Editors’ show and tell: time-saving tips and tricks

We kicked off the 2013–2014 EAC-BC meeting season last evening with a packed house and an editors’ show and tell of some of our favourite time-savers. Here’s a summary*:

Fact checking

  • Frances Peck showed us CanLII, the Canadian Legal Information Institute database, which is handy if you need to work with a document that has legal citations or references to acts and regulations. The searchable database covers both federal and provincial case law and has up-to-date wording of legislation. The University of Victoria Libraries vouch for the database’s reliability.
  • I mentioned the Library of Congress Authorities as a reliable place to check names.
  • Lana Okerlund told us about GeoBC for fact checking B.C. place names.
  • Naomi Pauls and Jennifer Getsinger both mentioned the Canadian Geographical Names Data Base for place names within Canada.
  • I also told the crowd about SearchOpener, which I’d mentioned in a previous post. The tool lets you perform multiple Google searches at once—a boon for checking fact-heavy texts.

Notes and bibliography

  • Stef Alexandru told us about RefWorks and Zotero, which are bibliographic management programs. The former costs $100 (USD), whereas the latter is free. In both of these programs, you can enter all of your bibliographic information, and it produces a bibliography in the style (e.g., Chicago) that you want.
  • Microsoft Word’s bibliography tool does the same thing (under “Manage Sources”)

The trick to all of these programs, though, is that you would have had to work with your client or author early enough in the writing process for them to have used them from the outset. Nobody knew of any specific tricks for streamlining the editing of notes and bibliographies, although Margaret Shaw later mentioned a guest article on Louise Harnby’s blog by the developer of EditTools, Richard Adin, in which he writes:

The books I work on often have reference lists of several hundred entries. Using the Journals macro, I can check and correct most of the entries in the list automatically. I once timed it and found that I can check about 600 references in approximately 15 minutes; it used to take me hours, especially if I had to look up obscure and rarely cited journal names. Now I look them up once, enter them in the dataset, and move on.

  • For fact checking bibliographical information, one suggestion was to use WorldCat.

Document cleanup

  • Jack Lyon’s Editorium has a FileCleaner Word add-on that helps with a lot of common search-and-replace cleanup steps. NoteStripper may also help you prepare a file for design if the designer doesn’t want embedded footnotes or endnotes.
  • Grace Yaginuma told us how to strip all hyperlinks from your file by selecting all (Ctrl + A) and then using Ctrl + Shift + F9.
  • To remove formatting from text on the clipboard, suggested apps include Plain Clip and Format Match.

Ensuring consistency

  • Nobody in the room had tried PerfectIt, but there seemed to be positive views of it on EAC’s listserv. It catches consistency errors that Word’s spelling and grammar checkers miss, including hyphenation, capitalization, and treatment of numbers. You can also attach specific dictionaries or style sheets to it.

Author correspondence and queries

  • Theresa Best keeps a series of boilerplate emails in her Drafts folder; another suggestion was to have boilerplate email text as signature files.
  • For queries that you use again and again, consider adding it as an AutoCorrect entry, a trick I use all the time and saves me countless keystrokes. Store longer pieces of boilerplate text as AutoText.


  • Naomi Pauls and Theresa Best talked about the utility of checklists. I concur!

Structural editing

  • A few people in the audience mentioned that a surprising number of editors don’t know about using Outline View or Navigation Pane in Microsoft Word to do outlining and structural editing.
  • One person said Scrivener is a fantastic tool for easily moving large chunks of text around and other aspects of structural editing.

Business administration

  • Janet Love Morrison uses Billings for time tracking and invoicing, and she highly recommends it. Other options recommended include iBiz and FreshBooks. (Someone also mentioned Goggle as a time tracker, but I can’t find anything about it. Can anyone help?)
  • Theresa Best has just begun using Tom’s Planner, which she described as a free and intuitive project-management program.
  • Peter Moskos mentioned that years ago, his firm had invested in FastTrack Schedule, which cost a few hundred dollars but, he said, was worth every penny, especially for creating schedules for proposals.
  • One recommended scheduling app for arranging meetings is Doodle.com.

Editors’ wish list

  • Naomi Pauls said that she’d like to see a style sheet app that lets you choose style options easily rather than having to key them in. (Being able to have your word processer reference it while checking the document would be a plus.)
  • Someone else proposed a resource that would be a kind of cheat sheet to summarize the main differences between the major style guides, to make it easier to jump from one to another when working on different projects.

Thanks to everyone who came out to the meeting and especially those who shared their tips and tricks!

*Although I knew some names at the meeting, I didn’t catch all of the names of the contributors (or I’d forgotten who’d said what). If you see an entry here and thought, “Hey—that’s me!” please send me a note, and I’ll be happy to add your name.

Use hyphens wisely: Discretion is advised

Having just educated two of my designer friends—both award-winning veterans of the book industry—about the discretionary/optional hyphen, I realized that maybe not everyone knows about it after all. Convincing designers to embrace the discretionary hyphen can mean saving a lot of proofing time (or, at the very least, eliminating a proofing worry), so I’ve found myself proselytizing, and I might as well do that here, too.

What they are

You’re familiar with the good ol’-fashioned regular hyphen (like the one in “ol’-fashioned”), also known as the hard hyphen. If a line breaks after a hard hyphen, it’s no big deal. In contrast, you wouldn’t want a line break after the hyphen in a phone number, say, or a numeral-unit adjective (e.g., 4-ton jack), and in those situations you’d want to use a nonbreaking hyphen.

But let’s say you’re reading a proof where a word has broken where you don’t want it to break—e.g., mi•crowave instead of micro•wave. What happens when you mark up the proof asking the designer to rebreak the word?

Well, the way many designers have been told to solve the problem is simply to add a (hard) hyphen where they want the break to happen. The approach seems to resolve the issue, but it’s not an elegant fix. What they should be using is a discretionary hyphen (Ctrl/Command + Shift + – in InDesign), which appears if the word breaks at the end of the line but remains invisible when it doesn’t.

Let’s say the designer has added a hard hyphen to “microwave” to make it break as


If you made text changes that pushed “micro” to the following line, for example, you’d end up with “micro-wave” on one line, and the proofreader would have to ask for that hyphen to be deleted.

Using a discretionary hyphen would mean that “microwave” would continue to break as


if it flowed over two lines but appear as “microwave” otherwise.

(Apparently, if you add a discretionary hyphen before a word, InDesign prevents that word from being broken at all—handy for some proper nouns. More information about hyphens in InDesign can be found here.)

Why they help

Beyond the fact that the proofreader no longer has to worry about designer-introduced hard hyphens, discretionary hyphens are especially helpful for texts that are destined for more than one format or medium. Many publishers create their ebooks from their InDesign files, and because EPUB text can reflow, hard hyphens introduced to break a word in a desirable place for the print edition are bound to show up where they aren’t needed in the ebook. Either a proofreader has to go through the ebook text and remove them, or the publisher leaves them in and effectively sacrifices some of its editorial standards in its ebooks. Similarly, reprints (e.g., when a hardcover is reformatted as a mass-market paperback) would be a lot less work for the proofreader if designer-introduced hard hyphens were no longer a concern.

What they could mean to editors

We could nip the problem in the bud a bit earlier in the production process if copy editors also used discretionary hyphens (called optional hyphens in Microsoft Word—shortcut key: Ctrl/Command + -) after common prefixes in closed compounds. (As if copy editors needed any more responsibility!) It’s probably impossible to anticipate every possible bad word break, but a few global searches would be fairly easy to do at the copy-editing stage and would eliminate a lot of the distraction for the proofreader.

What to keep in mind

Ideally, all optional hyphens in Word would translate seamlessly into discretionary hyphens in InDesign. Apparently the two programs don’t always play nicely together, though, so if you’re a copy editor prepping a file for design, it might be worth sending a few test files to the designer you’re working with, to figure out if the special characters, including nonbreaking spaces, nonbreaking hyphens, and discretionary hyphens, among others, will come through.

Also, discretionary hyphens may cause problems for online text because different standards treat them differently, some translating discretionary hyphens into hard hyphens. Again, you may want to test some files, particularly in an ebook workflow, to see if inputting discretionary hyphens is worth the copy editor’s time or if they should be inserted by the designer and only as needed for the print publication. Luckily, designers can just as easily search an InDesign file for discretionary hyphens they’ve inserted and remove them for the ebook version.

How you can make the world a more discretionary place

Next time you’re proofreading and you notice one of those manually added hyphens that buggers up a word, just mention discretionary hyphens to the designer. The designers I spoke to were happy to learn about them and were excited about the prospect of saving proofreading time and, more importantly, not inadvertently introducing errors.

What does your markup say about you?

This interview also appears on The Editors’ Weekly, the Editors’ Association of Canada’s official blog.


A friend of mine was venting to me about his old boss, who used to look over his reports. Whenever his boss found an error, he’d not only circle it but also emphasize his discovery with an exclamation point—a practice that drove my buddy nuts. Encoded within this tiny mark of punctuation was his micromanaging boss’s chiding disapproval: “HEY! THERE’S A MISTAKE RIGHT HERE! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”

I was relating this story to my good friend Naomi MacDougall, an award-winning designer, and she told me she once had to work with a proofreader whose markup she found “overly aggressive.” We both had a good laugh about that, but the conversation got me thinking: Whereas most of us have switched to editing on screen, a lot of us still proof on hard copy, and our markup is often the only communication we have with a designer, whom we may not know and may never meet. It’s a bit of a weird working relationship—more distant than others in the publication production chain. How can we be sure that our markup isn’t inadvertently pissing off the designer? I asked Naomi to sit down for an interview to talk about some of these issues.

IC: When you mentioned that a proofreader you’d worked with had “overly aggressive markup,” what did you mean by that? What did the proofreader do that rubbed you the wrong way?

NM: Mostly it was the use of all caps and lots of exclamation points at the end of every note. It made me feel as though I was being yelled at. The tone of the markup put me on the defensive.

IC: Are there other things proofreaders have done that you wish they wouldn’t do?

NM: There have been times when the markup hasn’t been clear, and obviously that’s tricky. It’s frustrating to have to sit there and puzzle over what a letter is. Also, occasionally, I feel like the markup has left too much for interpretation. Because we’re often going through these changes quickly, I don’t want to have to be deciphering code.

On the flip side, if something is very obvious in the markup—like if a letter is dropped or a word inserted into a sentence—then you don’t have to spell it out again by rewriting the sentence in the margin. But when there are lots of moving words and punctuation marks in a sentence, it’s really helpful if the proofreader rewrites the sentence in the margin.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’d like as much clarity as possible in markup. I’m intelligent, but I’m not a mind reader.

IC: When there’s a problem like a bad break or a widow, would you prefer that the proofreader just point out the problem so that you can find a solution, or would you rather the proofreader suggest a fix?

NM: That’s a good question. In most cases I would say just point out the problem, unless it’s obvious it’s going to be very tricky to fix—then it’s hugely appreciated when the proofreader suggests a fix, especially if it involves cutting or inserting words.

IC: What’s your preference when there are more extensive passages of text that need to be inserted? How long would an insert have to be before it’s better to send you new text in an email rather than writing it in the margin for you to rekey?

NM: I would say I’d want new text for anything longer than one sentence or two short sentences. There’s just more room for error when I have to type a bunch of text. And if you’re moving more than, say, four words around in a sentence, just rewrite the sentence and have me retype it. It takes less time than moving all those words around and making sure they’re all in the right place.

IC: I think you were telling me earlier that different proofreaders approach word substitutions differently. Some mark a word as deleted and then add a caret to show that a word in the margin should be inserted, whereas others just cross out the word in the proof and write its replacement in the margin, without the caret.

NM: Yes, I like the caret. I find it clearer.

IC: It’s a visual cue for the designer to look in the margin.

NM: Exactly. It takes out that second of guesswork.

IC: Which can really add up!

NM: Yes!

IC: Is there anything else proofreaders do that you really appreciate?

NM: I always appreciate a neat printer, and I always appreciate it when a proofreader uses a bright ink, like red or purple or anything that stands out against the type. Often I’m scanning a page quickly, and if the markup is in pencil or black or blue pen, I tend to miss more of the changes. They don’t jump off the page as easily, so I have to take more time to look at each page closely.

Also, I really appreciate it when the proofreader suggests a global change at the beginning of document if a word is misspelled throughout. It’s so much quicker for me to search and replace these in one go. But I also like it when these words are highlighted in the text so that I can double-check that the change was made and check for reflow, since, during a global change, there’s always the potential for a line to break differently.

IC: Do you ever return communication on the proofs? What kinds of things to you say to the proofreader?

NM: Not often, but if I do it’s almost always a note that a change can’t be made because of reflow issues—mostly to do with hyphenation. And occasionally I’ll make note of a design style that overrules a type change.

IC: We’ve focused on hard-copy markup so far. Any thoughts about proofreaders working on PDF?

NM: I know in some instances I’ve missed smaller fixes in PDFs, like a change to one letter or a punctuation change, because they’ll just show up as tiny, tiny marks, and they’re easy to miss even in the full list of changes. If you click on the markup and add a short comment to it, though, it pops up as a little box, so it jumps out.

PDFs are great for shorter publications; I can copy and paste the text right out of the markup boxes, so that makes my life easy! But for a big book, hard copy is preferable. Having to go back and forth between windows on the computer is the issue.

IC: How much does it annoy designers when we make a change on first proofs and reverse it on second?

NM: It’s not usually a big deal—unless it’s a complete change from Canadian to U.S. spelling throughout, say. If that ping-pongs, then it can get annoying—though I’m sure it is for everyone involved! In that case a note about global changes is hugely appreciated.

IC: What can a proofreader do to ensure that the relationship with the designer is as collegial and productive as it can be, given that it’s such a bizarre, arms-length interaction?

NM: If markup is done professionally, then the relationship will be smooth. Just be clear, be thorough, and print neatly… and no all-caps yelling!

IC: Yes! I think those are all of my questions. Do you have anything to add?

NM: Just that I appreciate how much work goes into a thorough proofread, and I don’t know how you all do it! Sometimes your hawk eyes blow my mind!