In my recent post on an editing software package, it may have sounded as though I'm down on the idea of using software to edit. I'm not. I am, however, down on the idea of letting a computer substitute its judgment for mine. There are some things I will let it do, and some I will not.
In that post, I already shared one trick for flagging problem words using search & replace with a different font color. Here are some other ways I use my existing software -- Microsoft Word -- to make editing easier.
This one is the big kahuna. I use this every time a manuscript crosses my desk, and I constantly advise people to use it, too. In Word 2007, under the "Review" tab, there's a button that says "Compare." Click on this, and give it two versions of the same document to compare. It will instantly generate a third document that shows exactly where and how the old and new versions differ from each other. The comparison draft window shows all three documents -- old, new, and compared -- at the same time, and the software autoscrolls through all three panels if you change your location in one.
In other words, it's magic.
At Red Sage, we can't use Word's "track changes" function because it interferes with our typesetters' software. (Don't ask. None of us understand the exact technical angle of this problem. All attempts to fix the problem have failed.) By using the comparison draft, though, we can edit directly into documents and never lose track of where the changes are. This is particularly useful for seeing exactly how an author made revisions and for double-checking copy edits. It's also useful for helping me sort out which draft is which when different drafts aren't named in a way that makes the differences obvious.
In earlier versions of Word, you can generate a legal blacklined draft by running the spellchecker. Search your software's help menu under blacklines or legal blacklines to find the exact procedure to use.
Always. Need I say more?
I do run the Word grammar checker. And I ignore almost everything it flags. But it catches enough gunk to be worth running. By the way, the things it flags which I generally ignore are: fragments, reflexive pronoun errors, which/that distinctions, and what it refers to as "possible verb confusion."
In addition to finding what it considers grammar errors, it will catch extra or missing spaces. Very handy for a document which must be formatted into so many different kinds of files.
Search & Destroy
Or as it's more commonly known, Search and Replace.
Each of us has our little pet words, our little tics in speech. If I notice a lot of really, just, very words, I can use the search function to clean them out. Also handy for correcting colloquialisms like towards/toward and for running quick checks of homonyms. I use it for everything from semicolons chapter headings. These are routine checks for every manuscript, but then I also have specific checks for each writer.
Because the editing process teaches me a lot about each particular writer's habits, I can also use S&D to make quick corrections on particular style points for each particular writer. I may know, for example, that this writer overuses the verb put, and that writer loves relative clauses just a bit too much. I know that one tends to misuse supposably, and that one starts plenty of sentences with in fact. These kinds of tics don't improve an author's voice, but can undercut it, so S&D helps us fix both usage/grammar and voice.
S&D is also handy for consistency checks. If a hero is supposed to have blue eyes, but I run into a reference to gray eyes, I can run a search for both blue and gray to find all instances of eye color references. Maybe the heroine's name has always been Carol, but on page 39 it is Carole. Is that a typo or an indication that the author might have changed it during the drafting process? Running a search on both spellings will make sure that we have it consistent in either case.
Hint: never use "Replace All." Take the time to scan each occurrence. "Replace All" can create unintended gaffes, and as useful as these tools are, they're still not foolproof.
How do you use your software to help you write or edit? I would love to hear your tips!