An American Editor

August 3, 2010

The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage

Mechanically, the copyediting process can be divided into 3 stages:

  • the processing stage, where the manuscript is prepared for the copyediting process;
  • the copyediting stage in which the manuscript is actually copyedited; and,
  • the proofing stage, where the manuscript is checked for the misses that occurred during the copyediting stage.

Each stage has its own methods and focus, but all 3 stages are performed (usually) by the same editor, and a professional editor has an arsenal of tools at hand to make the work of each stage more accurate and efficient. As with most things, every professional editor has his or her favorite tools. Unfortunately, some still use what I call the hit-or-miss method, which is dealing with each thing as they stumble upon it rather than having a coordinated routine that is applied to all projects.

It is true that every project is unique unto itself, but there are still universalities that fit neatly under a planned approach. For example, today it is well established that only a single space follows punctuation, not the double space that was the convention when we were using typewriters to prepare manuscript. Converting double spaces to single spaces is one of those universalities — and there are numerous others.

Today, most editorial work is done in Microsoft Word; it has become the de facto standard software for publishing — but only for the manuscript preparation stages. Typesetting is done in professional page makeup programs like InDesign and one of the jobs of a professional editor is to prepare the author’s manuscript — mechanically — for smooth transition from Word to InDesign (or whatever page makeup program is being used). Consequently, what is discussed in the following paragraphs assumes that the underlying program is Word.

Stage I: The Processing Stage

This stage is a mechanical stage. This is where the manuscript is cleaned up, and author excesses are laid to rest. Most of this work can be done by macro; it is the work that doesn’t require constant decision making. In this stage, the editor changes, for example, double spaces to single spaces, changes double hyphens to em-dashes and hyphens between numbers to en-dashes, changes underline to italics, removes extra paragraph returns, puts punctuation inside quotation marks, superscripts reference numbers, and so forth.

The processing stage is an ideal stage for macros. To make the task easy, many editors use FileCleaner from The Editorium. This set of macros was developed specifically to address the common cleanup problems copyeditors deal with routinely. The Editorium also offers other macro programs to help automate the routine processing tasks. Two of my favorites — and two I could not do without — are Notestripper, which fixes the problems of embedded footnotes and endnotes that otherwise are not easily editable, and ListFixer, which takes Word’s autogenerated lists and converts them to fixed text so they can be edited.

Another set of processing stage macros is found in EditTools by wordsnSync. Two particularly useful macros in the EditTools collection for the processing stage are Superscript Me and Page Number Format. In-text reference numbering is often supposed to be superscripted, but authors tend to either place them in parens or brackets (i.e., (1) or [1]), and sometimes they use both methods. I regularly deal with chapters that have more than 500 reference callouts (I recall once editing a book-length chapter that had more than 2,800 reference callouts in it — not one of which was superscripted as required!). Think about how long it would take to manually delete the parens or brackets and to superscript the callout number — and then compare that to using Superscript Me, which does the task in seconds. Page Number Format addresses another typical problem: conforming the reference page range style the author used to the publisher’s style. Again, in seconds, this problem can be fixed with EditTools.

EditTools and The Editorium macros are two commercially available programs of sophisticated macros to preprocess a manuscript and get it ready for editing. The idea is to take the drudgery out of the mechanical tasks that need to be done, get those tasks done quickly, efficiently, and accurately.

Editors who do not use commercial programs to do these tasks either have to create their own macros to address their own needs, manually undertake the cleanup using Word’s Find & Replace, or address each item as they come to it during the copyediting stage. Using Find & Replace to do one item at a time is a slow process and requires a checklist to insure that none of the standard tasks is omitted. It also requires knowledge of and comfort using Word’s wildcard capabilities. Editors who prefer to create their own macros or use the Find & Replace approach would do well to invest some time and effort in learning VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), Word’s macro language.

The least satisfactory method is to address each problem as you encounter it during the copyediting stage. Not only is this time-consuming, but it is distracting. During the copyediting stage the focus should be on the substance not the mechanics, although there will always be some overlap. Editors who do not already use macros from The Editorium or wordsnSync in the processing stage should consider trying them to see if the macros make their editing more efficient and less time-consuming.

Part II addresses the copyediting stage and some of the EditTools macros for this stage of the editing process.

(Disclosure: I have no financial connection to or other interest in either Intelligent Editing or The Editorium. I have purchased their macros and use them in my own editing business. I am the creator of EditTools and an owner of wordsnSync Ltd.)

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