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.


  1. It took me awhile for this general concept to click, but it really does make sense. If I charge by the hour and work fast, I don’t benefit – I still only make $X/hour, and I’ve just earned less than if I worked more slowly. If I charge by the project and work fast, I do benefit; I make the whole $Y whether it takes me 20 hours or 10 to finish the project. I still need to have a good idea of how quickly I work to generate a solid project fee, and I still include language to protect against project creep and unreasonable revision requests, but understanding this did set off the proverbial “Eureka!” moment.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — November 9, 2011 @ 10:13 am | Reply

  2. Macros are great, but editors can’t rely on them completely. When I was proofreading a book I’d written, I found the word “Alpoundsran” and at first couldn’t figure out where it came from. Then I realized the editor had used a macro to change “lb” to “pounds,” and I’d mentioned AllBran. The result is that the editor made more money, but if I hadn’t proofread carefully, my book would have contained errors. (There were several other replacements like that.)

    I hadn’t hired the editor; the publisher had. If I’d hired him/her, I wouldn’t have done so again.

    My point is not that people shouldn’t use macros. They can be wonderful. But people using a lot of macros should learn how to use them properly. In this case, the macro could have said to change only when preceded by a numeral. Or the editor could have quickly zipped through and approved or rejected each change. Or the editor could have used the macro before reading the text, so errors would be picked up when editing.


    Comment by Gretchen — November 9, 2011 @ 11:23 am | Reply

  3. I have long wanted to learn more about macros. Are the books you recommend suitable for Mac users? I have purchased resources on Word in the past, but they turned out not to be very useful to me, a Mac devotee.

    Many thanks for the posts! I just subscribed to your blog.


    Comment by Mary Sebold — November 14, 2011 @ 5:33 pm | Reply

    • I’m sorry but I really can’t answer your question as regards the Mac and macros. For quite a long time, the macro language in Word for the Mac was at least 1 and sometimes 2 releases behind the language for Word for Windows. Then Microsoft stopped including the macro language in Word for the Mac and has only just reinstated it with the current release of Word for the Mac. I am not a Mac user; I have never owned or used an Apple product except years ago Appleworks for Windows.

      I do know that the two primary books, Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and Effective Onscreen Editing, are both Windows and Mac friendly. I do not know about the Macro Cookbook. I suggest that you follow the links in the article and ask the book authors. I know both of them and know that they will respond to your query.


      Comment by americaneditor — November 14, 2011 @ 5:51 pm | Reply

  4. […] II — The Copyediting Stage, and The 3 Stages of Copyediting: III — The Proofing Stage. In The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros, I discussed macros more specifically.) Yet in recent months, I have received inquiries from fellow […]


    Pingback by The Business of Editing: Macros for Editors and Authors « An American Editor — September 19, 2012 @ 4:01 am | Reply

  5. […] ways we have discussed previously, such as our discussion on macros (see, e.g., The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros). But mastering macros is not enough. We must also be, for example, masters of Microsoft Word. We […]


    Pingback by The Commandments: Thou Shall be Efficient | An American Editor — May 8, 2013 @ 4:02 am | Reply

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