An American Editor

November 21, 2011

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online III — Mastering Word

Recall that Part I (The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online I — The Books) of this series called for professional editors to master the tools of their trade, particularly Microsoft Word if they edit using Word. There are good reasons to do so.

A few weeks ago, I was working on a book chapter that ran 453 manuscript pages, 49 pages of which were reference citations. (Yes, the number is correct; one chapter in this project I am editing ran 453 manuscript pages. Most of the chapters run 30 to 50 manuscript pages, but several are 200+-page chapters.) The project was for a client who uses a custom template and part of my job is to apply the template to the manuscript, styling every paragraph plus applying particular styles to items that need special styling in addition to the basic paragraph style, such as applying a special “overstyle” to a word that should be in a san serif typeface.

I used the macros I had written (and mentioned in The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros) to style the heads and then I had to manually style the text paragraphs as I couldn’t decipher a pattern that I could capture in a macro. It took a while to get the whole document styled and ready for editing (I like to do the master styling before I edit because that lets me determine, as I read the material, whether something needs to be styled differently), but I did finish — and because of the macros, I finished in much less time — and was prepared to begin editing.

That is when I realized I had made a mistake: I forgot to turn off Track Changes when I did the styling (I’ll prevent that from happening again by adding some code to my macros to turn Tracking off if it is on then, when the macro is done, turning it back on if it was on when the macro started). As all of us Word users know, that means a gazillion annoying balloon popups telling me when I had styled the text and the style I applied — there was no safe place for me to put my cursor! (Yes, I could have turned off show formatting in tracking, but the client wants to see certain formatting changes, so that was not a viable solution.)

It would have been an easy enough fix to just accept all changes in the document, except that I had already run my Never Spell Word and Journals macros and I did not want those changes accepted — I hadn’t edited the chapter yet and so I hadn’t approved the changes the macros made.

Here is where having some mastery of Word helps. What I needed was to have Word accept just the formatting changes and retain everything else. Because I have made an effort to learn something new about Word regularly, I knew how to solve my problem. The following steps are what I did in Word 2010 (I know this will work in Word 2007 and there should be a similar method in Word 2003 and in Mac versions of Word, but you will have to do your own exploring in those versions).

  1. I switched to the Review Tab and clicked on the tiny down arrowhead in Show Markup.
  2. I deselected everything but Formatting.
  3. I clicked on the tiny arrow in Accept and then clicked Accept all changes shown.
  4. I returned to the Show Markup dropdown and reselected everything I had deselected.

With this simple four-step process, I was able to solve my problem — only the formatting changes were accepted; all the rest of the changes that I had made using my macros remained for me to accept or reject.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal at first glance, but it was to me. If I couldn’t find a way to accept just the formatting changes, my choices would have been to (a) live with the annoyance (and I really do find it annoying) or (b) start over with the chapter and eat the time I had already spent styling this massive chapter (I charge a per-page rate, not an hourly rate, so I would have had to eat the time regardless, but even had I been charging an hourly rate I wouldn’t have charged the client — the fault was mine and it was for my convenience). Neither option was particularly welcome.

Perhaps you would have chosen to just live with the balloons. That’s okay as long as you know that there was an option to fix the problem quickly and easily. That is the essence of my clarion call to master the tools we use: knowing what our options are and not having a decision thrust upon us simply because we don’t know enough about how our tools work. Would you hire a carpenter who owned and used only a single saw blade because the carpenter didn’t know that different saw blades are used for different purposes and give different types of cuts?

We expect those we hire to perform services for us — whether they be a carpenter, a doctor, an auto mechanic, or some other tradesperson or professional — to have mastery of the tools of their profession so that they can give us knowledgeable advice. Shouldn’t we similarly be masters of the tools of our own profession?

I discussed the value of learning to write macros in The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros. Absent mastery of Word, absent knowing what functions Word can perform and can’t perform, how can we learn to write macros to ease performance of those functions? A macro is merely a method to accomplish a task more quickly, efficiently, and uniformly; it is not a method to perform a function that otherwise cannot be done. Macros call upon the same commands that you do when using Word. Consequently, mastering Word, which is, for many editors, a fundamental tool, is a step toward conquering macros. Neither mastery of Word nor creation of macros lives in isolation of the other. They are interdependent and should provide an impetus for editors to master the tools they use.

(Although I focus on Word and VBA [Visual Basic for Applications] as the tools to master, I know that some of you use tools other than Word and its macro language. For example, your focus may well be InDesign or some other text program. But what applies to Word applies to the programs you use as well. The point is less learning to master Word than it is to master whatever tool you use. InDesign, as an example, also has a scripting language that can be learned and it has its own text editor, InCopy, that also warrants learning and mastering.)


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