An American Editor

August 4, 2010

The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage

In part I of this series (The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage), the focus was on getting the manuscript ready for editing by taking care of the mechanical things — the clean up — of author-provided files. Authors love to “help” their publishers (or even themselves if they are self-publishing) by formatting the document to make it look like they think it should look when published. As most editors will tell an author, doing so really adds to the cost of the editing because a good editor needs to clean out all these extraneous features and properly tag the content.

The simpler the formatting/styling done by an author, the less costly and time-consuming the copyediting will be because it will free the copyeditor to do what the copyeditor is supposed to do (and for those of you who need a reminder about what a copyeditor is supposed to do, see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor).

Again, the mechanical aspects of the preparing the file are addressed by various macros from The Editorium and some of the macros in EditTools. But it is here, in the second stage of copyediting — the true copyediting stage — where EditTools becomes a key component of the process.

Stage II: The Copyediting Stage

EditTools is a group of macros designed to improve accuracy in the editing process while increasing efficiency. Not all of the macros are usable in all projects but each serves a purpose that when combined enhance the quality of the editing.

Consider, for example, Toggle, which is particularly useful in nonfiction books and articles but is equally usable for fiction. One of the things that a copyeditor has to do is make sure that there is consistency in a book. If the style is for all numbers 100 and lower to be written out except when used as a measure, the copyeditor has to convert 99 to ninety-nine but only where appropriate. And this is where Toggle comes into play. Think about how long it takes you to press a single key versus to type ninety-nine; and add up all of the single key press times versus the typing times (and the retyping because you mistyped!).

My current Toggle list has more than 1,300 entries in it, which means that with the press of a single key (I assign my primary macros that I use repeatedly as I edit to single key presses such as to F4) I can change any of 1300+ items; for example,

  • which to that
  • about to approximately
  • since to because
  • US to United States
  • Marvin to Martha
  • CFO to treasurer
  • HIV to human immunodeficiency virus
  • 100 to one hundred
  • x to the correct times sign
  • hyphen to the correct minus sign
  • and hundreds of other things

and whatever else I put in the list through the Toggle Manager (no need to understand programming or to open and close lists; the Toggle list is dealt with through the easy-to-use Toggle Manager) — all by the press of a single key. Creation of the list is wholly up to me and my needs, it is not prepackaged or limited.

Most books have multiple chapters and it is the rare author who creates a single file when writing. Thus the need for MultiFile Find and Replace. Should I discover that the character name Mariah is suddenly spelled Marya, I can now look for Marya in all of the files the author submitted and replace it with Mariah (with Track Changes on) immediately. This avoids the problem of missing a fundamental correction in a subsequent chapter.

One of the things I try to learn from a client before I begin editing is if the client has particular preferences, especially for spelling. This is particularly important when a book is being written by teams of authors, a common occurrence in medical books. When I learn of these preferences, or if as the editor I make a decision to accept one spelling over another, I enter the information in the Never Spell Word macro via the Never Spell Word Manager. For example, in medical terminology there are two accepted spellings for distension: distension and distention. Once one form is chosen I use NSW to ensure that it is used consistently. I could use either MultiFile Find and Replace or Word’s own Find & Replace but that would mean I have to go through a list of words repeatedly and manually. NSW lets me create a standard list as I edit — I can always add to it.

More importantly, perhaps, NSW through its color coding system, tells me that certain terms are OK as they are. For example, if the author decrees that WHO never needs to be spelled out as World Health Organization because everyone knows what it means, I can enter WHO in NSW, choose “no spell/OK as is” and every instance of WHO will be appropriately highlighted, reminding me that I do not need to spell it out.

As part of the NSW macro there are several other tabs. There are some default names, but with the current release you can customize the tab names and the data files they call upon. But these tabs serve a purpose, too. For example, because I do a lot of medical editing, drug names are important. But I admit I can’t remember all of the drugs that are available, used to be available, and that will be available. So I enter drug names as I come across them into the drug tab list and next time I run the NSW macro for a medical project, every correct drug name in the manuscript that matches a drug name in my data list will be highlighted in green, telling me that the entry is correct — one less thing I need to verify because I have already done so. NSW builds on experience: Once I have verified something and entered it into a portion of the NSW macro, I no longer need to reverify it.

One last example of how valuable EditTools is to a copyeditor. I do a lot of nonfiction books and most of them are replete with citations. And if there is a subject you can think of, there is probably more than one journal that is published that addresses it. Thus the Journals macro and its Journals Manager.

The task of editing reference material is complicated and time-consuming. There are a lot elements that the editor has to address and authors tend to complicate the editing of references by not being either consistent or accurate in their typing. It isn’t unusual, for example, to find in the same reference list New Engl J of Medicine, N Engl J Med, N England Journal Med, and other variations of New England Journal of Medicine. In fact, in the PubMed database that is used for medical journal names and abbreviations, there are more than 10,000 named journals — and that isn’t a complete list.

To the rescue comes the Journals macro. My medical journals dataset currently has more than 5,700 entries in it. Not all are unique journal names; there are also the author variations. But I run this macro over a reference list and if the author has correctly cited the journal name, it is highlighted in green; if the cite is incorrect and the incorrect to correct form is in my data list, the incorrect form gets automatically corrected. If it isn’t in my list, it will be — I will add it as I come to it during the editing process, thereby growing my list. I recently had to edit a reference list of 732 entries — a whole lot of cites that would take a whole lot of time to do. Fortunately, every journal cited by the authors — and every variation they used — already was in my data list. Within seconds I knew which journals were correct and those that were incorrect were automatically corrected.

The Journals macro also solves another problem: Like drugs, there are thousands of journal names. Who can remember them all? (Would you remember, for example, that a cite to the Chinese Journal of Radiology should be a cite to Zhonghua Fang She Xian Yi Xue Za Zhi?)

Although I’ve only skimmed the surface of EditTools, it is important to know that its primary function is to work with the editor during the copyediting stage, not before and not after. A professional editor uses tools to make the editing process quicker, more efficeint, and above all, more accurate. In the not-so-long-ago days, we had to keep track of everything by hand, repeat tasks endlessly, and use pencil on a paper manuscript. Today we can harness the power of computers, and using the tools described in the 3 parts of this article — Editorium macros, EditTools, and PerfectIt — we can harness the power of Word macros to make editing quality and accuracy better than ever.

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 EditTools in the copyediting stage should consider trying them to see if the macros make their editing more efficient and accurate and less time-consuming.

Part III addresses the proofing stage and using PerfectIt 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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