An American Editor

July 4, 2022

Keyboard movement shortcuts for writers and editors, Part 3 of 3

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 12:51 pm
Tags: , ,

Tips for customizing your keyboard

By Geoffrey Hart

In my previous article about automatic text (, I discussed how paying attention to what we type most often can help us create typing shortcuts that make our writing and editing work go much faster. That’s all very well, but if you pay attention while you’re editing a manuscript (including revising your own manuscripts), you’ll notice that moving around a manuscript probably consumes more time than repeatedly retyping certain words or phrases. If you’re reaching for the mouse each time you want to move the cursor to a new position or holding down an arrow key, you’re wasting significant amounts of time.

In my article “Save time by mastering the basics: efficient movement within a file,” I showed how mastering only three keyboard shortcuts saved me up to 20 minutes per day compared with using the mouse or just holding down the arrow keys to move the cursor. In this article, I’ll go much further and show you all the keyboard shortcuts I currently use to move around a document.

Note: Although I’ve emphasized the time savings permitted by these shortcuts, I also want to remind you of the “repetitive” part of “repetitive stress injury.” As we grow older, our bodies take longer to recover from hours of clicking the mouse and pressing the keyboard’s movement keys. Anything we can do to limit that repetition reduces the stress on our bodies and improves our recovery times.

In Effective Onscreen Editing and Write Faster With Your Word Processor, I provide a high-level overview of how these customizations work, supported by examples. However, given space constraints, I provided only a few examples. To remedy that lack, I’ve written this article to provide a comprehensive list of the movement shortcuts I use most frequently every time I sit down to write or revise a manuscript.

Because most writers and editors use Microsoft Word, I’ll focus on how Word implements these movement shortcuts. Most other word processors should offer similar features, although you’ll have to do a bit of research to learn how.

Customizing the keyboard

To use the movement shortcuts in this article, you’ll first need to learn how customize your keyboard shortcuts in Word:

· Mac: Open the “Tools” menu and select “Customize keyboard.”

· Windows: Open the “File” menu, select “Options,” select the “Customize Ribbon” tab, and click the “Customize keyboard” button.

For built-in Word commands, select the category of command at the left of the dialog box (e.g., “Home tab” for commands that appear in the Ribbon’s Home tab), and the specific command at the right side of the dialog box. You can scroll down through the list of commands, or click inside the list and start typing the first letters of a command’s name to move directly to that command. At the bottom of the dialog box, choose which template or document should store the shortcut. If you choose “Normal.dotm,” the shortcut will be available in any document on your computer. However, you could also create customized shortcuts for specific purposes, such as if you need to move to HTML < > tags so you can edit them, and store those shortcuts in a separate template or document. Another interesting example: If you’re writing or editing a novel and need to move to each instance of a character’s name to ensure that your physical description of the character is correct, you could use the instructions later in this article to create a search shortcut (e.g., press the F1 key) that moves to the next instance of the character’s name.

To assign a keyboard shortcut, click to position the cursor in the “Press new keyboard shortcut” field and type the new shortcut. If that shortcut has already been assigned to a command, Word will display the command that is currently associated with that shortcut. If you don’t want to replace that command, press the Backspace key to delete the keyboard shortcut and try again with a new shortcut. If you don’t use that particular command and want to use the shortcut for your own purposes, click the “Assign” button.

Note: Keyboard shortcuts are stored in the Normal.dotm template unless you specify another destination, so if you’ve done a lot of work customizing Word, be sure to include that template in your backups. To find the template’s location:

· Mac: Open the “Word” menu, select “Preferences,” then select the “File Locations” tab.

· Windows: Open the “File” menu, select “Options,” select the “Advanced” tab, and then scroll down towards the bottom of the dialog until you see the “File Locations” button. Click the button.

If you select the category “User templates,” the path to your templates appears at the right side of the dialog box. You won’t be able to see the whole path, so click the “Modify” button. Word then displays a standard “File Open” dialog box that you can navigate to learn the whole path to your templates. Because this folder is buried annoyingly deep in your computer’s file system, move to that folder only once, but create a shortcut (Windows) or alias (Mac) that points to this directory and move that alias to your desktop or Documents folder. You can now reach your custom templates in a single step.

Most of the keyboard shortcuts I’ve proposed in this article will work equally well in Macintosh and Windows versions of Word, although some have already been assigned to a specific commands that I never use; if you use them, you’ll need to choose a different shortcut. Choosing shortcuts is easier for Mac users because the Mac operating system doesn’t use the Control key for most functions, unlike in Windows. Thus, the Control key on a Mac is available for all shortcuts, whereas you may not want to override certain Windows keyboard shortcuts based on the Control key (e.g., Control+C to copy text).

Note: Mac keyboards have an “Option” key that occupies the same position as the “Alt” key in a Windows keyboard. I use “Alt/Option” to indicate that your shortcut should use whichever of these two keys appears on your keyboard.

If you’ve set Word to warn you if the Normal.dotm template changes, you’ll receive this warning once you finish customizing your keyboard shortcuts and quit Word for the day. Always confirm that you want to save the changes; otherwise, you’ll have to recreate all the customizations. To ensure that I don’t get busy with other things and forget, I’ll often quit Word as soon as I finish a batch of customizations, and save those changes when Word asks me to confirm that I really want to update the template.

How to use this article

This article contains a great many shortcuts, and it would be unwise (and probably discouraging) to try memorizing them all in a single go. You’ll find it much more effective to pick a few of the shortcuts that seem likely to save you the most time, and practice them until they become part of your muscle memory and you can use them without thinking. In the time you save once you’ve learned these shortcuts, pick a few new shortcuts and practice them too. Soon, you’ll find that you’re using most of these commands (possibly with a quick glance back at this article for a refresher) without much thought and zipping around documents like a honeybee who drank too much espresso.

Note: The shortcuts I’ve chosen make perfect sense to me. They may be meaningless and confusing to you. Choose shortcuts that make sense to you, since you’re the one who will be using them.

I recommend that you record your keystroke definitions in a simple table created in Word. This way, you can periodically consult the table to see which ones you’ve forgotten to use or should be using more often. It also lets you easily implement your shortcuts on another computer, if necessary. Although you could copy the Normal.dotm template to your new computer, I’ve found that moving a template from Mac Word to Windows Word sometimes creates problems, such as a loss of certain customizations. Your mileage may vary, but I’ve found fewer problems when I recreated customizations under both operating systems.

The movement shortcuts I’ll describe in this article can be divided into three categories:

· Based on built-in Microsoft Word commands that don’t, “out of the box,” have keyboard shortcuts associated with them.

· Based on macros that record a series of movements so you can perform those movements again with a single keystroke.

· Created using the Search (Find) function to move to a specific pattern of text, and implemented using a recorded macro.

Built-in commands

As noted in the previous section, you’ll use the Customize Keyboard dialog box to find the commands you need. Once you’ve found them, try using the following shortcuts:

MovementBuilt-in commandSuggested keyboard shortcutExplanation
Start of current sentenceSentLeftControl+Alt/Option+HomeSentLeft should also move to the start of a sentence in right-to-left languages.
End of current sentenceSentRightControl+Alt/Option+EndSentRight should also move to the end of a sentence in right-to-left languages.
Next tracked changeToolsRevisionMarksNextControl+Alt/Option+[down arrow] 
Previous tracked changeToolsRevisionMarksPrevControl+Alt/Option+[up arrow] 

Shortcuts based on macros

Once again, you’ll use the “Customize Keyboard” dialog box to find the commands you need. However, for this category of commands, you’ll first need to create a macro — which isn’t nearly as intimidating as it seems. Once you’ve recorded the macro and confirmed that it works by running it a couple times, open the “Customize Keyboard” dialog box and scroll through the “Category” list until you reach “Macros.” You can then select your new macro from the list at the right side of the dialog box and assign a keyboard shortcut.

To record a macro:

· Select the Ribbon’s “View” tab, open the menu beside the “Macros” icon, and select “Record macro.”

· Name the macro and specify which file it should be stored in (usually Normal.dotm so it will be available in all files on your computer).

· Perform the series of actions you want to record. Don’t feel pressured: Word doesn’t monitor how long it takes for you to finish the actions and will wait patiently until you’re done.

· Open the menu beside the “Macros” icon and click “Stop Recording.”

If you’re uncomfortable with recording macros, you can instead create them by copying the macro instructions someone else has created. I’ve provided the macro instructions I use later in this article. To copy the instructions I’ve provided:

· Open the menu beside the “Macros” icon.

· Select “View Macros.”

· Select any macro (it doesn’t matter which) and click the “Edit” button.

· You’ll now see Word’s macro editor, which looks intimidating. Don’t be intimidated: you can ignore all of the interface except the window at the right side of the screen that shows the macro instructions.

· Click to position the cursor before the word “Sub” that precedes the macro name you selected, and then press Enter to create a new blank line. Alternatively, click to position the cursor after the words “End Sub” and then press enter to create a new blank line.

· Copy the macro instructions from this article.

· Paste them into the blank line you created in the macro editor.

· Press Control+S (Windows) or Command+S (Mac) to save your changes.

· Press Command+Q (Mac) or Alt+F4 (Windows) to close the macro editor. Don’t worry: you won’t be closing Word itself!

Movement to recordSuggested keyboard shortcutExplanation or macro instructions
5 words/positions to the rightControl+5Sub MoveFiveWordsRight() Selection.MoveRight Unit:=wdWord, Count:=5 End Sub
5 words/positions to the leftControl+Alt/Option+5Sub MoveFiveWordsLeft() Selection.MoveLeft Unit:=wdWord, Count:=5 End Sub

I chose five because that seems to be the most common large within-sentence move I make in the manuscripts I edit. If five doesn’t fit the way you work, it’s easy to change that: Simply edit the macro, and replace the “5” with whatever number of spaces you want to use. Here and for subsequent macros, you can also copy the macro instructions (starting with the “Sub” line that contains its name and ending with the “End Sub” line and paste the instructions into the macro editor. Change the name and the details. For example, to move only four words left, change the name to MoveFourWordsLeft() and change the “count” to 4.

Combine the search function with macros

For this category of movement shortcut, you’ll use the same method described in the previous section to record a macro. This time, however, the macro uses the Search (Find) function to move to the next or previous instance of the thing you’re searching for. To record macros in this category:

· Select the Ribbon’s “View” tab, open the menu beside the “Macros” icon, and select “Record macro.”

· Name the macro and specify which file it should be stored in (usually Normal.dotm so it will be available in all files on your computer).

· Start the action you’ll record by opening the search dialog box.

· Type the search term you’re looking for, and apply any additional characteristics that are relevant (e.g., a specific font, boldface format). The search string can include any characteristics specified under the “Format” menu and any characters listed under the “Special” menu at the bottom of the dialog box.

· Click the “Find” button, then close the dialog box.

· Select the Ribbon’s “View” tab, open the menu beside the “Macros” icon, and select “Stop Recording.”

The macro you’ve just recorded will find what you’re looking for and politely close the dialog box to get it out of your way. In the following table, I’ve provided shortcuts for most searches to move to the previous instance and the next instance of the search string. However, if (like me) you find yourself running out of memory space to remember all these shortcuts, it’s not necessary to do this. You could instead use your macro to move to the next or previous instance of the search term. You can then press the Control+PageDown (Windows) or Command+PageDown (Mac) shortcut once to move to the next instance, then press Control+PageUp (Windows) or Command+PageUp (Mac) shortcut twice to move to the previous instance. These shortcuts are worth learning because you can also use them in searches that are not recorded as macros.

Note: These macros can be revised or copied and revised easily to use new search patterns. For example, if you want to find only whole words, change the “MatchWholeWord” text to “True” (without the quotes). For movements such as “next comma,” you could also create a macro for “previous comma” simply by changing the “Forward” text to “False” (without the quotes).

Movement to recordSuggested keyboard shortcutExplanation or macro instructions
Next periodControl+[period key]Sub MoveToPeriod()     Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “.”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindAsk         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next commaControl+[comma key]Sub MoveToComma()     Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “,”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next semicolonControl+[semicolon key]Sub MoveToSemicolon()     Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “;”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next colonControl+Shift+[semicolon key]Sub MoveToColon()     Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “:”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next punctuation (any)Control+Alt/Option+[right arrow]If you don’t want to record separate shortcuts for each punctuation symbol, you can use this shortcut instead.   Sub MoveRightToPunctuation() Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “[.,;:\?\!]”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = True         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Previous punctuation (any)Control+Alt/Option+[left arrow]If you don’t want to record separate shortcuts for each punctuation symbol, you can use this shortcut instead.   Sub MoveLeftToPunctuation() Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “[.,;:\?\!]”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = False         .Wrap = wdFindAsk         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = True         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next numberControl+3Mnemonic: The number sign (#) appears above the 3 on your keyboard.   Sub MoveToNumber() Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “^#”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Previous numberControl+Alt/Option+3Sub MoveToPreviousNumber() Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “^#”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = False         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next letterControl+4Mnemonic: Programmers use the $ to represent a letter rather than a number, and the $ appears above the 4 on your keyboard. Alternatively: The 4 appears beside the 3 that I used to search for numbers, so you can search for letters and numbers using adjacent keys.   Sub MoveToNextLetter()     Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “^$”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Previous letterControl+Alt/Option+4Mnemonic: Programmers use the $ to represent a letter rather than a number, and the $ appears above the 4 on your keyboard. Alternatively: The 4 appears beside the 3 that I used to search for numbers, so you can search for letters and numbers using adjacent keys.   Sub MoveToPreviousLetter()     Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “^$”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = False         .Wrap = wdFindAsk         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next left bracketControl+9Mnemonic: The left bracket appears above the 9 on your keyboard.   Sub MoveToLeftBracket() Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “(”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Previous left bracketControl+Alt/Option+9Mnemonic: The left bracket appears above the 9 on your keyboard.   Sub MoveToPreviousLeftBracket() Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “(”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = False         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next right bracketControl+0Mnemonic: The right bracket appears above the 0 on your keyboard.   Sub MoveToRightBracket() Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “)”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Previous right bracketControl+Alt/Option+0Mnemonic: The right bracket appears above the 9 on your keyboard.   Sub MoveToPreviousRightBracket() Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “)”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = False         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False         .MatchByte = False         .MatchFuzzy = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next left square bracketControl+[Sub MoveToNextLeftSquareBracket()     Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “[”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next right square bracketControl+]Sub MoveToNextRightSquareBracket()     Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “]”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next bookmarkControl+Shift+BI use [ ] as a bookmark because it’s short and won’t appear in most manuscripts. If you prefer, choose your own bookmark character!   Sub FindNextBookmark() Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “[]”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Previous bookmarkControl+Alt+Option+ Shift+BI use [ ] as a bookmark because it’s short and won’t appear in most manuscripts. If you prefer, choose your own bookmark character!   Sub FindPrevBookmark() Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “[]”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = False         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next instance of selected textControl+Alt/Option+FSelect the text you want to find before you run the macro. This macro then copies it to the clipboard and pastes it into the search dialog box.   Sub FindSelectedText()     Selection.Copy ‘ Define selection as variable     Dim MyFoundText$     MyFoundText$ = Selection     Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find        .Text = MyFoundText$         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindAsk         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Previous instance of selected textControl+Alt/Option+Shift+FSelect the text you want to find before you run the macro. This macro then copies it to the clipboard and pastes it into the search dialog box.   Sub FindSelectedTextPrevious() Selection.Copy ‘ Define selection as variable     Dim MyFoundText$     MyFoundText$ = Selection     Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find        .Text = MyFoundText$         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = False         .Wrap = wdFindAsk         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub
Next yearControl+YI use this for checking literature citations using the author/date system. Note that you can edit this macro to find any repeating pattern of characters (e.g., change ^# to ^$ to find a pattern with four consecutive letters).   Sub FindYear() Selection.Find.ClearFormatting     With Selection.Find         .Text = “^#^#^#^#”         .Replacement.Text = “”         .Forward = True         .Wrap = wdFindContinue         .Format = False         .MatchCase = False         .MatchWholeWord = False         .MatchWildcards = False         .MatchSoundsLike = False         .MatchAllWordForms = False     End With     Selection.Find.Execute End Sub

February 21, 2022

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 12:46 pm

Creating AutoCorrect entries: a description of the thought process, and many examples

© Geoffrey Hart

Like your smartphone, most word processors provide a feature that lets you type a few characters and magically replace them with many more characters as soon as you type a space or press Enter. Microsoft calls this AutoCorrect, which is also known as automatic text, shortcuts, autocomplete, and other (some unprintable) names. Simply speaking, this is a tool that makes computers into the kind of tool they’re supposed to be — one that makes our work go faster so we can spend more time thinking about what we’re doing and less time actually doing it. The more often you use these shortcuts in a given manuscript, the more time you save. But even if you only type them once per manuscript, they can save you hours if you do this for many manuscripts.

In Effective Onscreen Editing and Write Faster With Your Word Processor, I provide a high-level overview of how automatic text works. However, given space constraints in these books, I provided only a few examples. To remedy that lack, I’ve written this article to make the recommendations more concrete by providing many more examples, along with an explanation of why (given the type of editing I do) I created a specific type of AutoCorrect category or a specific AutoCorrect within that category. For simplicity, I’ll refer to these timesavers as “shortcuts” henceforth.

Note: Although I’ve emphasized the time savings permitted by shortcuts, I also want to remind you of the “repetitive” part of “repetitive stress injury.” As we grow older, our bodies take longer to recover from hours of pounding on the keyboard. Anything we can do to limit that repetition reduces the stress on our bodies and improves our recovery times.

Although this article focuses on editing, the same thought process can be applied by writers. For example, if you need to leave yourself a recurring type of note, you can create a shortcut for that kind of note (e.g., “Research the cost of this thing in 1850”). If you need to leave a specific note to your future editor, create a shortcut for that too (e.g., “Yes, this is a deliberate error (by the character, not me); don’t correct it”). If you write about people with really complex names (e.g., Charles Philip Arthur George, prince of Wales and earl of Chester, duke of Cornwall, duke of Rothesay, earl of Carrick and Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland), create a shortcut for each name to speed the typing and reduce typing errors.

Some context that shapes my approach

To understand the shortcuts I’ve created, it helps to understand my context. I work as a freelance editor and specialize in scientific editing for authors who have English as a second or third language, but who nonetheless must publish in English. As a result, many of my shortcuts are specific to that context: they focus on the kind of manuscript I edit (usually for a peer-reviewed science journal), and they include problems that regularly appear in such manuscripts, such as descriptions of mathematical conventions or problems related to graphs and tables. If you work in a different genre, you probably won’t find those specific shortcuts useful. However, paying attention to the kind of comments or replacement text you repeatedly type will reveal your own genre-specific shortcuts you should be creating. For example, academic editors may need a handful of shortcuts that specifically relate to footnotes and endnotes.

In my case, I’m in the fortunate position of being near the end of my career, so freeing up more time for my own projects is becoming more important to me than adding an extra hour of billable work. Thus, one of my goals is to teach my authors to write better, and many of my comments are explanatory in the hope that the author will learn not to repeat a mistake in future manuscripts. Because many of my authors are on a tight budget and I’m fairly expensive, I commonly describe a correction that needs to be done throughout a manuscript and leave them to do the actual work. That’s a win–win solution, since it both gives me more free time at the end of a day’s work and gives them a lower cost. Several of my shortcuts describe formatting work or research (e.g., to check details of a citation) that I am not likely to do for a manuscript that will be published in a peer-reviewed journal or if an author needs to reduce the cost of my work, but that I will likely do when I’m editing an entire book.

If you’re still early in your career, and don’t yet have a full work week, you may not be able to afford to reduce billable hours. However, time you save by using shortcuts can be spent on improving the quality of your edits or performing edits you might not otherwise have time to do before a tight deadline, leading to little or no net change in your billable hours. And, of course, if you bill by the word or by the job, saving time by typing less increases your effective hourly rate because you finish the same amount of work in less time.

One point you’ll note when we get to the actual shortcuts I use is that although some of my shortcuts are likely to work, unmodified, in a range of situations, many require small modifications to account for the unique characteristics of a specific sentence, paragraph, or manuscript. It’s still faster to let Word do most of the typing and then revise the wording, if necessary.

A final note about these shortcuts: some of them may contradict your own preferences or the recommendations of a specific style guide that you follow. In most cases, this is because my shortcuts resulted from the kinds of problems my authors face with publisher style guides or from the conventions of a genre that I work in. The “standard” guideline about minimizing abbreviation use, and the associated shortcuts for describing this problem, are good examples of things you may not see in a standard style guide, but that nonetheless occur regularly in my work. These kinds of learned wisdom will be specific to your type of work.

Technology notes about shortcuts

• Microsoft Word requires a minimum shortcut length of 3 characters, and allows a maximum of 256 characters. If you need more, you can either use a different form of automatic text (e.g., Word’s “building blocks” and “quick parts”) or you can “daisy chain” shortcuts so the first shortcut types the first part of the long text and ends with a second shortcut that types the rest of the text.

• Choosing an appropriate shortcut for a longer phrase is always a balancing act between choosing something short but harder to remember versus something longer and easier to remember, but harder to type. Objectively, there’s no optimal length. Whatever works best for you!

• There’s also a tradeoff between crafting a longer, grammatically correct sentence and a shorter fragment that is sufficiently clear that adding words to create a complete sentence only increases the amount of text the author must read.

• I’ve typed my shortcuts in lower-case because Word does not distinguish between “shortcut,” “Shortcut,” and “SHORTCUT.” If you want the shortcut to produce specific capitalization, add “caps” or “lc” to the name. For example, sclc = “shortcut lower case,” sccap = “Shortcut capitalized,” and scallcap = “SHORTCUT all capitalized.”

• If you create a shortcut that contains formatting (e.g., italics, a special font), select “formatted text” in the AutoCorrect dialog box so Word includes the format and you won’t have to apply it manually.

How to use this article

One thing you’ll notice is that the nomenclature I’ve used is inconsistent; in some cases, I’ve used a whole word; in other cases, I’ve used an abbreviation based on a word or phrase, and in some cases I’ve used an initialism. This is because the shortcuts I use have evolved over a period of nearly 30 years, and my brain was in a different space at different points during this period. (This falls under the heading of “it seemed like a good idea at the time, and now it’s hardwired into my fingers.”)

An additional problem is that after 35 years of editing, my memory isn’t what it used to be, and the terse shortcuts I used to remember with no problem are becoming problematic. I now find that longer words tend to be easier to remember, particularly for shortcuts I use less often. Rather than developing a consistent system of nomenclature for this article, I’ve retained the actual shortcuts that I use on a daily basis. If you’re developing your own system of shortcuts, you’ll probably find it easier to start with a logical naming system. Or, like me, you may accept something more ad hoc and chaotic. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you can use the system you develop.

Note: In Microsoft Word, I start all of my shortcuts with the ] character (i.e., a right square bracket). This accomplishes two important goals: First, it ensures that I rarely type a shortcut by mistake. Although I can use Command/Control+Z to undo any shortcut that I triggered by mistake, that gets tedious when I’m having a bad typing day. Second, this groups all of my shortcuts together at the top of Word’s enormous list of shortcuts, making it much easier to find and revise my shortcuts. I’ve omitted this character from my shortcuts in this article.

Because reading a long list of someone else’s shortcuts is tedious, I recommend that you pick a specific category that relates to the type of work you do. Spend a moment considering whether one of my shortcuts applies directly to your work. If so, feel free to copy it exactly, or modify it so it’s a better fit for your communication style or genre. If not, does it inspire you to create something similar for a different purpose? So much the better! (If so, add your suggestion in the comments section that follows this article so that others may benefit.)

That being said, here’s a list of my current shortcuts, with explanations of why I created them and how I use them.

Abbreviation use

ShortcutReplacement textNotes
abbAbbreviations should only be used for variables and complex phrases. They should also be used at least 3 times to justify creating the abbreviation. I have deleted abbreviations that do not meet these criteria.A common guideline for peer-reviewed journals
abb0You don’t use this abbreviation again anywhere.Mnemonic: 0 = zero more uses
abb1You only use this abbreviation 1 more time, which is not enough to justify creating the abbreviation.Mnemonic: 1 = 1 more use
abbabYou don’t use this abbreviation again anywhere in the Abstract. (Abbreviations must be redefined in the main text.)Mnemonic: abbreviation in Abstract

Explanations about what I did and why

ShortcutReplacement textNotes
approveI have made this change without tracking it so that you will not need to approve each correction.Often added to another explanation, such as why I italicized certain words.
captionsI will only edit the captions on the pages that contain the figures. Please replace this list with the final edited captions.Journals often require a list of figure and table captions separate from the captions that appear below the figure or above the table. Editing the same text twice increases the risk of error (i.e., that the author will miss a correction); it’s faster for the author to simply copy/paste the final edited caption.
emPlease feel free to e-mail me an explanation and I will help you choose clearer wording.Mnemonic: em = e-mail me.   A reminder that makes explicit what most authors already know implicitly after working with me for years, namely that I’m happy to work with them interactively.
etc“Etc.” should only be used when the next item in the list can be easily predicted (e.g., 1, 2, 3, etc.).Not a firm rule, but my authors commonly create lists where it would be important to specify the “etc.” rather than leaving readers to guess.
familyCapitalizing Asian family names this way decreases the risk of errors by Western journals.English journal staff, even today, have difficulty recognizing the correct family name. If they use the wrong family name when they enter a manuscript into a library database, readers may be unable to find an author’s research by searching for the correct family name.
figsAs you requested, I have not edited your figure captions or the contents of the figures. Please note that some changes in the main text may require similar changes in the figures or their captions.Authors sometimes ask me to not edit captions or content to save money. It’s not a good choice, so I remind them to check carefully whether they need to change the figure too if they accept one of my suggestions in the text.
tablesAs you requested, I have not edited your table titles or the contents of the tables. Please note that some changes in the main text may require similar changes in the tables or their titles.Same note as for “figs.”


ShortcutReplacement textNotes
bracketIn general, you should add a space before brackets. I have added this space everywhere without tracking it so that you will not need to approve each correction.The exception is in the bibliography, where journals often format the volume/issue numbers as “2(3),” with no space before the brackets.
figlocPlease consult the journal’s author guidelines. Most journals ask authors to place the figures and tables after the References section. If the journal requires this, you should not submit your paper before you make this change.Mnemonic: figloc = figure location.   Where an author specifically wants me to fix formatting, I do the research myself and move the figures to the correct location.
figtextMuch of the text in your figures is too small to read easily, and will become unreadable when the journal is published. ]figtext2Daisy chain: If I want to provide advice, I simply press the space bar to trigger the figtext2 shortcut (see the next item). If not, I press Command/Control+Backspace to delete the second shortcut.
figtext2Please prepare all figures at their final size (to fit within 1 or 2 columns of text in the printed journal), then print a copy. If the text is even slightly different to read, increase its size until it is easy to read.After adding this two or three times as a comment, the author doesn’t have to be reminded of it.
gridI turned off the grid that is used to align Asian characters because this can cause serious problems for Western reviewers. In addition, I have added continuous line numbering to make it easier for reviewers to define the location of their comments.This is less of a problem than it used to be, but older versions of Word are sometimes unable to display Asian fonts legibly, even though the characters in those fonts are English characters.
pcPlease consult a recent issue of the journal. The guidelines to authors did not specifyMnemonic: pc = please consult.   Mostly used when I have been asked to ensure compliance with a publisher’s guidelines. I can simply start typing to explain what wasn’t specified, or delete the last sentence if they asked me not to check compliance.
snvThis symbol was not visible on my computer. If you can see it here ( ) in this comment, please copy it into the text to ensure that it will be visible to all reviewers. If not, please use the correct character from the Symbol font.Mnemonic: snv = symbol not visible.   This is increasingly rare; most times, I can see the symbol and I simply replace it.
symbThis character or symbol was not visible on my computer. Please replace it with the correct character from the Symbol font to ensure that it will be visible to all reviewers.Similar to the snv shortcut, but used when I can’t see the character on either my Windows computer or my Mac.
timesI have set the text to use Times New Roman 12 points because this is the standard required by most journals. (Other fonts can cause problems for some reviewers.)If a publisher’s guidelines require a specific font, I replace Times with the correct font name.

Literature citations and bibliographic entries

ShortcutReplacement textNotes
1pOnly 1 page?Authors sometimes don’t provide the full page range. However, in some cases, what appears to be one page is actually the article’s reference number. If they’ve asked me to fully edit their References section, I add the missing page number myself.
2refsThere are 2 papers by these authors with the same year, so I have added “a” and “b” after the year to distinguish between them. Please ensure that both are cited somewhere as ?a, ?b, or both years. 
chinFor all references published in Chinese, add “(in Chinese)” or “(in Chinese with English summary)” to indicate the source of the English title.A courtesy to readers who won’t go to the trouble of finding and downloading a reference if they can’t read the language.
edsIf editors are listed for this proceedings, add their names here, followed by “(ed.)” for 1 editor or “(eds.)” for more than 1. 
elssrefsI have confirmed that all references are correctly cited in the text, but have not checked their format or contents. Please ensure that the details are correct and that you have followed the journal guidelines.A note for a specific client (ELSS) who doesn’t pay me to edit reference contents or format.
engrefFor general principles, you should provide a literature citation from the English international research literature. Remember that most journal reviewers cannot read a Chinese reference.Sometimes research has only been done in the author’s native language, and that’s okay. But for general information, authors should provide the information in the language the journal’s peer reviewers and subsequent readers can read.
etalPlease confirm that the journal accepts the use of “et al.” in the References section, and the minimum number of author names that must be provided (usually the first 3 names but sometimes 6 or 8 names). 
everyFor all comments related to formatting, please make the necessary changes in all references, not just the one containing the comment.Even if I haven’t been asked to edit the References section, I’ll usually point out something the author should fix throughout this section. I may repeat this a couple times just to remind the author they need to check all references.
histI moved this sentence here to present the research in historical order.This one exists because Chinese authors tend to use what English authors would consider reverse chronological order, and most English publishers prefer “oldest first” chronological order.
ip“In press” is only acceptable if the year of publication has been confirmed. If not, replace this year with “manuscript in preparation” and delete the paper from the References section until the publication date is confirmed. ]ip2Daisy chain: I separated this shortcut into “ip” and “ip2” because sometimes only the second shortcut is necessary.
ip2If the year is correct, please add the journal’s volume number for that year, and provide a DOI if one is available.DOI is a “digital object identifier,” which uniquely identifies every manuscript (at least in theory).
japanFor all references published in Japanese, add “(in Japanese)” or “(in Japanese with English summary)” to indicate the source of the English title.A courtesy to readers who won’t go to the trouble of finding and downloading a reference if they can’t read the language.
lcPlease provide a literature citation.Mnemonic: lc = literature citation.
movedI have moved this reference into correct alphabetical order without tracking the change.I created this one because I never want an author to think I’m making changes “behind their back.” It also reminds them that I did actually review their References section. Compare “order.”
nd(no date) 
npPlease confirm the number of pages.Mnemonic: np = number of pages.
orderI have moved some references into correct alphabetical order without tracking the change so that you can see my other edits more easily.I use this one when there are many references in the wrong place. Compare “moved.”
order2The letter after the year changed after this reference was placed in correct alphabetical order.Used for reference systems in which two references in the same year would be cited (for example) as “Hart, et al. 2021a, 2021b.”
prevPreviously, you have . Which is the correct style for the journal that will review your paper?By pressing my keyboard shortcut for “move to previous punctuation,” this positions the cursor at the period, so I can simply type what thing the author did previously. This could also be done as a daisy chain, with the second shortcut beginning with the period.
pubPlease add the name of the publishers of the proceedings, followed by their city and country. 
reffieldI have converted your references into editable text so you can see my changes more clearly. Please copy all changes into your reference-management software, then regenerate the References section.Some citation or reference management software doesn’t let you select only a problem word or number (e.g., a year) and attach a comment; Word displays the comment as if it applies to the whole References section. This change makes it easy to clarify what the comment applies to. It also reminds authors how to implement the changes so that the same errors don’t keep reappearing. Yes, some of them need that reminder.
refsAs we agreed, I did not edit the format of the references, only the contents. Please do the formatting yourself following the journal’s guidelines; journal editors can reject a manuscript that does not follow their guidelines.Used to remind authors when we agreed that they didn’t want to pay me for correcting the reference formats.
refs2I have confirmed that all references are correctly cited, but have not checked their format or contents again.Used when an author returns an edited manuscript with a few questions. To save them time and money, I won’t check the references again until after peer review.
reinsertPlease reinsert this citation using your reference management software.One common error in literature citations is that the authors forget to use their software. As a result, the reference is not included in the References section.
rmIf this change is not correct, this reference is missing from your References. Please add it there.Mnemonic: rm = reference missing.   Used when I can edit the citation (e.g., add “et al.” or change et al. to “Name 1 and Name 2”) and probably be correct. Compare “rm2.”
rm2This reference is missing from your References section. Please add it there.Used when there’s no easy way for me to figure out which reference they’re citing. Compare “rm.”
rncThis reference is not cited in the text. Either insert a citation at the correct location, or delete the reference from your literature section.Mnemonic: rnc = reference not cited   Used for publishers (e.g., most journals) that don’t allow inclusion of uncited papers in the bibliography
rnpReport number and number of pages?Mnemonic: rnp = report number of pages.
sicIf this change is not correct, please add [sic] after the word to inform the journal that this error is present in the original title. 
spellThis is spelled . in the reference. Please confirm which spelling is correct, and make the necessary changes everywhere in the manuscript.Used for potentially incorrect author names in a literature citation. Pressing my keyboard shortcut for “move to previous punctuation” positions the cursor at the period, so I can immediately start typing the spelling indicated in the reference.
twoWhen two authors have the same family name, it’s helpful to add their initials to distinguish between them.Used for citation systems that would use “G.J. Hart 2021 and J.S. Hart 2021” instead of “Hart 2021a,b.”
wdThis date does not match the date ( ]wd2Mnemonic: wd = wrong date.   Daisy chain: This lets me use Command/Control+LeftArrow to move to the bracket so I can enter the mismatched year, press End to move to the end of the line, then press the space bar to insert the rest of the shortcut.
wd2) in the References. Please confirm the correct date, then make the necessary changes everywhere. (It is also possible the reference is missing and must be added.)See above for “wd.”


ShortcutReplacement textNotes
affilPlease provide the affiliation (e.g., university) for all people named in the acknowledgments.A common requirement for peer-reviewed journals.
corPlease indicate the corresponding author with an *, and for that author, provide the complete mailing address (including street or district name and building number), as well as the telephone, fax, and e-mail.Most of my authors can never remember to add these details on the title page of a manuscript. And they never remember to copy the edited details from a previous manuscript.
eg or exFor example,I probably type this scores of times in an average manuscript.
expcFor example (provide the correct details):Mnemonic: example (provide correct)   Used when I can guess the author’s meaning well enough to propose a sentence they can either copy/paste or or modify.
faxPlease provide your fax number too. If it is the same as your telephone number, change “Tel.” to “Tel./Fax:”Many journals still require authors to provide their fax number, even though most people use e-mail rather than a fax to transmit documents.
ghGeoff Hart ( / 
ghstcGeoff Hart, Fellow, Society for Technical CommunicationSame as “gh,” but used when I feel I need to assert my professional authority.
href<a href=” target=’blank></a>Useful for when I’m editing text in an HTML document and need to insert a link.

Response letters to peer reviewers

ShortcutReplacement textNotes
linesWhen you have finished reviewing my edits, please check the line numbers throughout this letter; some will change.Used in the response letter to the reviewers. Compare “lines2.”
lines2When you have finished reviewing my edits, please cite the new line numbers for this change in your response to the reviewer.Used in the manuscript where I added text in response to a review comment. Compare “lines.”
thankOnly thank reviewers one time, either at the beginning or the end of your replies.Repeatedly thanking the reviewer for a series of harsh criticisms begins to sound sarcastic. (“Thank you sir, may I have another?”)
titlePlease replace this with the final edited title.The author may or may not accept my suggested changes. Either way, it’s less error-prone if they copy the final title rather than making a series of corrections and missing one or more.

Science-specific shortcuts

ShortcutReplacement textNotes
absMost journals require an abstract of 200-250 words, so I have edited this one to reduce its length.I routinely need to shorten the Abstract by 25 to 50%. If a journal has a different limit, I can easily change the numbers.
asymmPlease confirm: 19 (not 20) bases, thus asymmetrical primers, not a copying error?Used only in genetics manuscripts that use “primers” in an analysis that identifies specific genetic sequences. I can easily move to and edit the numbers. When an author manually retypes a primer sequence, it’s easy to omit one of the bases, leading to a one-letter discrepancy. But it’s also possible they used asymmetrical primers, so I ask them to check.
boldAll matrix variables and vectors should be boldfaced, so I have applied this format for you without tracking the change (so that you will not need to approve each format change).A standard format for variables. Compare “ital.”
charFor a list of standard keystrokes to create symbols, please see the list of files available for downloading on my Web site: provide a list of these characters because it’s easier for authors to copy/paste a symbol, but if they want to learn the keyboard shortcut, it’s available.
colorColor is very expensive to publish, and most journals ask the author to pay this cost. Please consider redrawing this figure in black, white, and shades of grey.Usually followed by an explanation of details. This reminds the author that I’m trying to save them money, not just bill them for more work.
delcδ18CAn example of inserting a special character (the Greek lower-case letter delta) combined with a format (superscript). It’s painful to repeatedly type such hybrid formats manually.
editableTables must be submitted to the journal in editable form (i.e., Word tables or Excel files), not as graphics.For some reason, authors like to provide tables as graphics. Journals don’t accept that format.
equatSimple equations should be typed directly from the keyboard rather than inserted as graphics. I will do this for you wherever possible.Many journals require this. Even when they don’t, it makes no sense to use the equation editor to insert a single-character variable name using the equation editor.
genusGenus names should not be abbreviated at the start of a sentence.A common, albeit not universal, guideline.
greekGreek letters are traditionally not italicized. 
italAll variables should be italicized, so I have applied this format for you without tracking the change (so that you will not need to approve each format change).A standard format for variables. Compare “bold.”
keyTo avoid production problems at the journal, please delete the symbol definitions or descriptions from all figure captions and place them in the graph as a key/legend. This is also clearer for readers.It’s always clearer to show the symbol in the key/legend than to describe it in the caption. This is particularly true for colors, since even people who speak the same language often disagree on the correct color name.
key2In the key/legend, change 
kmPlease change “Kilometers” to “km” (K to k) in the scale bar.Nitpicky, but worth fixing.
manPlease provide complete model number and manufacturer information (name, city, state if in the U.S., and country).Some journals still require the address information for the equipment used in an analysis even though a Web site address would be more useful in most cases.
meanwith mean monthly temperatures ranging from ???°C in January to ???°C in August,This is the text I want to add to the manuscript. If I want to explain why I added this text, I select the text, insert a comment, then type the “mean2” shortcut (next item).
mean2The annual temperature range is much more biologically meaningful than the annual average. Please provide the missing values and the correct month names. 
millionMany international readers have difficulty remembering the difference between million and billion, so exponential notation is always clearer.One of my authors ignored my advice to make this change, and was harshly criticized for publishing a paper with the wrong word (he used billion instead of million) and introducing a large error in the literature.
multThe multiplication symbol you used was not visible on my computer. If you can see it here (´) in this comment, please copy it into the text to ensure that it will be visible to all reviewers. If not, please use the correct character from the Symbol font.I haven’t deleted this one, though nowadays I mostly just type the correct symbol for the author and tell them that I’ve done this everywhere without tracking the change.
noitalLetters and numbers that are not variables should not be italicized. I will make this change everywhere without tracking it. 
noital2Please remove the italics format from . in the equation.When an equation is inserted as a graphic, I can’t select a character and change its format. Here, I press the “move to previous punctuation” shortcut and type the name of the character or characters the author must reformat.
nsddid not differ significantlyMnemonic: nsd = no significant difference.   Slightly shorter but clearer than variations such as “showed no significant difference.”
numberIn English, there should be a space between numbers and units of measurement (except for % and ‰). I have added this space everywhere without tracking it so that you will not need to approve each correction.In hindsight, “space” would have been a better choice, but my fingers have memorized “number.”
percentMost journals will only accept 1 decimal place of precision for percentages. More precision may be accepted in tables.I see this criticism raised so often by journal editors and reviewers that I just automatically change all percentages to one decimal place. The only exception is for unusually precise analyses that justify an extra decimal place.
precValues calculated to the same level of precision should have the same number of decimal places.Simplistic but broadly accurate statement that I’ll modify if necessary.
samexPlease use the same x-axis scale in all graphs to avoid distorting the magnitude of the differences between the values.Using different scales in a graph makes it easy to misinterpret the data. This happens to my authors with dismaying frequency; I can only assume the problem is even more frequent for their readers.
sameyPlease use the same y-axis scale in all graphs to avoid distorting the magnitude of the differences between the values.See “samex.”
sigOnly use “significant” if you performed a test of statistical significance.A distinction that’s often relevant in a science manuscript.
smallMuch text is too small or is concealed by the background, and will become impossible to read when the journal is printed. ]small2Daisy chain: This lets me press the spacebar if I want to activate the “small2” shortcut (see next item). If not (e.g., if I have already said this several times), I simply press Command/Control+BackSpace to delete the second shortcut.
small2Please create the figure at its final size (to fit within 1 or 2 text columns in the printed journal), then print a copy; enlarge the text until it is easy to read. 
taPlease check the journal’s guidelines. Is it necessary to add a taxonomic author (e.g., L.) for each species binomial?Mnemonic: ta = taxonomic author.
unitsPlease provide the units for all parameters if changing the units changes a coefficient’s value or a conversion factor (e.g., calculations using masses in g produce results 1000 times greater than calculations using masses in kg). 
webPlease provide a Web address for this software.If I can find the address quickly, I’ll do so. Many of my authors would rather do such work than pay me to do it.
xaOn the x-axis, please change 
xa0Please start the x-axis at zero in both graphs.Starting a graph axis far from zero can greatly exaggerate the magnitude of a difference between adjacent data points. Authors frequently misinterpet their own data because they looked at the data points rather than the graph axis. I can quickly delete “in both graphs” if the comment only applies to one graph.
xyPlease italicize x, y, and R in the equation. Add the P level for statistical significance.Note that this shortcut contains formatting (italics), so I selected “formatted” in the AutoCorrect dialog box.
yaOn the y-axis, please change 
ya0Please start the y-axis at zero in both graphs.See “xa0.”

Substantive notes or questions

ShortcutReplacement textNotes
alreadyYou have already said this.Used to explain a deletion.
clarPlease clarify your meaning. Perhaps “…”If I can guess the correct meaning, I simply start typing. If not, I delete the “perhaps.”
clearThis is clear from what you have already said, and does not need to be repeated.Used to explain a deletion.
confirmPlease confirm that my revision of the rest of the sentence is correct.Obviously, I want authors to confirm all of my changes. I use this when I want them to pay particular attention to a change. Compare “dym.”
defA definition is required. Please modify my suggestion if necessary. 
dymDo you mean ” “?Mnemonic: do you mean.   Used when I’m not sufficiently confident to add my interpretation in the manuscript. If I am confident, I type the likely meaning and use the “confirm” shortcut instead.
fewIn English, “few” and “rare” mean that at least 1 example exists. If that is correct, provide at least one example or literature citation. If you found no examples or papers, change “few” to “no.”Sometimes non-English authors have learned an incorrect word definition that’s so common I assume that it exists in the standard translation dictionary they use.
mod or plmodPlease modify my suggestion if necessary. 
notIf that’s not what you mean, please change the wording to make the meaning clearer.If I can guess what the alternative is, I’ll suggest what it might be, then add this comment to ask the author to pay particular attention to my revision.
repeatThis repeats the information in the previous sentences, so I deleted it to eliminate the repetition. 
res “Respectively” is only used when you are presenting the variables separately from their values (e.g., 1, 2, and 3 for A, B, and C, respectively).Sometimes non-English authors have learned an incorrect word definition that’s so common I assume that it exists in the standard translation dictionary they use.
sameMake the same change here that you made earlier in the paragraph.Used when I proposed two or more different changes, and I don’t know which one they chose. If the change is fairly small or simple, I’ll simply repeat the replacement phrase in the comment. Compare “spc.”
sorryI’m sorry, but I don’t know what this means. Perhaps:Blaming myself for the problem, not the author, robs it of some of its sting.
spcPlease see my previous comment concerning this point. Use similar wording here.Mnemonic: spc = see previous comment.   Used when I explained a problem with the way an author did something (e.g., described an experimental result) and did not propose wording to fix the problem. Compare “same.”
specPlease be more specific. For example,Often used to ask the author to provide a number instead of a vague phrase such as “really big.”

Geoff Hart ( (he/him) works as a scientific editor, specializing in helping scientists who have English as their second language to publish their research. He’s the author of the popular Effective Onscreen Editing, now in its 4th edition, and of the well-reviewed Writing for Science Journals. He has been a frequent presenter at Communication Central’s Be a Better Freelancer® conferences. He also writes fiction in his spare time, and has sold more than 33 stories thus far.    

© An American Editor. Content may not be recirculated, republished or otherwise used without both the prior permission of the publisher and full credit to the author of a given post and the An American Editor blog, including a live link to the post being referenced. Thank you for respecting our rights to and ownership of our work.

December 9, 2020

Finding, working with, and retaining (ESL) clients, Part 3

Geoff Hart

In Part 1 of this discussion, I discussed how to find and work with authors who have English as a second language (ESL authors). In Part 2, I discussed cultural considerations, related rhetorical issues, and editing tips. Now for some insights into ethical issues you might encounter in working with ESL authors.

Ethical issues

Sometimes ethical issues arise because of different standards in different countries. These can pose dilemmas for editors. For example, the teaching of statistical analysis in China is of widely uneven quality, and many of the manuscripts I edit don’t meet the standard of proof expected by western journals. As a result, I spend a lot of time teaching my authors basic statistics so they can revise their analyses or do a better job in their future research.

In China, as in the west, graduate students often aren’t taught best practices for experimental design, so their first few studies are often poorly designed. Editing to improve a manuscript’s clarity can have the unfortunate side effect of revealing flaws in the design and statistical analysis more clearly. Rather than trying to hide these deficiencies, I often find myself suggesting justifications for problems with the research (e.g., clearly emphasizing that it is preliminary or constrained by budget considerations) or suggesting additional work or analysis the author can do to fill holes in their research.

A particularly common problem relates to what appears to be plagiarism. This arises most often because authors have been taught (incorrectly) that as long as they cite the source of a quotation, they can simply copy someone else’s words. This is increasingly causing problems for authors because publishers are increasingly using software to check for such plagiarism. You can often spot problem sentences because they require no editing, unlike the rest of the manuscript, or they use a distinctively different writing style. Copying the text into Google is one way to quickly reveal such copying, and you can then suggest a way to legitimately paraphrase the copied text. Because paraphrasing takes practice, I periodically remind my ESL authors that if they can’t figure out how to paraphrase, they can copy the original text and highlight it to tell me that it’s copied and that I should help them come up with a different wording.

Confidentiality of information is another issue to keep in mind. This is particularly important when personal information is involved (e.g., in medical research), but is also important when an author is working in a competitive field where industrial espionage or academic precedence is an issue. Being able to prevent information from being leaked is essential for patent applications, and in academia, being the first to publish specific research results is important for the author’s career.

If there’s a risk of harming a client’s interests because their information was seen by someone inappropriate, look for a secure way to transfer information. E-mail is not secure. Encrypted e-mail exists and is one option; for example, consider using the ProtonMail software ( Using confidential file transfer sites is another option, but it can be hard to send the password to your author in a way that prevents interception.

Note: It should be obvious that using a secure file transfer site, but then sending the site’s password in simple e-mail is a bad idea. Yet people do this so often that I’ve stopped counting the times. Find another way to transfer the password, such as by voicemail or a text message to the client’s cellphone, or sending two parts of the password separately from two e-mail accounts.

One issue that comes up sometimes is that mainland China (the People’s Republic) considers Taiwan to be a province of China; the Taiwanese disagree. On the one hand, changing this so Taiwan is described as an independent nation can cause problems for the author if they’re a government employee and their employer notices this. On the other hand, pretending that Taiwan is a Chinese province can create a hostile review from a Taiwanese peer reviewer. There’s no really good solution to this problem, other than to raise the issue and let the author decide how they feel most comfortable dealing with it. They usually know how to handle the problem better than we do.

Note: Antivirus and anti-malware software is not optional, even if you use a Mac for your work. The ethical cost of passing along a virus or other malware to a client is too high to be cavalier about this problem. I use Bitdefender ( because it’s been consistently reliable and shown to be effective in rigorous testing. Many other options exist (

Getting paid

In my experience, my ESL authors are eager to do the right thing and pay me for my work. However, they may face many constraints on transmitting a payment. For example, Chinese university accounts payable departments often close during the summer, so invoices submitted from June through August may not get paid before September. Italian universities are infamously slow at payments, and can take months — despite sometimes heroic efforts by an author to prod the bureaucracy into motion.

Rather than getting angry about this, I’ve learned to accept that authors sometimes have little or no say in when I get paid. Thus, I recommend that you be flexible but firm about payments. For routinely tardy clients, automatically add your standard late fee into your invoice. Sending a second invoice with this fee added to the total may get you the additional money you’ve requested; more often, it only further delays your payment because the invoice re-enters the payment process at the beginning rather than holding its place in line.

Particularly for the benefit of new authors who haven’t yet learned how western editors do business, create a “standard terms” document that describes the nature of your work. I’ve provided examples of this document that you can download from my website ( Feel free to modify these documents to meet your own needs.

The goal of such a document is to ensure that the author understands their responsibilities and yours, not to provide a legal bludgeon to wield against recalcitrant authors. Ask each new client to read this document and confirm that they have done so and understand all of the terms, and offer to discuss and explain anything that isn’t clear. For example, specify that you own the work you’ve done until you’ve been paid. You can send a copy of the edited manuscript to a journal editor or publisher and tell them that they cannot legally publish your work until the author pays (I’ve done this successfully a couple times), but this creates bad blood. Ensuring that the author understands their relationship with you avoids a great many potential misunderstandings.

To the extent that this is possible, ask authors to pay you in your own currency. This is because converting money between currencies incurs conversion fees that the bank will subtract from your payment. These deductions can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars annually, so you should eliminate them wherever possible and mitigate them where you can’t avoid them. If you’re not American, some authors will find it difficult to pay you in your native currency; in that case, it may end up being cheaper and faster if you accept payment in U.S. dollars. In addition, each payment method incurs different fees, and you need to know what those fees are so you can add them to your invoices. (Just like charging sales tax in jurisdictions where this is required, authors — not editors — should pay these fees. However, services such as PayPal specifically prohibit charging their fees to the client.) However, if you use a payment service’s invoicing features, carefully check the terms of service instead of just e-mailing a PDF to your client. For example, PayPal prohibits charging its service fees to your clients.

Many payment options are available, and they’re changing rapidly. As a result, any list I provide will be out of date by the time you read this article. For that reason, I haven’t provided the fees charged by each service. Research these fees in advance so you can set up an account with each of these services (usually free or inexpensive) and offer them to your authors as a payment method. You’ll also need to talk to your bank to learn whether they charge any fees. That being said, here are several methods that I’ve used successfully for several years.

•       SWIFT: the standard method for transferring money internationally, directly between two bank accounts. This currently costs a fixed fee, and for large invoices (more than about US$800), it may be the least-expensive payment method. For smaller invoices, these other methods are typically less expensive.

•       PayPal ( the standard method of exchanging money in the west, and increasingly available in China, too.

•       Western Union ( this service has the advantage of operating in most countries around the world and its offices are usually easy to find; if you have a bank ATM card that’s compatible with their system, you can often get your payment transferred directly into your account. Walmart’s Western Union office can usually do this; the Western Union outlet at your local grocery store probably can’t.

•       Moneygram ( This is a significant competitor for Western Union that often has an outlet at the client’s local post office and at your post office.

•       In Canada, Interac e-transfers ( between bank accounts are free for many banks and inexpensive for others. However, that’s only an option within Canada.

•       Credit cards: PayPal currently offers the easiest and least-expensive way to receive payments from a client’s credit card. There’s no ongoing fee, unlike with most credit card processors, and the fee per transaction is reasonable.

•       AliPay or WeChat: These two services are China’s equivalent to Amazon and Facebook (or Twitter), respectively. They have highly refined systems for payment using a smartphone, and their fees are quite low. When your account is established, they’ll send you a QR code that you can send to clients along with your invoice. When the client scans it, they can transfer payment directly into your bank account. If you’re not working in China, you may need to sign up with a third party. In Canada, I use SnapPay (; in the U.S., you may need to create an account for the international versions of those services: for AliPay, <; and for WeChat, download the correct app for your smartphone’s operating system.

•       Transferwise ( This option deposits money directly into your bank account once you’ve registered your bank account with them.

•       Arrange payment via a client’s friends, family, or colleagues who live in your country — some of my Chinese clients ask their colleagues in the U.S. to send me the payment. They then repay their colleague using the Chinese banking system.

I offer all of these alternatives to my clients because my goal is to make payment as easy as possible. They greatly appreciate the flexibility of being able to choose the least-expensive method for a given invoice or the most-convenient option based on their location or available technology.

How to retain (ESL) clients

My experience has been that if your only relationship with a client centers on how they will pay you, the relationship is weak, and there are enough editors who do comparable work that you’re going to be relatively easy to replace. That’s why I prefer to frame my relationship with authors as one in which my primary goal is to help them publish their work, and I’ll go out of my way to help them with that goal.

I don’t pretend in any way that my work isn’t valuable or that it’s not important to pay me for that work. As a freelancer, I occasionally have to remind authors that I don’t earn a salary, since many assume that I’m a university professor or work at a research institute; to correct that false assumption, I occasionally have to remind an author that my only income comes from my freelance editing work. But that’s never the priority in my relationship with them.

Remember that any commitment you make (e.g., to finish work by a certain date) is a promise, and you must honor your promises if you want authors to trust you. You can’t avoid being struck by lightning, but you can build a network of colleagues who can replace you if “life happens” (e.g., an illness, a death in the family). This became particularly clear to me when I received a positive COVID-19 test result in late 2020 (which turned out to be a false positive). Since there was suddenly a real risk I would become seriously ill with little warning, I immediately contacted the colleagues who’d agreed to take referrals from me to warn them they might receive inquiries from my regular clients. I then sent their contact information to my clients, with the warning that “if you write to me and don’t receive a reply within 1 day, here’s why and here’s what to do about it.” This took me perhaps half an hour, greatly eased my conscience, and reassured everyone that I had their best interests in mind.

Another good way to build trust and loyalty is to underpromise and overdeliver. For example, if a manuscript must be returned to the author by a certain date, try to plan your schedule so you can finish your work a few days earlier. That way, if anything happens to you before that earlier date, you have a chance to ask a colleague to take over and finish it by the actual due date. If you finish early, the author gains extra time to review your work. If you “only” finish on the proposed date, then at least you’re still on time.

I always try to go the extra mile for my clients. I occasionally deal with publishers on their behalf when an author runs into trouble they can’t resolve, whether from lack of experience or simple language difficulties. I encourage my authors to include my name and contact information in their letters to publishers so I can speak directly to the publisher to clarify any misunderstandings. A couple times, an author has sent their original manuscript to a publisher instead of the edited manuscript, and incorrectly claimed that I edited it; when the publisher contacted me to ask whether the author was lying, I explained what probably happened and resolved the problem. I also maintain easily accessible backups of the manuscripts I’ve edited in perpetuity. Every year or two, an author needs to retrieve a copy of some ancient manuscript, and is very pleased when I’m able to provide it.

If, like me, your goal is to build a relationship with your authors, remember that successful relationships are all about communication. One of the promises I’ve made to my authors is that our relationship is between equals: we are both experts in our respective fields, and must respect each other’s expertise. As a result, I emphasize that we work by consensus, not by editorial “diktat.”

Where possible and appropriate, I communicate about more than just work. For example, I keep track of major national holidays, such as China’s national holiday in the first week of October, as well as the Chinese new year in the spring. If I’m going to do something special, like going for a dim sum breakfast, I’ll mention that and send along my hope that they will also have time to celebrate by dining with friends. Where appropriate, I try to learn a bit about them as people. For example, one of my clients is a classically trained violinist, and has sent me samples of his music. Another enjoys teaching me occasional phrases in his language, but particularly enjoys the opportunity to “edit the editor” when I try to use what I’ve learned.

Although cultures do tend to have certain overall characteristics, be careful about making assumptions about behavior based on those characteristics. People differ within a culture, and there are no “universal” approaches that work for everyone within a culture. For example, I know that Europeans are as crazy about soccer (“football”) as Americans are about baseball and Canadians are about hockey, so when Spain won the FIFA World Cup in 2010, I wrote to all my Spanish authors to congratulate them. One wrote back (rather sheepishly) to note that he actually didn’t care much for the sport and had no idea that his team had won.

Being culturally sensitive is important, particularly if you’re an English westerner. Most non-westerners have learned to deal with western conventions, and expect a certain amount of cultural ignorance from us. I try to learn enough about their culture to surprise them. Most greatly appreciate my efforts to understand and accommodate their culture rather than insisting they adapt to my culture.

Exerting this extra effort has resulted in strong relationships with most of my authors, and stronger loyalty. It also makes the work far more rewarding because I have a personal connection with these people that enriches me far beyond the money I earn. I’ve been invited to stay in one client’s home when I visited their country — in a country where this is rarely done — and another asked me to spend a few days teaching his graduate students how to write better. These opportunities are priceless.


Much though I enjoy my work, there are occasional frustrations I need to deal with. One of the biggest is authors who don’t learn from my editing and keep making the same mistakes again and again. Sometimes this is just the nature of the game: not everyone is a born writer, and the vast majority of the scientists I’ve worked with would rather do research than write. This can also be “attitude”: A couple of my authors have made it clear that they don’t believe they should need to learn how to write better; “That’s why I pay you.” Fair enough.

Payment delays can be frustrating, particularly if you’re living on a low income. Once you develop a large-enough clientele that you have invoices going out steadily, you’ll start receiving a steady inflow of payments. The degree of “steady” varies over time, but if you pay attention, you’ll start to notice slow periods and you can budget accordingly (i.e., save some extra money during busy periods to tide you over during slow periods). For example, many of my authors are hard at work doing field research during the summer, when the weather is more suitable and their students are on holiday. This means that I have a three-month slow period every year when they’re not writing and I’m editing less often.

Scheduling is an issue, particularly once you have a large clientele. Many authors simply refuse to learn to reserve my time in advance, and write (disingenuously or otherwise) to request that I drop everything and edit their manuscript immediately. I’ve learned to be tough about this. I remind authors at least twice per year that they have to contact me three weeks before they need me to start work so I can reserve time for a manuscript; that’s just how busy I am during most of the year. The ones who refuse to learn that lesson have alternatives; they can check whether one of my colleagues might be available on short notice, or they can (surprisingly often) ask their publisher for an extension.

Of course, writing doesn’t always go according to plan, so I always contact authors a week before their reservation to confirm whether it’s still valid, or whether they’ll need more time. This gives me much more flexibility in managing my schedule, and the authors also appreciate my reminders.

Since working with ESL authors means, by definition, working in different languages, miscommunication is a constant risk. Most often, this results in incomprehension rather than hurt feelings, but I always keep in mind the need to be exceptionally careful in how I communicate. I review all my e-mail communication at least once (twice for tricky diplomatic situations) to ensure that I’ve made my assumptions explicit, and haven’t misspoken. I hunt down typos, since nothing undermines trust in an editor quite like an e-mail full of preventable errors. Wherever possible, I practice redundant communication — if I don’t understand what an author wrote, I will use a comment such as: “If you mean [meaning 1], change this to [revision 1]; if you mean [meaning 2], change this to [revision 2]. If neither meaning is correct, please send me an explanation and I will help you choose clearer wording.”

The last part of that comment is a subliminal reminder that my goal is to work together with the author, as partners, and that I’m not going to leave them helpless if there’s any way I can prevent that from happening.

A rewarding career option

Despite the occasional frustrations, I wouldn’t trade my work for any other job. For some clients, our relationship is nothing more than business, but it’s as amicable as possible and thus efficient, pleasant, and mostly free of frustrations. For others, it’s more of a personal relationship, which I find more satisfying. Keep that in mind whether, like me, you choose to specialize in working with ESL authors or just add a few of them to your clientele to make your work more interesting and diverse, not to mention more lucrative.

Even if editing is your primary work, think outside that box to find ways to expand your relationship. If you can edit, maybe you can write, too? Currently, in response to a Japanese client’s request, I’m writing a twice-monthly series of articles about writing for peer-reviewed science journals. It’s a nice change from editing, and just as satisfying, since I know I’m making life easier for many authors who never learned the things I’m teaching.


(These references apply to all three sections of this discussion.)

Hart, G. 2003. Technical communication in China: a personal perspective. <>

Hart, G. 2006. Finding work in tough times. Intercom December 2006:8–11. <>

Hart, G. 2007. Successful cross-cultural communication requires us to test our assumptions. The Write Stuff, newsletter of the European Medical Writers Association 16(3):111–113. <>

Hart, G. 2013. Working with authors who speak English as a second language. Copyediting August/September 2013: 3–5. <>

Hart, G. 2014. Writing for Science Journals: Tips, Tricks, and a Learning Plan. Diaskeuasis Publishing, Pointe-Claire, Quebec. <>

Hart, G. 2019. Effective Onscreen Editing: New Tools for an Old Profession. 4th ed. Diaskeuasis Publishing, Pointe-Claire, Quebec. <>


Notes from lectures I presented at the Beijing Forestry University, October 2010:

•       Writing an English journal paper: <>

•       Working with research journals: <>

•       Common problems of the English language: <>

My standard contract terms:

•       For westerners: <>

•       For Chinese authors: <>

Geoff Hart (he/him) ( works as a scientific editor, specializing in helping scientists who have English as their second language to publish their research. He’s the author of the popular Effective Onscreen Editing, now in its 4th edition, and of the well-reviewed Writing for Science Journals, and has been a frequent presenter at Communication Central’s Be a Better Freelancer® conferences. He also writes fiction in his spare time, and has sold 28 stories thus far.

April 2, 2018

Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 6: Using AutoCorrect and FRedit for Special Characters

Ælfwine Mischler

As an editor and indexer, I often deal with texts that use diacritics to transcribe Arabic. In parts 1 through 4 of this series (Romanized Arabic in English Texts, Part 1 — Sources of Variations; Romanized Arabic in English Texts, Part 2 — Other Challenges for EditorsRomanized Arabic in English Texts, Part  3 — Spelling the Definite ArticleRomanized Arabic in English Texts, Part 4 — Omitting, Capitalizing, and Alphabetizing the Definite Article), I often mention the use of special characters, but until now I have not explained how to put them in your Word document. In Part 5, Romanizing Arabic in English Texts — Part 5: Inserting Symbols and Creating Shortcuts, I discuss how to insert symbols and create keyboard shortcuts. In this part, I discuss how to use AutoCorrect and FRedit for special characters.


Thanks to Geoff Hart and his Effective Onscreen Editing, for this method (and I highly recommend his book for all editors and writers).

  1. Go to the Insert tab and Symbol menu.

  1. Choose the font and subset.
  2. Find and select the character you need.

  1. Click on AutoCorrect in the lower left.

  1. In the Replace box, type some combination of keystrokes that will be easy to remember — usually best encased in some form of brackets — and then click on OK.

Now every time you type that combination, it will change to the special character you want. In my example, I chose [n-] to AutoCorrect to ñ (Unicode 00F1). If you don’t want the keystroke combination to change in a particular instance, just type Ctrl + Z (Undo). You can repeat this with all the special characters you need. In the screenshot, you can see some of the other AutoCorrect combinations I have created for the work I do.

It is sometimes difficult to find the characters you need in the Symbols table. If you have the Unicode values of the characters you need from your publisher or another source, you can also access AutoCorrect from the Word Options dialog box.

First, collect all the symbols you need and their Unicode values, either in another document or in your current document. I have collected all the Unicode characters that I use in one file, with their Unicode values, and the AutoCorrect coding that I use.

  1. If you are working in Word 2010 or a later version, go to the File tab > Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect Options. If you are working in Word 2007, use the Office button to get to Word Options.

  1. Then follow the steps above to create AutoCorrect codes for each character, using copy-paste to put the character in the With box.

Identifying a Character: More than One Way to Stick a Macron on a Letter

Another useful trick I learned from Geoff Hart’s book is how to identify a special character in a document that I am editing. Put your cursor immediately after a letter and hit Alt + X. The letter will change to its Unicode value. Hit Alt + X again and the character will appear again.

You can also use this method to insert a special character. Type the code and then Alt + X. If your special character is to come immediately after a numeral (such as if you are inserting a degree symbol), insert a space after the numeral, then delete the space after you insert the special character. Allen Wyatt gives more details on this in his Word Tips.

Being able to identify a character this way is handy if you come across an odd-looking character, or if you want to check whether your author has used the correct characters. There are various similar-looking characters to represent Arabic ayn and hamza, and I often have to check them. I can use the FRedit macro to highlight either the correct or incorrect characters as I find the need.

FRedit Macro

FRedit is a free macro available from Paul Beverley at Archive Publications. The FR is for Find-Replace. Paul has also provided videos to show you how to use this and other macros he has written.

You can use FRedit to replace your codes with special characters, similar to the way you would do it with AutoCorrect. The difference is that in using FRedit, your codes can be case-sensitive and your changes will not be made immediately as you type but later, when you run the macro. Collect all the special characters and your codes in one Word document to be used any time with FRedit.

When I have used editing software to check for inconsistencies, it did not recognize the difference between a plain letter and the same letter with a diacritic on it. I told Daniel Heuman of Intelligent Editing Ltd., creators of PerfectIt, about this, and sent him a sample file and a list of Unicode characters that I use for Arabic. He recently wrote to me to say that they had fixed the bug that caused this problem. I have tested it briefly and it is not quite right, but I will work with Daniel on this. With a combination of PerfectIt and FRedit, you should be able to catch most inconsistencies in files with special characters.

If you are editing rather than writing, you can use FRedit to automatically highlight — or, if you prefer, change to a different color — all of the special characters in a document. I find this useful because it draws my attention to the characters and makes it easier to see if a word is spelled once with a diacritic and once without, or if a different character was used.

If you are already familiar with FRedit, this image from the macro library will be understandable. This macro highlights all of these characters in yellow. I added the ones I needed to the ones provided by Paul. You could write similar macros that would highlight all of the single open quotation marks (sometimes used for ayn) in a second color and all of the apostrophes (sometimes used for hamza) in a third color — but note that it will also highlight these characters when they are used for other purposes.

Remember that I said there is more than one way to stick a macron on a letter? I was editing a document with a lot of transcribed Arabic titles at the time I was learning to use FRedit. I used the macro to highlight the Unicode special characters of my choice and was surprised that some letters that clearly had macrons were not highlighted. Using the Alt + X trick, I discovered why: A different character — a macron alone — had been used on those letters. They had to be changed to the correct Unicode character. FRedit made it easy to see which characters needed fixing because they were left unhighlighted.

You should now find it easier to use special characters in Word. In Part 5, I explained how to insert special characters by using the Insert Symbol feature and by creating keyboard shortcuts, which are suitable if you do not need a lot of different characters. In this part, I have explained two methods to use when you need a lot of different special characters. With AutoCorrect, you create codes that change to the desired special characters as you type. With FRedit, you create codes that change to the desired special characters when you run the macro (at the end or periodically as you work on a long file). You can also use a FRedit macro to highlight special characters so you can spot inconsistencies more easily in spelling and see any characters that look like the ones you want, but are in fact something else.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

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.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: