An American Editor

April 27, 2018

Lyonizing Word: Some Favorite Features from Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018

Jack Lyon

Making new macros with powerful features!

Bright-colored icons for all happy creatures!

Searching for typos with fresh wildcard strings!

These are a few of my favorite things.

                      (Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein.)

The new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018 has a wealth of new features, but I’d like to alert you to a few of my favorites, some of which are not immediately obvious but can be enormously useful.

Title-case all headings

If I had to pick a favorite out of all the new features, it would be this one. The previous version of Editor’s ToolKit Plus made it possible to select a heading, press a key (or click the mouse), and properly title-case the selected text. For example, a heading like this one—

THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE

or this one (Word’s default)—

The Ghost In The Machine

instantly became capitalized like this—

The Ghost in the Machine

with commonly used articles, prepositions, and conjunctions lowercased. That was great as far as it went, but why not make it possible to properly title-case all of a document’s headings without having to select them? That’s what this new feature does, for any text formatted with a heading style (Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on—or your own custom heading styles).

But this feature takes things even a step further, allowing you to automatically title-case headings in the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder — your choice. Now, rather than painstakingly capping and lowercasing by hand, you can have this feature do it for you, in seconds rather than hours.

But wait — there’s more, as they say on TV. This feature references a list of words so it knows what to lowercase, and you can edit that list to fit your needs. Obviously you’re going to want such words as and, the, of, and an, but what about beyond? How about through? Add or remove words to meet your own editorial style.

In addition, you can add text that you want to remain in all caps: USA, NASA, AARP, and so on.

Finally, you can even specify mixed case, with words like QuarkXPress and InDesign.

In my opinion, this feature alone is worth the price of admission. It will save you many an hour of editorial drudgery.

AutoMaggie

As you almost certainly know from hard experience, sometimes Microsoft Word documents become corrupted. (The technical term for this is wonky.) The standard fix, known as a “Maggie” (for tech writer/editor Maggie Secara, who has made it widely known to colleagues, although she did not invent the technique), is to select all of a document’s text except for the final paragraph mark (which holds the corruption), copy the text, and paste the text into a new document, which should then be free of wonkiness.

That’s simple enough, but section breaks can also hold corruption, so if your document has several of those, you have to maggie each section separately. Paragraph breaks also can become corrupt, in which case they need to be replaced with shiny new ones. The AutoMaggie feature in Editor’s ToolKit Plus takes care of all this automatically.

MacroVault batch processing

If you’re fond of using macros that you’ve recorded yourself or captured online, you’ll find MacroVault a truly revolutionary feature of the new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018. It was included with the previous version of the program as a way to easily access the macros you use the most, including automatically set keyboard shortcuts to run those macros. Now it takes your macro use to the next level, allowing you to run any of your macros on the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder.

Not only that, but you can specify which parts of a document you want to use — the main text, text boxes, footnotes, endnotes, headers, footers, and comments. This brings enormous power and flexibility to your macro collection.

FileCleaner saved settings

FileCleaner has lots of new (and useful!) cleanup options — so many, in fact, that I’ve had to put each kind of option on its own tab, one for each of the following:

  • Breaks, Returns, Spaces, Tabs
  • Dashes
  • Hyphenation
  • Formatting
  • Text
  • Punctuation
  • Miscellaneous

But I think the slickest new feature in FileCleaner is the ability to save entire sets of options for future use.

Just enter a name for a set of options (for a certain client, a certain kind of manuscript, or whatever). Then click OK to clean up those options. The next time you use FileCleaner, you can activate that set of options again by clicking the drop-down arrow on the right. When you do, all of the options for that saved setting will become selected. You can save up to 20 different sets of options.

Speed!

My final favorite thing isn’t actually a feature. Instead, it’s the speed of nearly all the features in Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018.

I originally wrote many of my programs back in the 1990s, using the clunky, old-fashioned WordBasic language. When Microsoft Word 97 was released, it featured a new language — VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), but it would also convert WordBasic macros into pseudo-VBA so the macros would continue to work in the new software. That pseudo-VBA has been the basis for my original programs ever since.

Now, in Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018, I’ve rewritten most of the code from the ground up in native VBA. It took a long time to do that (nearly 28,000 lines of code!), but the resulting software is fast. NoteStripper, for example, used to strip notes to text by selecting, copying, and pasting each note. It worked, but if a document had lots of notes, it took a long time. Now, NoteStripper strips notes to text without selecting, copying, or pasting anything. Everything is done using the built-in text ranges of the notes and the document itself, and wow, what a difference!

For purposes of comparison, I just used NoteStripper on a document with 100 notes. The old version took 25 seconds — not bad. The new version took 2 seconds — making it more than 10 times faster than the old one. If you’re working on a big book with a short deadline, that kind of speed can make a real difference in your ability to get the job done.

In conclusion

I hope you’ll try the new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018 (which runs in Word 2016 on Macintosh, and in Word 2010, 2013, and 2016 on PCs), and that it will become one of your favorite things! If there are any features you particularly like, I’d love to hear what they are. If there are any features you would like to work differently, I’d love to hear about that as well.

Finally, if there are any features you think needed to be added, please let me know. I’d like to make Editor’s ToolKit Plus as useful as possible.

By the way, I continue to make improvements to the program almost daily. For that reason, if you’ve already installed Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018, I strongly recommend that you download and install the most-recent version. You can download it here.

June 7, 2010

On Books: The Hebrew Republic

One of my recent book purchases was Eric Nelson’s The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought. I purchased the book because I saw it advertised by Harvard’s Belknap Press in The New York Review of Books and thought, based on the title, that the subject would interest me.

Nelson’s thesis is that modern political thought — the thought found in 18th and 19th century political documents and thinking — arose not from excluding religious discourse from political thought but from the embracing of religious thought, particularly Jewish political thought through the renewed interest in study of the Hebrew Bible that occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries. Nelson notes that many of the leading writers and thinkers of those times learned to read the Hebrew Bible in its original language and then read the commentaries on the Bible written by leading Jewish thinkers such as Maimonides.

Nelson explores three thought transformations that arose as a result of the study of the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinical commentaries: (1) that the only legitimate government form is the republic; (2) that the state must coercively maintain an egalitarian distribution of property (but not that the state must redistribute property); and (3) that a republic that followed god’s laws would of necessity tolerate religious diversity. These notions led to an attempt to create new social constructs, new covenants between individuals and society, based on what was perceived as a constitution designed by God as revealed in the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinic interpretations.

It is Nelson’s argument that these transformative thoughts were what lead to the notions of “liberty, equality, fraternity” that dominated political thought beginning in the 18th century and continuing on to today. He shows the influence of the Hhebraic thoughts on theorists and writers such as James Harrington, Hugo Grotius, John Milton, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, and Thomas Hobbes.

The book is short, approximately 230 pages cover to cover. This is not a bad thing but I mention it because of what I perceive to be the critical flaw in this book, aside from the question of the validity of his thesis: the book is written and reads as if it is a doctoral dissertation or a master’s thesis.

The book also suffers from one other significant flaw, at least to my way of thinking, although it is far from alone in this regard: It uses endnotes rather than footnotes. I’ve discussed this before (see Footnotes, Endnotes, & References: Uses & Abuses), but I consider this a major defect in a book because of the constant need to switch between the beginning and the end of the book. If the endnotes are not intended to be read, then don’t have them; just have a bibliography. But if they are intended to be read, then use footnotes, which are less disruptive.

The constant switching degraded significantly the reading experience of this book. They made it hard to follow the argument Nelson was making. At first I tried to ignore them and just concentrate on the text, but I failed — I was afraid of missing important information. And I discovered that had I ignored the endnotes, I would have missed some important information. A couple of examples are notes 99, in which Nelson elucidates how one group read and understood certain words; 105, which discusses Rousseau’s view of the distinction between “sovereignty” and “government”; 106, which identifies sources for the role played by “the Hebraic exclusivist argument I have sketched out in the wholesale delegitimization of monarchy during the American Revolution”, which lead me to note additional readings I need to pursue; and 198, in which Nelson identifies his position as being between that of Martinich and that of Collins as regards Thomas Hobbes’ religious beliefs.

Ultimately, the question is does Nelson have something valuable to say. Yes, he does. And his ideas are worth further pursuit, although I am not convinced by this current work that his view of events is correct. What is important is that they are thought provoking. Now if he only had written his work so that it was more accessible and less like a doctoral dissertation whose emphasis was on meeting the peccadilloes of a degree-granting committee than on expounding a new way to look at the roots of modern political thought.

Should you read this book? If you are interested in the origins of modern political theory and want to know more about what influenced the critical thinking of the 18th and early 19th centuries, then yes, you should; otherwise, probably not.

March 29, 2010

Footnotes, Endnotes, & References: Uses & Abuses

I read a lot of nonfiction books, both in my work and for pleasure, and one of the most annoying things to me is improper thought given to footnotes, endnotes, and references.

Many years ago, an academic client told me, in response to my question about why a 50-manuscript page chapter had nearly 1,000 references — a bit of overkill, I thought — that in his academic circles, if he wanted to move up the ladder his writings had to have lots of references. He went on to say that it was not unusual for people to look at the quantity rather than the quality of the references.

References do have a legitimate purpose, but this comment made wonder — and I continue to wonder — about notes (notes being the inclusive term for footnotes, endnotes, and references). Granted, I am as guilty as my client’s academic peers in that if I see a book on a heavy subject that purports to be the comprehensive study of the subject to date that has only a few references, I wonder about the quality of the work. On the other hand, if I find every other word bearing a reference, I wonder if any real effort was placed in the writing; is there any original material to be found between the covers? There is a fine line of too much and too little referencing.

There is also the problem of quality vs. quantity, especially when many of the notes cite references that are citing other references, that is, a cite of a cite of a cite or the syndrome of inconsequential citation. If Jones cites Smith who cites Waterloo for a proposition espoused by Spinster, and Jones hasn’t verified (a) that Spinster actually espoused the proposition, (b) that Waterloo has correctly cited and attributed to Spinster (as, e.g., in correctly quoting Spinster), and (c) that Smith is correctly citing Waterloo, of what value is the cite other than to take up space? And if Jones is going to go to the trouble to verify the sources, as Jones should, then why not bypass Smith and Waterloo and directly cite Spinster?

Referencing is necessary in serious academic work. I don’t dispute that. But how it is done is problematic. Is it more important that I note the references or the text? And what about footnotes (and endnotes) that provide their own discussion or explanation of the material? I still shudder when I come across a footnote that is many paragraphs long and has umpteen cites to support just the footnote. I have always been of the view that if it is important enough to be in an explanatory note, it should be incorporated into the main text.

Unlike end-of-book references, footnotes and endnotes are distractions. They interrupt the reading flow. If they give no more information than a reference cite, why distract the reader from the text with a callout to the reference? If they provide additional details that the reader should be made aware of, why not incorporate that information in the text body? If it isn’t important enough to be incorporated into the main text, perhaps it is not important enough to interrupt the reader’s concentration on the text.

Endnotes are worse than footnotes because they prevent the reader from easily scanning the note to see how worthwhile interrupting reading the text to read the notes would be. One needs to locate the endnote by physically turning to a new location in the book. How frustrating to get to the endnote to discover that in its entirety it reads: Ibid. That bit of information was certainly worth interrupting concentration on the text! Noting distracts the reader, usually for no intellectual gain.

The problem is academia. Too much emphasis is placed in unimportant things. It is the form rather than the substance that dominates. Not so many years ago, in a discussion with academics at a local college, it was made clear that if someone wanted to get tenured at the college, they had to write a peer-reviewed book that was published by a publisher from an approved list, which list was in rank order; that is, the closer the publisher was to the top, the better the chances of obtaining tenure. It was also made clear that there were specific expectations regarding noting, including a minimum number of expected notes.

It seems to me that the communication of knowledge should be the primary focus of an academic book. Scholarship should be judged on the information conveyed within the main body, not the number of times concentration is interrupted. In fact, interruptions should be minimized and minimal interruptions should be rewarded.

Readers assume that if a work is cited in a note or reference that the book’s author has actually read the cited work rather than relied on someone else’s summary of the work. Reader’s also assume that the cited work actually says what is claimed or relates to the material for which it is being cited. Are these valid assumptions? I know that as a reader I do not have either the time or the desire to check each cite for accuracy — neither for accuracy of the cite itself or for the content for which it is cited; I wonder how many people actually do check each and every cite or are we simply impressed and overwhelmed by the number of cites?

I think that scholarship can be better served by more effort placed in writing the main text, fewer footnotes (and no endnotes), and a comprehensive reference list at the end of the book that is divided into two parts: references relied on for the book and recommended additional sources of information. If the author has a message worth communicating, it is worth not interrupting and worth not going down the side roads to which footnotes and endnotes often lead. Occasional footnotes, even lengthy explanatory ones, are appropriate, but it is inappropriate, in my thinking, to bombard the reader with hundreds of distractions.

Another questionable practice as regards footnotes, endnotes, and references is the citing of online material. Here today, gone tomorrow is, unfortunately, the reality of a lot of online material. Unlike a book that gets stored in libraries for future generations to use, online material often shifts or disappears and is difficult to verify. Today’s valid URL is tomorrow’s Not Found error.

When I see a book that relies heavily on online sources, I wonder about the content. Online material isn’t always scrutinized for verity, making it highly suspect. Along with overnoting and poor noting, relying on online sources is not a sign of quality; rather, it is a sign of quantity.

Something authors should keep in mind: The purpose of writing a nonfiction book is to advance knowledge, spread it around; it is not to create a book that simply sits on the buyer’s bookshelf. It is better to be remembered for what one wrote than for what one noted.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: