I asked for reader questions in November 2014, and this is one of the questions I received.
“When you edit a manuscript, how does the author know what your suggest
ioned changes are?”
I made a change in the question, correcting “suggestion” to “suggested.” That’s very similar to how it would look in the manuscript when I use the “track changes” feature in Microsoft Word. If the change is accepted, Word would make the change and put the correct word in there.
Using track changes feature
When editing, I usually turn on the “track changes” feature in Microsoft Word. Using track changes allows me to make suggestions directly in the manuscript and to show the author what changes I think need to be made, without actually changing the manuscript without the author’s permission, and without making the edits hard for the author to detect.
Using track changes gives the author the option to accept or reject any changes made, which is how I think it should be. It is, after all, the author’s book. It also allows me to make comments to the author, requesting clarification, making suggestions, and explaining grammar rules.
The author has the option to accept each change individually (or reject it, if she wants to keep that part the way she had it), or to accept all changes at once. I know the following fact speaks to how much most of my clients trust me, and it still amazes and honors me: most of them click the option to accept all of the changes at once. One told me her reason for doing that was, “Well, the way I figure, you’re the expert on this stuff. If I can’t trust you, I have a problem.”
Drawback to using track changes
The “track changes” feature makes the screen cluttered up if there are many changes, because it inserts in colored text (you can vary the color, but I don’t, I just use red) the things you are adding wherever you are adding them, and it turns things you’re removing into strikethrough text
like this. For one or two changes on the page, it’s just fine—it’s easy to read—but when you end up with hundreds of colored characters on a page (and that is pretty common, actually), it makes it difficult to read the page.
I have at times saved the manuscript in different stages under different document titles (booktitlev1, booktitlev2, etc.), then clicked “accept all changes” myself, just to make the page easy-to-read again.
I make several passes through a manuscript before I’m finished, and it’s important for me to be able to read it clearly and see the remaining errors. It would be a shame to miss an error just because it was lost on a cluttered-up page in all that “red ink.”
Editing hard copy
Once in a while, at a writer’s request, I will mark up a text the old-fashioned way, but it’s certainly not my preference. I’ll print out the book (there goes twenty dollars in ink and paper, and a tenth of a tree) and grab a pen. I used to use a red one and a blue one (old-school style for sure), but now I just use one pen—usually red to stand out from the black ink from the printer.
Most writers prefer to keep it all electronic, though, and eschew the hard-copy edit, and that’s definitely my preference, too. It’s not only environmentally-friendly and cost-effective, but it also saves time for both the editor and the writer. The editor doesn’t have to print out and mark up a hard copy, and she can send it back via email as soon as it’s finished. With a marked-up hard copy, the writer would have to look at the error on the marked-up hard copy, find the place in the Microsoft Word document, and make the change in the document on her computer, over and over, thousands of times in the manuscript. When an editor uses the “track changes” feature, the author can just click “accept change” and go. It’s a more pleasant experience.