An American Editor

November 9, 2011

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros

In part I of this series, The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online I — The Books, I identified three books that I think every professional editor should have on his or her bookshelf — Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and Effective Onscreen Editing –three resources that will help the editor become the master of Microsoft Word, the universally used editing program. In two of the three books, sections are devoted to macros; the third book, Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word by Jack Lyon, is all about macros.

There is a reason why macros are a topic in all three books:

Macros are the power tool that editors need to master but are afraid to tackle!

No tool in the Microsoft Word armamentarium is more powerful, more useful, yet more challenging than macros. Macros have their own truncated language and require a type of thinking that is contrary to the type of thought process editors apply to editorial tasks. Mastering macros requires a change in direction; however, the rewards one can reap by mastering macros can increase an editor’s efficiency many fold.

We need to begin with this truism:

The more efficiently an editor works, the more money an editor earns.

We also need to accept that it makes no sense to keep reinventing the macro. If someone has already created a macro that does what you need, don’t reinvent it — buy it. It will take you more time to write the macro from scratch than to earn back the money spent (and that’s without considering the return on investment you will get from repeated use).

Macros are efficient tools for performing repetitive and/or cumbersome tasks in Microsoft Word. Every second you save by using a macro is money in your pocket.

Something else to keep in mind. Many times macros are part of a package. This is true of Editorium macros and EditTools. Colleagues have told me that they could really use xyz macro but don’t need the rest of the package and so won’t buy the package, thinking it a waste of money. This is faulty thinking. If you will get repeated use of a single macro in a package, it will earn back the cost quickly. Plus, even though you think you cannot use other included macros, having them around will encourage you to experiment and discover new ways to use previously unusable macros.

A good example is my EditTools collection of macros. I have been told numerous times that, for example, if the Search, Count, and Replace macro were available as a standalone macro, the editor would buy it because it really would be useful in their work, unlike the other macros in the package. Perhaps this is true, but the editor is not thinking through how they work and what tasks they perform when they edit. How many times, for example, do you have to take an author-used acronym and spell it out? If you use the Toggle macro, you only need to press a key (or key combination) to change WHO to World Health Organization (WHO). My Toggle macro dataset has more than 1300 items in it, every one an item that I can change from one thing to another by pressing a single key. Think about how much time I save using this macro, which means both more money in my pocket and no chance of mistyping. (If you are like me, accurate typing is not a high skill. I’m good but too many times I will type something only to discover I typed it incorrectly and have to fix it. That uses up more precious time and lowers my earning power. The Toggle macro eliminates that problem for those items in the Toggle dataset. Once entered into the dataset correctly, it will be typed correctly forever after.)

My point is that editors tend to be resistant to spending money to make money, which is something I consider a major mistake for a professional editor. One should always weigh the outlay against the return on investment — but the return has to be looked at over the long-term, not the short-term.

Yet this is also a reason why learning to write Word macros is important to the professional editor. The editor who masters macro creation can devise macros that will conform to how the editor works and save the editor time while making the editor money.

You begin simply, by recording a simple macro; for example, a macro that replaces two spaces with one space. As you master the steps to record simple macros, you can move on to more complex macros or to combining macros, and the three books mentioned above will help, especially Macro Cookbook.

(The Macro Cookbook is not yet available for sale. I was given an advance copy by Jack Lyon because of our mutual interest in macros. Macro Cookbook will be available for sale by November 30. Jack is adding a couple of chapters to it that will make the book even more valuable. When it becomes available, I will post the information in a Worth Noting post here on An American Editor.)

Consider this: I have a client that uses a template for all its projects. Editors are required to use the template and to apply styles to the manuscript. To insure that head structure is correct, before sending the file to the editor either the in-house production editor or the author labels each head using something like <1>, <2>, etc. to designate the level. That is very useful to me because I no longer have to try to guess head relationships. But it is also an opportunity for me to make a bit more money from the project. Why? Because I charge by the page so everything I can do to save time earns me a higher effective hourly rate (i.e., if I can do a project in 30 hours rather than 40 hours, my effective hourly rate is greater, which is another reason why the Toggle macro is so useful; for more information, see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand and In Editing, It’s the Little Things That Count).

The opportunity comes about because I can macroize the task, which is what I did. I wrote a series of macros that search for specific codes (e.g., <1>), delete the code, apply the appropriate style, then automatically search for the next instance and keeps going until no more of the code can be found. Not only could I macroize the task for each code individually, but I could also create a macro that would serially run all of these individual macros, giving me the option of running each macro individually or together as a single macro. With some chapters running more than 300 manuscript pages, and a typical chapter running 50+ manuscript pages, think about how quickly — and accurately — I can code the chapter, all because I have gained a level of mastery over macros.

Similarly, many of the chapters I work on have reference lists that run from a few hundred references to more than 1,000 references. I wish I could automate everything about references, but I can’t because macros are dumb and rely on patterns. But what I can and did do is create a Journals macro that compares the author-provided journal title with the correct form of journal title in a journal dataset. The macro highlights correct names in green and, with tracking on, changes incorrect forms to correct forms. (My dataset of journal names has more than 7,400 journals in it.) Think about how much time I save not having to check journal titles and not having to correct incorrect journal titles. (There are still some journal titles that I have to check because they are not yet in the dataset, but I add these to the dataset as I come across them so that next time I won’t have to check them.)

If you want to be a more successful professional editor, you need to think in terms of macros. Think about how you can macroize an otherwise repetitive task, whether that task is unique to a specific project or is the type of task that needs to be done on many different projects. Not only do you need to think in terms of macros, but you need to master macros. The best time to start mastering macros is now.


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