An American Editor

August 31, 2015

Lyonizing Word: Assigning Macro Shortcut Keys

by Jack Lyon

I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview for the Chicago Manual of Style “Shop Talk” column. In the interview, I explained how to record a simple macro for transposing characters while editing.

After reading the interview, editor Kristi Hein commented:

Terrific. Next, please discuss the process of choosing a keystroke combination for your macro: not using one of the many you’ve already assigned, making it a combo that’s not too convoluted for the hands (defeating the purpose somewhat), and that you will remember among all the other keystroke combinations you’ve assigned. Therein lies the true art of automating Word effectively and efficiently.

Kristi is right, but wow, that’s a tall order. Let’s look at each requirement separately.

Not using one of the many we’ve already assigned

To not use one of the many keyboard combinations already assigned, we need to know the keystroke combinations we’ve already assigned. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Click CTRL + P to open Word’s “Print” dialog.
  2. Under “Settings,” click the dropdown list that begins with “Print All Pages.”
  3. Under “Document Properties,” click “Key Assignments.” (Also, notice the other things you might want to print, such as styles and AutoText entries.)
  4. Click the “Print” button.

You’ll get a nicely formatted document that shows all of your existing key combinations. The entries will look something like this, with the key combinations on the left and the macro names on the right:

Alt+Ctrl+Shift+S — Normal.NewMacros.ChangeStyleBasedOn
Alt+Ctrl+Shift+I — Normal.NewMacros.CheckIndexCodes
Alt+Ctrl+Shift+C — Normal.NewMacros.FixCodes
Alt+Ctrl+Shift+M — Normal.NewMacros.ParseMetadata

“And how do I assign key combinations to begin with?” you’re wondering. There are (at least) a couple of ways:

When you go to record a new macro (under View > Macro), one of your options is to assign a key combination by pressing the “Keyboard” button:

Using the keyboard option

Using the keyboard option

When you do that, you’ll see the following dialog:

The dialog for entering the key combination

The dialog for entering the key combination

If you were working with an existing macro (editing rather than recording), you’d see any existing key combinations under “Current keys.” To assign a new combination, put your cursor in the box labeled “Press new shortcut key” and, well, press a new shortcut key.

If the new key is already assigned to a macro, you’ll get a “Currently assigned to” message like this:

Currently assigned message

Currently assigned message

That’s handy because it helps you avoid accidentally overwriting a combination that you’ve already assigned (although you can overwrite one on purpose). If you don’t get that message, you’re good to go, and you can click the “Assign” button (on the lower left) and then the “Close” button (on the lower right) and then record the keystrokes that will make up your macro. (When you’re finished recording, click View > Macro > Stop Recording.)

If you want to assign a key combination to an existing macro, things get a little more complicated:

  1. Click “File > Options.”
  2. Click the “Customize Ribbon” button (on the left).
  3. Under “Choose commands from,” select “Macros” (unless you want to use one of Word’s built-in commands, which you can also do).
  4. At the bottom of the dialog, you’ll see “Keyboard shortcuts: Customize.” Click the “Customize” button and proceed as explained above.


But to continue…

Making it a combo that’s not too convoluted for the hands

This, of course, depends on how many fingers you have (I have ten so far) and how large or small they are, along with your native dexterity. As you can see in the picture above, I’m partial to ALT + CTRL + SHIFT, which I actually find easy to press with my left hand while pressing a letter key with my right. If that’s too convoluted for you, you might try CTRL + SHIFT or CTRL + ALT, both of which are easy to do. ALT + SHIFT is a little more difficult. You can even use plain old CTRL or ALT with another character, but that starts to encroach on Word’s built-in key combinations (like CTRL + S to save a document).

There’s another system, however, that you may not know about:

  1. Press your desired key combination.
  2. Press another key.

The result will be something like this:

Two-step key

Two-step key

See that ,”1” after the “Alt+Ctrl+Shift+M”? That means I’ve just created a two-step key combination. To run the macro, I press ALT+CTRL+SHIFT+M. Then I press 1 (the one key, all by itself). At that point (and not before), the macro will run. Pretty slick!

What that means is that you can assign all kinds of two-step combinations (letters will work as well as numbers), which gives you two characters for the mnemonic you use to remember what a combination does. That’s twice as good as one! (Unfortunately, Word won’t let you use more than two.) It also means you can create shortcuts like these:

ALT+CTRL+SHIFT+H,1 (to apply the Heading 1 style)ALT+CTRL+SHIFT+H,2 (to apply the Heading 2 style)

Or these:

CTRL + SHIFT + T,C (to transpose characters)
CTRL + SHIFT + T,W (to transpose words)
CTRL + SHIFT + T,S (to transpose sentences)
CTRL + SHIFT + T,P (to transpose paragraphs)

And so on. The mind reels at the possibilities!

Making it a combo that you will remember among all the other keystroke combinations you’ve assigned

Using two-step combinations should help with that requirement as well, but for serious keyboard junkies there’s another solution — XKeys. The company manufactures various models, from 24 keys on up to 128 keys! You can assign the keys to your macros, label the keys, color code them, and so on. The 60-key model looks like this:

The 60-key XKeys

The 60-key XKeys

Rich Adin swears by this gadget, and he’s one of the most productive copyeditors I know. Maybe you’d find it useful too.

We’ve met the requirements

In summary, we’ve figured out some ways to meet all of Kristi Hein’s requirements for key combinations:

  • Not using one of the many you’ve already assigned.
  • Making it a combo that’s not too convoluted for the hands.
  • Making it a combo that you will remember among all the other keystroke combinations you’ve assigned.

These may seem like small things, but small things add up to greater editing efficiency, and that means more money in your pocket and less time at work, both of which are big things. I hope this essay will help you achieve them.

Jack Lyon ( owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

May 8, 2013

The Commandments: Thou Shall be Efficient

It is not enough to say that an editor has to be profitable (see The Commandments: Thou Shall be Profitable); a business must also be efficient in the delivery of its goods and services. Thus the commandment: Thou shall be efficient!

Efficiency has many facets. Included under the efficiency umbrella are the steps an editor takes before editing a manuscript — the preparatory steps (see, e.g., Business of Editing: The Logistics of Large Projects). Also included are the steps an editor takes during editing to promote speed, accuracy, and consistency, as well as the steps (the planning) the editor takes to meet a schedule and those an editor takes to find and retain clients.

With today’s worldwide competition for editorial work and the resulting depression of fees — and let us not forget the rise in authors who believe they can do it all themselves, which rise is a result of the rise of ebook self-publishing — the need for editorial efficiency is greater than ever.

Two things clients look for are low price and short schedule. Everyone is in a hurry. When I started as an editor, my clients’ primary concern was getting it right — schedules were flexible. Today, as a result of the continual consolidation in the publishing industry and the rising power of the accountants, schedule is the highest priority among publishers (with low editorial and production costs a very close second). In addition, authors and publishers often do not have large reservoirs of patience for the editing process.

The pressure of low fees and short schedules means that editors need to be more efficient in order to earn a reasonable living from editing. The effective hourly rate has to be foremost in an editor’s mind (see Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand for a discussion of the effective hourly rate). The ultimate question is: How does an editor become more efficient?

Some ways we have discussed previously, such as our discussion on macros (see, e.g., The Professional Editor: Working Effectively Online II — The Macros). But mastering macros is not enough. We must also be, for example, masters of Microsoft Word. We must also revise our approach to editing.

When we are paid by the hour, we can be less efficient than when we are paid by the page or the project, because the client is paying us without regard to efficiency, although there are limits to the number of hours for which a client will willingly pay. The problem from an editor’s perspective is that when we are paid by the hour, we are limited in our earning capacity and it becomes ever more important that we be able to fill our work week with work. If we are paid $30 and hour, all we can earn is $30 an hour and if we only work 20 hours in a week, we are paid only for those 20 hours.

In addition, there is no incentive to quickly finish a project because the next project will also pay us $30 an hour and it doesn’t matter which project is paying us as long as we are getting paid. (Of course, we are not really earning $30 an hour because that number is reduced considerably when we include the hours for which we are not being paid but which are also work hours; that is, when we calculate our effective hourly rate.)

Yet efficiency can bring some rewards even to the hourly earner. Being efficient reduces the hours we need to spend on a project and thus enables us to take on additional projects and additional clients — we can expand our base. Efficiency can help move us from being dependent on a particular client to a broad base of clients.

One aspect of efficiency is the number of reading passes an editor makes. Discussing with colleagues how they process a manuscript can be revealing. Some do multiple passes over a manuscript in an attempt to find and correct lingering errors. Others try to minimize the number of passes, especially if they are not being paid by the hour.

Limiting the number of passes to one or two is doable, depending on the type of manuscript (e.g., novel, nonfiction book, journal article), the client (e.g., whether author or publisher), the software used (e.g., PerfectIt, EditTools, specialized spell checkers), the client’s requirements, and the type of edit one is hired to perform (e.g., developmental, copyedit; see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor). It is not true that every pass an editor makes over a manuscript makes the manuscript more error-free. That may be true for one, two, possibly three passes, but there comes a point when returns diminish — not because there are no errors, but because we begin to see what we expect to see, not necessarily what is really there. We become overfamiliar with the manuscript. Consequently, doing fewer passes can be both more efficient and more productive. (We, and our clients, need to accept that there really is no such thing as a 100% error-free manuscript, especially when many “errors” are subjective errors.)

Efficiency is also had by using the correct tools. Studies are very clear that using multiple monitors, for example, increases productivity and efficiency. Using two monitors increases efficiency by 50%; add a third and gain another 25%; add a fourth and gain another 5%. Basically, editing with three monitors seems to be the most efficient and productive. I know that I have found using three 24-inch rotating monitors has made it much easier for me to edit quickly, efficiently, and accurately. It allows me to, for example, drag and drop between documents, each document on its own screen. It also allows me to have my stylesheet open and before me at all times, as well research tools.

Efficiency is also found in reducing the number of keystrokes needed to process information. I have found invaluable a keyboard accessory called XKeys. I have used the Pro PS2 version for more than 10 years; it is what allows me to access many of my macros by the press of a single key. I have assigned each of the buttons on the XKeys to a key combination that I would not normally use (e.g., Ctrl+Alt+Shift+K) and I assign one of my macros to that key combination. Using Xkeys makes using macros like Toggle much more efficient.

Efficiency also means tracking one’s time carefully. An editor needs to know what areas of editing go relatively “fast” and what go “slow.” By identifying the areas that take longer to process, the editor can focus on ways to make such work go faster. More importantly, if an editor finds that she can process certain types of material faster and more accurately than other types, the editor now knows where to focus her marketing efforts.

Similarly, an editor needs to know her strengths and weaknesses. For example, I know that I am a fumble-fingered typist. Consequently, I know that if I have to type nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, I am likely to mistype it and need to correct my typing, which makes both the original typing and the correction typing inefficient. Thus I know that I can increase my efficiency by having that phrase typed correctly once in my Toggle dataset and then pressing a key combination (or, in my case, an Xkeys button) to have it automatically typed.

Efficiency is good for the editor and for the client. No client wants to pay for an editor’s learning or redoing curve, and most editors want to increase their earning power. Analyzing how you work and trying to improve on it is a fundamental part of any business.

Thus the commandment: Thou shall be efficient!

April 15, 2010

It’s the Little Things: Hardware

In a previous article, I raised the topic of the little things in editing that can make editing quicker, more accurate, and more profitable, but I didn’t begin discussing the actual tools I use. With today’s article I begin that discussion.

Although most of the tools are software, we do need to begin with hardware. I don’t plan to discuss the innards of a computer or whether one should buy a laptop or a desktop, although my experience with both indicates that editing on a desktop is more efficient for me. But there are a couple of pieces of hardware that are worthy of note: monitors and XKeys.


When I first began electronic editing, more than 20 years ago, color monitors were not available. The monitors were black and white (or green or amber), were small, and were heavy CRTs (cathode ray tubes). Using a single monitor at a “large” screen size of 12 inches meant investing a ton of money into a single piece of hardware. How times have changed.

The advent of LCD monitors with large screens has been a boon to editing. Instead of seeing a few lines of text, one can see a page, get a better feel for context. LCDs have two other bonuses: small size (compared to the equivalent CRT) and, today, a low price.

As I have noted in other articles, I read a lot of “stuff” and I read, years ago, the results of a productivity study that showed that using 2 monitors nearly doubled productivity and using 3 monitors increased productivity by another 20% or so (the third monitor stat is from memory and may be off, but the study did show an increase in productivity over 2 monitors), and there was yet still another increase with 4 monitors but it was a less dramatic increase than third monitor increase.

I can attest at least to the 3-monitor productivity increase (I wanted 4 monitors but just couldn’t find room for #4). I have used a 3-monitor setup in my work for years and would not consider returning to anything less. I need to mention, however, that I do not think just any monitor will do. I have found that the best monitors for my work are monitors that pivot between portrait and landscape modes.

My set up uses three 24-inch pivoting LCD monitors (I happen to like Samsung monitors and the 3 monitors are the Samsung SyncMaster 2443BWT model). The left monitor is almost always in portrait mode as is the center monitor; the right monitor is usually in landscape. But should I need all in portrait or a second in landscape, I just need to rotate them.

The 3-monitor setup lets me logically divide my work. Here is how I usually have my work setup. On the left monitor is the manuscript I am editing. Portrait mode lets me see a page (or close to it) at a time. The center monitor is where my Internet access is located. I use an online collaborative stylesheet system that operates through my website, so this gives me access to the stylesheet (always up) and to Internet resources if I need to check things. On the right monitor I put my local resources, such as an electronic specialty dictionary or word book, and the manuscript references or bibliography. Just by moving my head or my mouse, I have instant access to all the editing resources I need.

Compare this to editing on a single monitor. Think about how much time has to be spent going between screens, and if you use the landscape orientation so that you can “split” the screen and have, say, a manuscript and the stylesheet visible at all times, what you are seeing is less than what I can see and requires more scrolling time.

So that little thing of have at least 2 monitors boosts productivity and efficiency greatly.


Xkeys is equally as valuable, perhaps even more so, as the 3-monitor setup. I use, and have used for at least 10 years, the 58-key professional PS2 model. When I originally bought my XKeys, only the PS2 model would retain its programming in a power failure. This appears to no longer be the case. (One other important note: XKeys sells its own macro software. I have never used it or bought it, so I have no opinion about it. I use with my XKeys macro software called Macro Express, which I will discuss when I discuss software.)

XKeys sits to the left of my keyboard in a place of honor. It has increased my productivity many times over (I’ll say by 1000% but I really have no idea of the percent). I have programmed the XKeys for “odd” key combinations, such as Ctrl+Alt+Shift+F1, as well as for familiar combinations such as F1.

XKeys increases the number of key combinations available for macros by 58 because you can add hard-to-press combinations to a single key. (Actually, if I wanted, my XKeys Pro can handle 114 key combinations. It really is a 2-layer device, but to access the second layer and return to the first layer requires additional key presses, so I have never bothered). When I discuss software, I will go into more detail about the advantage of XKeys, but suffice it to say that I can now, with the press of a single button, run a macro or apply a style. It is much quicker than using a keyboard combination or the mouse.

But here is the most important part of XKeys — I can create a custom “keyboard” for each client or project type or project without reprogramming the XKeys! I have certain macros that I use for every client and every project, such as my Toggle macro, which is part of my EditTools software. So I have permanently assigned a particular XKey button to that macro. I don’t even have to divert my eyes from the manuscript to press the key. Habit takes over. The point is that every “custom keyboard” I create has certain macros preassigned to it, and it is only the remaining buttons that need to be assigned.

And because XKeys is just running the programmed key combination, I can assign to that key combination either a macro from within a program such as Microsoft Word or via Macro Express. XKeys is also program-neutral; that is, I have custom keyboards not only for clients and projects, but also for programs, such as InDesign.

XKeys and a 3-monitor setup are important allies for me in my never-ending quest to improve my accuracy and efficiency, which will translate to an improved bottom line. In subsequent articles I will discuss some of the software I use and how I use them as part of my striving to be the best editor I can be and provide my clients with the best editing available.

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