An American Editor

November 17, 2014

On the Basics: Discovering and Benefiting from a Tech Tool

Discovering and Benefiting from a Tech Tool

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

I don’t think of myself as a significantly technical person, so I was nervous about doing an editing project for our colleague Rich Adin because it meant using his wordsnSync Max Stylesheet. I was flattered that someone of Rich’s stature in our field would think enough of me to give me an assignment, and I was confident of my editing skills, but afraid I wouldn’t be up to the technical demands of the Max Stylesheet system.

For me, it’s more nerve-racking to work for someone I know than for a client who’s a stranger — I hope everyone I work with thinks well of me, but the opinion of someone I know matters to me more than that of someone I’ve never met. Using Max felt like a great opportunity to look like an idiot to someone I respect and whom I very much wanted to respect me as well. I was very worried about letting him down.

I did misunderstand one aspect of the process — I thought I was supposed to use Max to check on the style or versions of items in the project manuscripts, when the point was for me as the copy editor to actually create the style sheet as the project went along. Once that was clear, though, I found myself actually enjoying using Max — in fact, I loved it!

I knew what a style sheet was. I’ve made style sheets or notes for other projects, using Word. But that was like etching on stone tablets compared to the ease and functionality of Max.

Among other practical aspects, Max automatically alphabetizes entries for you, but my favorite function is how it handles names and acronyms or initialisms. You can enter a name with its acronym in parens as one step, and Max places each element — the name and the acronym — in its own column but together, so you can easily double-check for the right ones and don’t have to enter them as separate items or search to see what a given acronym stands for. The name comes first in the right-hand column and the acronym is first in the left-hand column, but the two elements stay together. For example, if the text I am editing has “World Health Organization (WHO),” I can copy the name directly from the text and paste it into the entry field in Max. When I click Add Entry to Stylesheet, Max automatically enters the phrase in the W/W (acronym) sections of the stylesheet as shown below — I don’t have to manually (1) type the phrase, (2) alphabetize it, nor (3) reverse it.

W W (acronym)
World Health Organization (WHO) WHO (World Health Organization)

When you enter a new item, Max shows you similar listings, so it’s easy to check for redundancy. Since you have to confirm each new entry (Max will automatically assume confirmation after 45 seconds), you also have a chance to change your mind if needed. And it won’t allow repeat entries of identical information; Max automatically rejects duplicates.

Max also permits super- and subscripting, italicizing and bolding, underlining and strikethrough, and small caps and symbols. Max has no predetermined size, so it works equally well for small projects with short stylesheets and large projects with extensive stylesheets. Searching is also easy.

Rich says that the real beauty of Max is demonstrated when a project has coeditors. All coeditors can access the same stylesheet, add to it, and see the changes made by a coeditor in real-time. Max promotes consistency in multieditor projects. I haven’t yet been part of an editing team to experience using Max in such an environment, but I hope to have that experience in the not-too-distant future.

Max also has advantages for clients. According to Rich, clients are given access to the stylesheets for their projects. The client can’t make changes to the stylesheet, but can review it during the editing and advise the editor of things to be done differently (e.g., use distension rather than distention or use an en-dash rather than a hyphen in a particular circumstance). In addition, the client can download a copy of a current-to-the-minute stylesheet at any time to share with proofreaders and authors — including years later when it is time to prepare a new edition.

There’s far more to this program, but these aspects alone make it worth using. I’m hoping that Rich can and will make Max available to colleagues who don’t work with him, because it’s definitely a valuable tool. There’s even something cozy and personal about a program called Max.

And now that I’ve mastered Max, I may feel up to trying macros!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.



  1. Max sounds like a dream tool. Would love to have something like that.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Patty Konarski
    Senior Editor
    Education Development Center, Inc.



    Comment by Konarski, Patricia — November 17, 2014 @ 7:43 am | Reply

  2. Now THIS is a Max I need in my life! How can we access (or purchase) a copy of the program? I’d like to test-drive him.


    Comment by Terre Gorham — November 17, 2014 @ 9:55 am | Reply

    • Max is not a software program that is available for use or purchase. It is a server-based database system that required many thousands of dollars to create and continues to require regular investment for updating and maintenance by a database programmer, as well as server space. Max is not available for use outside my editing business. I have considered making it available by subscription to anyone interested, but to do so would require significant additional investment, which I am reluctant to make as experience tells me that not enough freelancers would be willing to pay for such a service.

      In the FWIW department, the name Max is in tribute to Maxwell Perkins, the original celebrity editor.


      Comment by americaneditor — November 17, 2014 @ 10:15 am | Reply

  3. After Ruth’s glowing recommendation, I can’t wait to get a copy of Max. This is something I do all day every day—track acronyms for journal articles. By hand.

    Is Max part of wordsnSync 5.1?

    Should I wait until Max is incorporated to get a copy of wordsnSync?


    Laurie Cullen

    2727 Duke Street #209

    Alexandria, VA 22314


    For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three.


    Comment by Laurie Cullen — November 17, 2014 @ 10:25 am | Reply

    • Max is not part of EditTools and will never be a part of EditTools. It can’t be. It is an online database program, not a portable software program. EditTools is a group of Word macros; Max is a full-blown database system that runs on an offsite server. Please see my earlier response to Terre Gorham.


      Comment by americaneditor — November 17, 2014 @ 10:31 am | Reply

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