by Judy Petersen
About 50% of my business involves different types of editing. Most jobs are either short pieces that need immediate attention (press releases, news items, reference cards, etc.) or longer pieces such as books, research articles, and Web sites.
During the past 15 years, I've developed an online editing method that enables me to take on a lot of editing work and at the same time deliver top-quality results. This article describes procedures that I follow when editing longer documents in Microsoft Word.
1. Setting up
When editing online, you should keep four files open at the same time: the original file, the file that you're editing, a file for notes to the author, and a file for creating or expanding a style sheet.
Most often, work comes to me via e-mail. So after I move the file into its appropriate directory, I open:
The original file always remains intact; I use it when I finish--to run the Compare Versions function for customers who want to see the changes. (I never work with the Revisions function turned on because it slows me down.) I always keep the original file open while editing--in case I make a mistake while rewriting (that way, I can quickly check the original).
Table 1 illustrates the table in the Notes file. I either print this file and fax it to authors before I deliver the finished product, or I send it with the edited file, and the authors attend to the notes, i.e., they assume final responsibility for the manuscript.
I use the Style file to build a style sheet for a new client or to update an existing style sheet.
Table 1. Sample Notes file.
2. Using the style sheet
Before reading the manuscript, I check that it complies with the style sheet. Here's a sample procedure:
My style sheets contain the most frequently occurring problems that I see in my daily work as an editor (see Table 2). They also contain client-specific terminology.
I organize items, such as rules for capitalization, Latin abbreviations, numbers, and titles, in alphabetical order in section I of the style sheet. Section II contains terminology, and Section III contains wordy phrases that can be replaced without affecting meaning or content (see, for example, Edit Yourself by Bruce Ross-Larson, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982, ISBN 0-393-01640-4).
Table 2. Excerpts from a style sheet.
3. Editing mechanical stuff
For authors who are submitting articles to journals or magazines, I match the heading, captions, and graphics styles with the targeted publication. This extra procedure in the editing process gives me an overview of the document:
4. Editing content
Before I read the file, I raise the percentage in the zoom field to 120% and activate the Show/hide function so that I can see the paragraph and spacing symbols. Note that these options are a matter of taste. Some people are distracted by symbols that are displayed when the Show/hide function is activated.
I rely on the symbols to determine, for example, if authors have inserted nonbreaking spaces between monetary abbreviations and digits (USD 5 million).
Then, I start reading to:
While editing, I work with the other files, for example:
5. Checking references
Problems are plentiful when it comes to references: An author's name can be spelled correctly in the reference list but incorrectly in the body or a footnote.
Sometimes dates in the body don't agree with dates in the reference list. An author might be in the reference list but not in the body or may be in the body but not in the reference list. So to ensure as much accuracy as possible:
And finally ...
Run the Spelling and Grammar checker and save the file. Close the file and then open it again to run the Compare Documents function against the original manuscript (if required).
Then save the file that displays the revisions under a new name. Read through the Notes and Style files and clean them up (edit/format as needed).
I know that online editing isn't suitable for all documents or file types, or for all work situations. What I've described here reflects my reality--a win-win situation: I can take on more jobs and earn more money. And my clients save time and money because I charge more for working on paper and they need not enter my markup.
Adapted from an article for INTERCOM. Reprinted with permission from INTERCOM, the magazine of the Society for Technical Communication. Arlington, VA, USA. For more information, contact Judy Petersen.