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Showing your work

There are times when I sit in the slot and open up a text from a copy editor who has indicated every change in a highlighted notes mode: every deletion, every correction of a typo, every change in capitalization, every substitution of one word for another. And I clench my teeth, because screaming in the newsroom makes other people nervous.

My professional colleagues may differ from me on this point, and they are welcome to say why in comments, but I don’t want you showing me your work. It’s distracting, and I wind up missing things I should have noticed because I’m paying more attention to what you highlighted than to what remains.

It’s true, I have asked students or probationers to do this, and I have done so myself, with Microsoft Word’s really, really annoying “track changes” function, when required to do so by a client. It is defensible as a limited, preliminary measure to determine that an editor is doing the job reliably. And I suppose that in contracts or other formal texts, where the addition or deletion of a single comma can have tremendous consequences, it may be a regrettable necessity.

But in general, I don’t see much good in it. It does, as I said, distract the reader from the actual edited text—and sometimes, grrrrr, if the note highlighting isn’t done precisely, it generates additional spaces—and I suspect it encourages anality in writers who misjudge the quality of their prose and demand an accounting of every last keystroke.

If you’re uncertain about your work, ask questions before you turn it in. You’ve been engaged to use your judgment, so just edit the damned thing.



Posted by John McIntyre at 5:10 PM | | Comments (23)


"Microsoft Word’s really, really annoying 'track changes' function"

Ain't that the truth!

The "track changes" function can be useful to a writer who wants to see what the editor has done. This gives the writer a chance to discuss proposed changes -- a mixed blessing, to be sure -- and also might teach the writer something.

John, although I understand your annoyance, there is are a couple of simple solutions that might save your teeth from eventual fracture.

One option is this: In Word's ribbon, click the Review tab, and then, in the Tracking group (pretty much top center), click the drop-down triangle next to "Final Showing Markup" and change that setting to "Final."

Now make any and all changes you deem necessary. Save a copy and send it back to the copy editor who still needs all that feedback (or coddling, as the case may be).

Then, just before you send the document farther along, go to the Review group (right next to the Tracking group), click the downward-pointing triangle just below "Accept," and then click the last option, "Accept All Changes in Document."


The second option is similar, but faster. Just accept all changes as soon as you get the document and then edit whatever remains.

"is are"


I know, I know, Cliff, but I'm so anal that if someone sends me a text with the changes tracked, I'm going to look at them,

Cliff beat me to it. Unfortunately, you can't set it for your recipients, so I often have to explain in the email how to hide changes or to "turn off" annoying changes like formatting. Most people don't seem to know that, and therefore don't see when they've deleted or added spaces, unnecessary punctuation, etc. It would be AWESOME if coworkers would accept that they've hired this technical writer because she knows what she's doing, but they don't--they want to see what I've changed. (One could consider it a teaching moment, I suppose.) What I find more annoying is when reviewers have no clue how to use Track Changes, and they instead resort to numerous comments and yellow highlighting to insert their changes. "Accept" and "Reject" doesn't work on those.

Hear, hear! I feel the same way, and am just unable to ignore any edited jot or tittle when it's called out to me.

I if you work with a writer or two (as I do) who really like to see where you've changed their work, you can satisfy them by using Word's Compare Documents function (under Track Changes). Once I finish editing the document, I use Compare Documents to generate an uglified version that tracks all discrepancies and send it to the writer -- but I don't have to deal with Track Changes as I do my work.

(I realize that this doesn't address Mr. McIntyre's primary problem, but it might help for the times when clients or colleagues insist on the use of Track Changes.)

In the business world, I often get sent revisions of long, tedious documents. In these cases, change marks would be helpful to identify what actually changed. Mind you, most of these documents would have been greatly helped by the services of a copy editor.

Much as it pains me to disagree with my esteemed colleague, I think it's good to see what's been changed, because a faulty reading of the original can lead to an incorrect edit that I wouldn't know about upon reviewing the document if I never saw the original wording.

Ah, but Mr. McIntyre, those of us editors who work in book publishing and journal publishing (peer-reviewed professional journals) have no choice but to use Microsoft Word's "track changes" function. It's how onscreen editing is always done in those arenas, because editors--even those like me who have been editing for nearly 30 years--do not always have the last word.

Yes, I know.

Perhaps it's time we should take it to the streets.

Time for a staff meeting?

I second the use of "Final". In addition, one can simply hit the Accept All button and watch the marks vanish for good before starting to edit the article.

The other problem for book editors is that rereading the whole MS (hundreds of pages) at every round is impractical. In this way, tracked changes are the equivalent of a red pen on paper.

I have an academic friend who produced, after many years of labor, a three-volume edition in the well-respected Corpus Christianorum series. When her box of books arrived, she told me she couldn't bear to open them, because she was sure there was a typo in one footnote.

Working in a group-editing environment, where several different editors are handling the same document, I've found "track changes" to be useful.

I set the view on "final" and don't see any edits onscreen. However, when I need to check what was changed, I can toggle the view.

John, let's file this peeve under "small potatoes."

Fair enough, small potatoes it is.

Especially since it would be injudicious of me to indicate more specifically the source of this POINTLESS WASTE OF TIME.

When I'm copyediting a piece, I don't use track changes for annoying things like formatting, closing extra spaces, changing a single quote that's supposed to be an apostrophe, etc. But I do switch it on for any meaningful changes. If I'm sending a copy back to the writer, I accept all my own changes and save it with a new name (usually adding "clean" at the end), and offer to send them the other version if they want to see it. They usually don't. So I was surprised when an editor I was working for complained that she didn't want me to use track changes because it upset the writers. I expected her to accept or reject my changes and send the writers a clean copy, just as I would. But she has sometimes asked me (in maybe 3 out of the 100 or so stories I edit for her each time) to start over from the top and re-edit a story because she feels I made too many changes, which I consider a ridiculous waste of time (and I'm charging her by the hour). In those cases, I go back to my track-changes version and review my own changes, putting back the more subjective ones, and send her another clean copy, and she's always happy with that. Now I always send her a clean copy, but I still edit in track changes and save a marked copy for myself, for just such occasions. I confess to being a bit anal about all that myself--I want to see all the changes, even the commas.

Sorry that got a bit long!

In my line of work, it is often required, for compliance purposes or another reason, to show who made a particular change, and when. Track Changes is therefore a necessary evil. (For that matter, I still prefer WordPerfect after all these years, so I consider MS Word itself to be a necessary evil.)

Robin: Word is never a necessary evil: there is

@John Cowan: True that. At home I use WordPerfect almost exclusively. After all these years, I believe it is still a superior product. The lion's share of my clients, though, use MS Office. In addition, my company owns and uses some proprietary software which requires not only MS Office, but also .NET framework to run. That software is planned to sunset next year. The replacement software has not been validated in an OpenOffice environment, but may someday. The fact remains that the platform is not my choice: whatever the client uses, I use.

Late to the game, but rev marks are not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition; you can toggle them on or off as you go, perhaps enabling them for text where you think the recipient needs to see changes, and otherwise disabling them. It's easy to swap between turning revision marking on and off: just press Ctrl+Shift+E. (In latter-day editions of Word, the current status of tracking will be indicated in the status bar at the bottom.)

In that same vein, a keyboard shortcut for toggling between Final:Show Markup and just Final is Alt+V,A (press Alt+V, let go, then press A). This works even in Word 2007 and 2010 (ie, in the ribbon).

@John Cowan -- Word is both necessary for most people who work in corporations, and it is not "evil." Sheesh. :-)

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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