An American Editor

October 4, 2010

Different Approaches for Different Folks: The Mechanics of Editing

I’m writing this at 4 a.m. on the Saturday of the Finding Your Niche conference, while the topic is uppermost in my thoughts. Yesterday afternoon, I attended a seminar on using Word 2010 as an editing tool. The speaker was my friend and colleague, Hilary Powers, who has a well-deserved reputation as a Word guru for using Word as an editing tool.

Above all else that I learned at the session was this: different folks have different approaches to the same task and problem.

Hilary is keyboard focused and approaches Word as if it were a naughty child that needs to be disciplined. She dislikes many of the options that Microsoft makes available via the options/preferences panels. At first I was amused but then I realized that her choices were really dictated by the way she approaches the mechanics of editing. I then considered my own choices and approach.

In contrast to Hilary’s keyboard-centric approach, I want as little to do with the keyboard as possible. I am mouse focused. I want my right hand to leave the mouse (which, by the way, is a Logitech MX Revolution, which is programmable) as little as possible and my left hand to leave my Xkeys as little as possible. (For what it’s worth, I consider my Xkeys peripheral the best investment I have made in any piece of equipment for my business in the past 15 years. It is the sinlge most must-have device for the way I work, especially when I combine it with MacroExpress Professional software and my own EditTools macros.) Hilary, in contrast, wants her hands to leave her keyboard as little as possible, preferably never. With each approach comes different wants from Word (read Office) 2010.

This is where I believe Microsoft has failed the ultimate user: it didn’t do a good job designing the interface for either customer. It is a compromise position that leaves both disappointed and unhappy. This is not to say that Word 2010 isn’t a big improvement over its predecessors and clearly a worthwhile upgrade — because it is; rather, it is to say that with a little more thought and care, Microsoft could have created a program that accommodates the needs of users who approach using Word from different mindsets.

Of course, I’m ignoring the fact that an editor’s needs are different from an author’s needs or a casual writer’s needs or a student’s needs, but it does seem to me that there really are only two basic approaches to using Word — keyboard or mouse, that is, hands on the keyboard or hands off the keyboard. With only two approaches, it should be easy to offer two choice styles, with options/preferences geared to those approaches.

Yet, there is another difference in how Hilary and I approach Word. Hilary distrusts “editorial” decisions that Word offers to make automatically, such as changing two hyphens to an em-dash. A lot of the options Word 2010 offers are offered cryptically; for example, the explanation for measurement converter is measurement converter. How it works and what it does are not explained; the name is simply repeated. Hilary’s approach to many of these options with which she is unfamiliar is to turn them off. She prefers to make all of the decisions all of the time.

I, on the other hand, take a more relaxed approach. I know that if something flaky happens when I’m using Word it is likely to be because I have some option turned on. But letting that flakiness occur lets me discover what Microsoft had in mind and lets me decide whether I can make it work for me now that I know how it works and/or what are its consequences. If I don’t know what an option does, I tend to leave it on. One thing Word does very well is undo.

And this is where the new right-click context menus really work well (new, that is, compared to the right-click context menus available in Word 2003; I skipped the “beta” Office 2007, so I’m not sure what Office 2007 can or can’t do other than aggravate me with inflexible ribbons). The one truly outstanding feature of Word 2010 is the ability to see visually the effect of making certain decisions, especially with paste. I would almost have considered upgrading to Office 2010 for that feature alone — but note that I said almost.

With my approach to the mechanics of editing, the fact that 90%+ of the keyboard shortcuts that existed in Word 2003 are the same in Word 2010, is meaningless. I never used them before and so didn’t memorize them and so don’t know them. But for those of Hilary’s persuasion, this is the deal maker and why the change from a menu-centric to ribbon-centric interface is so much less traumatic than it is for those of my persuasion. Hilary uses Ctrl+B to bold; I prefer to click the B icon.

A significant reason why we have divergent approaches is automation. Hilary commented, for example, that she has a few standardized author queries and so she can assign each a keyboard shortcut. From her demonstration of it, her automated queries are inflexible; that is, they never need modification. I, in contrast, use a lot of standardized queries and if I were to assign each its own keyboard shortcut, I would quickly run out of available easy-to-use key combinations (and have a time remembering each). More importantly, I use standardized queries as shells that can be used wither as is or easily modified to fit the circumstance. Consequently, I prefer the system found in EditTools, which allows me to store numerous standardized queries (up to 99) and assign all of them to a single key combination. The underlying reason for this difference in our approaches is, probably, the kinds of books we edit.

The bottom line is that there is no single right way to accomplish the same task. The “right way” ultimately is dependent on your approach to Word. What one approach sees as cumbersome and time-consuming is quick and time-efficient in another approach.

What started all of this was my discussion with Hilary about using Toolbar Toggle as a transitional tool from menu-centric Office 2003 to ribbon-centric Office 2010. (See Transitioning in a Microsoft World: Toolbar Toggle for further information about Toolbar Toggle.) So next time you and I disagree about how to approach a mechanical problem, let’s remember that different perspectives mandate different approaches to reach the same goal. All that matters is that we reach our goal in the most efficient way possible for us.

August 11, 2010

Why, Microsoft, Do You Insist On Torturing Me?

I admit that as between a Microsoft world and an Apple world, I’m in the Microsoft camp. I prefer to have my computers custom built with the best components I can buy, rather than being told I need to settle for what someone else has decided is good enough. It’s also a reason why I go to a local shop to have my computers built rather than buy from a mass merchandiser like Best Buy, Dell, or HP.

Occasionally, over the many years I have been using computers, Microsoft has come up with a winner or two. (Can we forget Windows 98/Me?) For me two winners of “recent” vintage were Windows XP (especially with Service Pack 3) and Word/Office 2003. XP worked and worked and worked, essentially without a problem. Similarly, Word/Office 2003 kept on chugging, letting me get my work done efficiently, and all consumer versions, including the Student Edition, included Outlook.

But the Microsoft world moves on and this past weekend, while I was away for 4 days, I had my local computer shop upgrade my system from XP to Windows 7. Subsequently, I added Word/Office 2010 to my system.

Clearly the best way to move from XP to Win7 is with a completely fresh install, which is what I did with one of the computers being upgraded. But I couldn’t do that on my workhorse computer. I am too busy and it would take too much time to install and recustomize all of the programs I rely on to get my work done. So I opted for a temporary solution. I had all the hard drives on my workhorse converted to removable drives. I actually did this for a couple of reasons. One is related to the Win7 upgrade but the second is related to securing my hard drives when I travel. With removable hard drives, I can simply remove them and store them in a bank safe deposit box or have a neighbor take care of them for me while I travel. I do have several backup plans in operation, including Carbonite (which has saved me several times over the past couple of years), but this is just another bit of insurance.

The second reason I converted to removable hard drives for Win7 is that as a temporary fix I did the operating system upgrade path (Win XP > Vista > Win7); everything works just fine. But at the same time, I bought another hard drive for a fresh install of Win7. With this removable fresh install drive, as I have time, I can plug it into my computer, bootup, and install and recustomize my work programs; no need to take a couple of days and just get upgrading but no billable work done. After I am done setting up the fresh install drive, I can just swap drives effortlessly. (One note: Going the upgrade path meant I had to go for 32-bit Win7; but on the fresh install drive, I can go for 64-bit Win7.)

As far as Win7 goes, the upgrade was easy. It took my local computer shop a few hours to do the upgrade route on my workhorse and a few more hours to resetup my computer in my office, and almost no time at all to do the fresh install on our other computers plus a few hours to reset them up in our offices. While I’m at the “Finding Your Niche/Expanding Your Horizons” conference (which was discussed in A Gathering of Freelance Editorial Professionals), my local shop will create the fresh install drive for me and install many of the programs I need for work; unfortunately, they need my computer to create the drive or it would be done by now.

In contrast to my Win7 experience (and after a week of using Win7, I can say it is an excellent OS), is my Word/Office 2010 experience. One was a breeze, the other torture. 

As an editor I rely on Microsoft Word. It’s not because I love Word, but because my clients demand it. It brings a certain amount of standardization to manuscript processing and allows more forward-thinking clients to design templates for editors (and authors) to use. Also, Word comes with a fairly robust macro programming language, VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), which lets me, as well as clients, create efficiency enhancements. EditTools, discussed in The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage, is a good example of what can be done with VBA to make editing more efficient. I have invested lots of time, effort, and money into creating macros to better the editing process and into customizing Word to make it work most effectively for the job of editing. Word 2003 works beautifully for me in this regard.

Then came Word 2007 and Microsoft’s changes to how Word works. It was like going from Shangri-la to a Tim Burton nightmare. I tried it and it was so bad I passed on it. What took seconds in Word 2003 took minutes in Word 2007. Customizing the ribbons in 2007 was not easily done. I had to buy a book that discussed nothing else but how to reprogram the ribbons. After seeing how difficult customization was and how much more time it was taking to work in Word 2007, I junked the program (and fervently prayed that Microsoft would do the same!).

But I began noticing an increase in the number of manuscripts I was receiving that had been created in Word 2007. The temporary solution was Microsoft’s free converter, but it wasn’t a great or complete solution. So I waited for Word 2010 because Microsoft said the ribbon would be customizable. It is, but so what — it still isn’t easy to use if you have any long-term experience with Word.

Remember WordPerfect and WordStar? The transition from either program to Word was a cakewalk compared to the transition from Word 2003 to Word 2010. It is bad enough that Microsoft has decided it knows better how I should use Word than I do, but it also changed how macros are accessed and how they need to be written. So now I have hundreds of macros that need to be rewritten, I have ribbons with useless commands on them, and I have ribbons that can’t be removed and replaced with something more logical. Why, Microsoft, do you insist on torturing me? You could have made it a seamless transition. You could have given me the option to retain the Word 2003 setup. At minimum, you could have retained the VBA basics so that macros don’t need to be rewritten. Hours of work await me.

What Microsoft has done, besides making my life significantly harder, is typical of big business thinking: paternalism at its worst. Word 2010 is probably a truly wonderful program for the person new to Word or to the person who does simple things with a word processor — or, as seems to be true for many authors, the person who likes to play with formatting every line and character. But for the advanced user and for the user who has invested time and money into customizing Word to make it functional for his or her business, it is a nightmare, perhaps even a catastrophe in the making, at least until sufficient time has passed using it to make peace with the new paradigm and to get necessary macros rewritten. I suspect that 6 years from now, when Word 2016 is released and I need to upgrade again, I’ll be writing the same complaint yet again.

Microsoft truly knows how to make friends of its customers!

(Addendum: As I am discovering, there are signifcant changes in Win7 from WinXP, including where things are located and terminology. Consequently, I decided to buy a third-party manual. For Win7, I bought Windows 7: The Missing Manual [ISBN 978-1-596-80639-2] by David Pogue, the New York Times tech columnist. I spent several hours at my local B&N comparing Win7 books and decided that this was the best of the lot; plus it is an O’Reilly book, which usually means good quality.

Similarly, I decided that if I am going to make the transition from Word 2003 to Word 2010, I better get some help. So I also spent time with Word 2010 books and settled on these two: Microsoft Office Word 2010 QuickSteps [ISBN 978-0-07-163487-8] by Marty Matthews and Microsoft Word 2010 on Demand [ISBN 978-0-7897-4281-0] by Steve Johnson. The book I want but haven’t yet found is one that provides comprehensive coverage of Word 2010 macro writing.)

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