An American Editor

November 21, 2011

The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online III — Mastering Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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