An American Editor

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.

AutoCorrect

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.

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.

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