Using the tools available to you (effectively)

First, if anyone is interested, I created a new page with some of the pictures I’ve put up on this blog at some point or other.  You can find it here.  I would’ve done them all, but it’s a little tricky to get them to line up nicely.

So, I thought it was a good time to talk about Word and track changes/comments and how I’m used to using it in a professional context and how that may be different in this writing world.

OK.  (I am so bizarrely self-conscious about my use of that phrase now it’s kind of funny. Whenever the language would like to evolve so I can use ok instead, I’d appreciate it.)

(On second thought, from now on I am going to be part of the change I want to see.  Ok it is from here on out.  At least on this blog.)

Professionally, which for me means that day job that pays me money for writing very boring things in a very consistent and repetitive manner that can be easily understood, we use track changes/comments all the time.

And the way we use it seems to me to be the best approach.  (No, I’m not biased…)

Let’s say I have to review something for work.  I turn on track changes and I read the document.  As I see something that needs correction, I type in that correction right there in the text.

So, if I read (like I did on Yahoo! this morning – seriously, people, please hire someone who can spell) a sentence about how Hollywood lovers “wore viles of blood” around their necks, I can just delete “viles” and replace it with “vials.”  Because I have track changes on, this will show as a strike-through of the word “viles” and a colored insert of “vials.”  (The color is not always red, especially if you have multiple reviewers.)

If I then send it to my boss and my boss agrees with the changes, my boss can just accept changes and that sentence will now read “wore vials of blood” with no further effort on my boss’s part.

I use the comments section for non-text edits.  So, if I change a sentence from referencing “ten policies” to “more than ten policies” I might put in a comment that we should be more vague with this because there were some documents that the client considered policies that weren’t labeled as such.  Blah, blah, blah.

Basically, comments boxes are used to either give an opinion or insight, but not to make an edit.  Anything written in a comment box will not appear in the text of the document.

So, that’s how I’ve used track changes and comments in my day job:  Type text edits directly into the document.  Put thoughts/insights/observations about poor spelling ability in comment bubbles.

(Be careful with formatting changes.  When you type them directly into the document they don’t always turn out the way you think they should.  I always highlight that section and accept changes to make sure it’ll look right.  Once it looks ok, you just ctrl-z, undo the accept changes.)

(So, highlight text, accept changes, “yep, looks good”, ctrl-z, go back to seeing changes in the document)

As I mentioned in that earlier post, not all of my clients use track changes and comments the way I do…

Back in the day, before you had track changes and comments, people would put things in brackets.  So, “viles of blood” would become “[vials] of blood” or, worse yet, “viles [vials] of blood” or some other god-awful mess to show what had been there that needed to be deleted and what is now there to be inserted.

(Last year someone demanded that I do that in an Excel file–manually strike through all deleted text and manually color all inserted text red.  They were very, very lucky that I was on another continent at the time.  (My “you’re an idiot” look is withering.)  Waste of time.)

(If you ever have a situation like that drop the old version into Word, drop the new version into another Word document and do a document compare.  Serves the same purpose, you have a final product that doesn’t require extensive manual edits, and you don’t waste a day of someone’s life on worthless crap.)

I still have clients use brackets in track changes.  So, they’ll type in “[vials].”  Why is this bad?  Because if you accept changes, you get “[vials] of blood” in your document.  You don’t want those brackets.  And you don’t need them.  I don’t need to see those brackets to know someone changed the word.  That’s what track changes is for.  To show me that.

Now, on that edit I paid for, things went in the opposite direction.  The editor used comments for everything.  So, instead of inserting a comma or deleting one, there was a comment bubble that said, “insert a comma here” or “delete comma.”

It meant that I had to read through the novel twice in order to incorporate the edits.  And that I didn’t take as many of the edits as I might have.

Since all the edits were in comment bubbles, I printed the edited version of the manuscript and then read through and made any changes I agreed with on a version open on my computer.

If they’d be in the document in track changes I could’ve accepted all changes in the document and read through a clean copy.  If things read fine, I would’ve accepted all the changes.  If they didn’t, I could’ve gone to that page to see what was changed (or whether it was a paragraph that the editor had thought was fine, but that I now didn’t like).

And, because I was typing in edits, I then had to accept all changes and read a clean copy AFTER that.  (And really I should’ve probably read the novel again after I did that, but I just didn’t have it in me…I still like the novel, but not enough to read it three times in a month.)

I don’t know if putting edits in comment bubbles is industry standard.  Maybe all editors do that to respect their author’s work.  Or maybe so many authors still work with hardcopy that the only way for an editor to make sure the author sees all their edits is by putting them in comment bubbles.

It was good from a learning standpoint, because I had to look at and consider every change individually.  (Hence my new ok issues.)

But to me it’s not the most efficient way to do things.

If you’re working electronically and are worried about missing an edit (like a comma insert or deletion or an extra space correction), you can always use the “next” option in track changes and walk through the document that way.  Or you can scan the left margin and look for the little vertical dash that indicates a change was made on that line.  (First method is better.)

And, as always, read a clean copy at the end.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a final read-through and found a double period or a missing space between words.  Or weird formatting.  (One of the unfortunate consequences of working in track changes.)

And, of course, track changes/comments is by its very nature a collaborative tool.  So you’re going to be limited in how you can use it based upon who you’re using it with and will have to adjust accordingly.  (Like me and my searching for “[” and “]” with certain clients…)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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4 Responses to Using the tools available to you (effectively)

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    I am not sure what the industry standard – if any exists – is. When editing other author’s fiction I always put all my suggestions, however minor, as comments. You are the only person I know who has expressed an opinion against it.

    This lets me put in reasons for a change: for example, it is good grammar to have a comma, an English audience would expect Oxford commas, or the previous list used an Oxford comma so one or the other should be changed; that way, if the author does not immediately look at the comma and agree there should be one, they can choose whether they agree with the change without need to come back to me.

    Also I edit some work that arrives as a pdf so usually edit by creating a list of suggestions then adding in if the document allows, so dropping everything as a comment rather than swapping between comments and typing in seem to work better for me.

    Bother you. I will be puzzling about which is actually better for my process all weekend.

    • mhleewriter says:

      I just wrote you a very lengthy reply and WP ate it somehow. I hate when that happens!

      So, what I was saying before it was deleted is that, when I have a situation like your Oxford Comma example I’ll put in the comment field the first time I make the edit what I’m doing. (So, “You weren’t being consistent with your use of the Oxford Comma. I made edits to make it consistent. If you don’t want the extra comma in there, that’s fine, but make sure to go through and delete it where it was included so that you’re being consistent.”) And then I’ll go through the document and add the commas where they’re missing. If the person is consistent in their usage, but they do it in a way I wouldn’t, I just point it out to them in a comment field but do not make any text edits.

      I think part of the reason we handle it that way at work is because we review in a hierarchical way. Meaning, when I review it everyone junior to me has already input their edits and I can override them if I want. And I pass it off to someone who can override me. (And hopefully I’m in synch enough with those above me that I’m not editing someone junior to me and then having that reversed by my boss. I wouldn’t keep my job long under that scenario…)

      Maybe in the writing context putting everything to the side ensures that the author really is the final owner of the product, since the only edits that are made on the story are those the author has specifically read and approved? All I know is going through 360 pages of text that way was semi-painful to do. But adaptability is the key, so you take what you get and you run with it.

  2. VictoriaJoDean says:

    Good tips here – for both an editor and when you doing re-writes and you’re not sure which change you want to keep.

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