Electronic Editing Tricks

Online Editing

Publishing has gone digital, and it’s time to get in touchy-feely with technology. Editing electronically has come a long way. With your everyday version of Microsoft Word, you can easily clean up copy as easily and quickly as you’d read through that celebrity blog (don’t worry, we won’t tell). And there’ll be no gossip about you if you choose to print the pages after giving them a once-over.


PC, Mac—so long as you’ve got Microsoft Word on your ’pute, you’re as good as on your way. (Other word-processing software works just as well, by the by, but MS Word is dominant in the industry, and most documents you receive will have been created in it.)

Before taking in any words, make sure the font size isn’t so teeny that your eyes take a beating. There are a few features you can use to improve the appearance of the copy—and ease of reading—on your screen. One is the “Zoom” tool found at the bottom of the View drop-down. Think of “Zoom” as binoculars, whereby you can select the level of enlargement without changing the document’s actual font size. Do yourself a favor, and don’t mess around with font sizes themselves—trust me, chances are too high that you’ll forget to change them back. To further perfect your viewing pleasure, play around with your monitor’s brightness and contrast levels.

Scream Saver

Want some advice from someone who had to learn it the (really, really) hard way? Always—yes, always—save a copy of the original, as-yet-untouched document before you start your bowdlerizing. Such an easy thing, but so easily skipped. Upon receipt, do this by selecting “Save As” (not its cousin, “Save”) and modifying its existing name. Say you receive a political manuscript called Iraqnophobia.doc. Even before rolling your eyes and dropping your forehead to the table, save a new document called, for example, Iraqnophobia_proofread.doc. And you can save subsequent versions with identifying version numbers, like Iraqnophobia_v1 or Iraqnophobia_1stpass.

Your High-Tech Tool Kit

Microsoft got it right with the “Track Changes” feature. Turn Track Changes on to start keeping tabs. If you don’t already have a shortcut on your easy-to-access toolbar, Track Changes can be found under the “Tools” drop-down. Hover over “Track Changes” and select “Highlight Changes.” To make sure you’ve got it right, you’ll see TRK highlighted at the bottom of your Word window.

Sure, you can do it the hard way every time, if you so desire. But to prevent from having to retrace the above steps with each document to be edited, why don’t you punch your toolbar up a notch and specialize it with the Reviewing toolbar. To do this, open the View drop-down and roll your mouse over “Toolbars,” then click “Reviewing.” You’ll see a new set of shortcut buttons near your everyday tools at the top of your screen. These include a Track Changes button to easily turn the feature on and off, and “New Comment”—which we’ll get to soon.

Once on, Track Changes will watch and record your every move—indents to italics, spacing to slashes. Any change will clearly appear in a color—often our favorite, default red—for easy review. And you don’t need to do anything special to get going; simply do what you always do with Word. Need to strike a sentence? Highlight and backspace. Add a word? Position and type.

You can do many things to tweak the display to be less—or more—distracting. Like purple instead of red? This is your world, and you’ve got control over the appearance of inserted copy, deleted copy, formatting changes, and comments (we’ll get to comments a bit later). Simply stroll by your Word’s preferences, click Track Changes, and go crazy.

Getting Busy

The tackle that makes up your Track Changes toolbox will help you more easily mark up a document as you plug along with your reading. I suggest creating a document to play with, to get the hang of how Track Changes adds and deletes letters, moves around words, and fixes spacing.

It’s a no-brainer, requiring no additional Word skills: just make changes to the copy as you would sans Track Changes. Delete a word, add a letter, strike an extra space—but notice how the program creates a visual record of your changes. Change the leading of a paragraph (that’s word-nerd speak for “line spacing”), or play with the document’s margins. There’s no one way to get the job done, as long as you’re working as seriously as you would on paper.

Now, we’re cooking with gas! Depending on the length of the document, you’ll want to make at least two passes at the material: a first cursory swipe for all things grammatical, and a second, more thorough look for uniformity and to strengthen the copy.

Welcome to the Jumble

Now that you’re on board with electronic editing, you’ve got one more way to distinguish yourself from the other copygeeks. Prepare to tune up your turnaround times and roust up your resume. The ease and speediness of electronic editing makes the editorial process move more swiftly along, freeing up your time and making you even more productive—and that much more future-tastic. Onward!

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