21st century editing … almost


Recently, as part of my job search, I took a proofreading test. I was surprised to find that the test was on paper, to be done with a red pen. Not a problem, it’s just that I’ve gotten used to electronic editing–tracking changes on a screen.

It wasn’t too long ago that this was a new idea for me. When I was working for a publisher a few years ago, most of the book manuscripts were printed out and were copyedited and/or proofread by hand. They were mailed back and forth from the author to the publishing house to the copy editor, and a lot of money was spent on paper and shipping, not to mention the time spent making the corrections by hand and then inputting them.

I was in newspapers for a long time and when I edited a story it was on a computer screen. That was normal to me. In spite of that, the idea of a longer manuscript or a book corrected electronically seemed foreign. It wasn’t as widely acceptable to edit books on a computer screen … probably because most authors didn’t have the technology at home to view the tracked changes and accept them. When I edited longer documents, it was on paper. I could take the manuscript with me to mark it up while sitting in a diner or on the bus — I felt it was “easier” to do it this way; I believed that I caught more mistakes that way than on a computer screen. I also didn’t trust the computer’s spell-checker — I still don’t, but it often helps spot typos.

At my last job (I’m talking about 2011), our editing method was still to print everything out and mark it up by hand, so that a manuscript could be passed around among various editors. Tracking changes electronically hadn’t been established, and this added a lot of time to the process.

My feelings have changed about electronic editing, if for no other reason than speed and convenience for the author. It’s so much easier for a writer when you send him or her a document with the changes tracked. He or she can simply accept the changes and they’re done–they don’t have to be added in by hand. The notes in the margins are clearer, and you can easily redo them if necessary without leaving a mess. For that matter, everything you mark is cleaner.

Not every author wants to do it that way; some still like to work with changes marked on paper, and that’s fine. There are times when I still edit on paper, too. My old laptop computer died and a new one is not in my immediate budget. So when I have to work on a manuscript on the train or on a trip, I can’t do electronic changes. I usually print out a portion of the manuscript I’m working on so that at least I can keep on editing while away from my desk.

I like that I have the background, that I know proofreading marks and how to do it the old-fashioned way. But I am happy to leave that behind for a more convenient process for all.

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About janarzooman

Freelance writer and editor. View all posts by janarzooman

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