Fact-checking timesavers

Checking facts in the realm of general knowledge is a part of a copy editor’s job, and for some genres, like history or biography, it can be one of the most time consuming. Fortunately, a couple of really simple tools can help make the fact-checking process a little less tedious.

Record a macro to create a list of terms to check

I used to fact check as I worked through a manuscript, interrupting my own reading to plug a name into Google. This practice was probably a relic of working on hard-copy manuscripts, and it took me much longer than it reasonably should have to realize how dumb I was being. Instead, I now copy the terms into a separate document and deal with them all at once in a focused fact-checking session, then I go back to the manuscript and fix any discrepancies. Handily, the list of terms you create in this process can also serve as the basis of the word list in your style sheet.

To cut down on the number of keystrokes you have to input to make your word list, record a simple macro in Microsoft Word. (If you’ve got Word 2008, you’re out of luck here, but you can still copy and paste manually and use the tool in the next section to save you time.)

  1. Open a new document, and save it, giving it a descriptive name (e.g., [Project name] word list).
  2. Open your manuscript document in Word. *Note: your word list and the manuscript must be the only two documents open in Word for this macro to work.
  3. Highlight the term you want to copy.
  4. Under Tools, point to Macro, then click Record New Macro.
  5. Give your macro a descriptive name, and assign it a shortcut key combination. Click OK.
  6. Input the following:

On a Mac

  • Command + c (copies highlighted text)
  • Command + ` (tilde key; switches to the other open document)
  • Command + v (pastes copied text)
  • Return
  • Command + ` (returns to manuscript document)

On a PC

  • Ctrl + c
  • Alt + Tab
  • Ctrl + v
  • Enter
  • Alt + Tab
  1. Under Tools, point to Macro, then click Stop Recording.

Now anytime you want to copy a term into your word list, all you have to do is highlight it in your manuscript document and press your macro’s shortcut key combination.

Note that your word list doesn’t have to be limited to names; it can include any search terms you’d plug into Google (e.g., Indian Act 1876)

Once you’ve got all of the terms copied out of the manuscript, you may want to scan the list and tweak it a bit so that a Google search will return meaningful results. For example, very common names (e.g., John Smith) may need more specific context (e.g., John Smith Jamestown), or you may have to put quotation marks around terms you want to search exactly.

Use SearchOpener to do multiple Google searches at once

Plug your word list into SearchOpener and click Submit. Then click Open All to have each search open in a separate tab. Now you can go through each of the tabs to confirm your list of terms, refining your searches as needed.

If your list of search terms is long, you may want to do this process in batches, but the approach will still save you time, and it certainly beats copying and pasting each term separately into Google.

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