does not register typographical niceties such as italics.
Communicating with the client remains crucial. Before working on an electronic job, you should send out test files to make sure your system is compatible with your client's. Determine up front whether your client wants to see your revisions, complete with crossed-out and inserted text, or prefers a clean copy. And since most of the time your files will be transmitted via e-mail, avoid signing on with consumer Internet service providers like AOL and Compuserve; they are less reliable, says Lisa.
Now for the nuts and bolts. For basic electronic editing, you need a computer with at least a Windows 95 operating system and a Pentium processor (or System 8 for Mac), and a decent printer. The speed of the machine is not as crucial as the monitor and input device. Lisa recommends getting "the best monitor you can afford," equipped with a 17-inch screen, low flicker, high dpi (dots per inch), and an active matrix. Before buying your monitor, Hilary says, test the screen for clarity by turning it bright white: It should look as flat as a piece of paper.
Choose an appropriate input device. "Don't use the mouse that comes with your system," Lisa cautions. Since one-finger clicking can lead to repetitive stress injury, an ergonomic mouse or track pad is recommended. Sit comfortably, and be sure to move around.
Tailor your documents as well, choosing fonts you're comfortable working with. Hilary works in Courier, a monospaced font; errors jump off the screen faster than with other fonts, she says, and you can see periods and commas easily. Lisa prefers Times. Other recommended fonts are Verdana (sans serif) and Georgia (serif), which were designed specifically for online viewing.
Is your inner Luddite still hesitating to take the plunge into electronic waters? Lisa suggests taking a small job with a current client in order to build confidence. Another way to shore up your comfort level is to take a document of your own, turn on the revisions function, and play around with it. As Lisa says, "You learn as you go."