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Double vision – making the best of both worlds

This morning, I printed the first chapter of a novel and sat down to copy-edit it – despite the fact I had already copy-edited up to Chapter 23 on screen!

I’ve always maintained that working from hard copy is more beneficial, although, lately, I’ve been trying to save time and money, so rather than printing numerous pages of text, and using my blue marker pens until the ink dries up, I have been copy-editing on-screen, using Microsoft Word’s Track Changes to aid me. The problem is, as I have now discovered, errors can be missed.

I’d only just reached the end of page two, when the doorbell rang. “Here we go,” I thought. “Time for the distractions.” Making my way to the front door, I could see through the obscured glass that it was the post lady. However, as I was about to reach for the handle, she pushed a magazine through the letter box and walked away. I’m not sure how much quicker I could have got there! I opened the front door and called out ‘Hello’, to her back. She turned round and said, ‘Oh, I’ll go and get your parcel. It wasn’t worth me carrying it from the trolley if you weren’t in…’

A few minutes later, she struggled back, carrying three parcels in her arms. ‘It’s heavy,’ she stated. I thought a better idea would have been to wheel the trolley up the driveway to the front door, but I expect there are rules about that.

Generally, I’m not one of those who will hide behind their front door when someone calls, but today was different. Behind me, scattered over the hallway carpet, lay several squares of kitchen towel, where, earlier, my beloved cat had been retching. I hadn’t yet had a chance to inspect the damage, and being the house-proud person that I am (or perhaps guilt-ridden!), I didn’t want to give the post lady cause to gossip with her colleagues back at the sorting office. So, I signed for the three parcels, and quickly wished postie a good day. Two were for me. I was itching to open them (I knew what one was, but couldn’t remember what the other, heavy, one was), but had to return to my copy-editing, so I left them in the kitchen.

Seven sheets later, and no distractions, there were blue squiggles and comments on every page of Chapter 1. How had I managed to miss so much when editing on-screen? I had picked up punctuation errors, superfluous wording, raised four queries, and reordered some text. Interestingly, there were no spelling mistakes (perhaps, the one thing that Word does efficiently?).

The other forgotten advantage of editing from paper is a noticeable difference in eye strain. Although I now have to wear glasses for close-up reading (but not for looking at the computer screen), my eyes do not feel as if they have been pulled from their sockets and swapped over before being put back in (sorry, if that produced too graphic an image), and they do not feel quite so dry. There is something about working on-screen that result in my eyes feeling as if I have taken a long walk through a windy desert. Thanks goodness for Optrex!

When weighing up the pros and cons of on-screen editing versus hard-copy editing, there are as many advantages as disadvantages, but I do believe that cost-cutting aside, editing from a printed sheet is more productive. For a start, the amount of text visible on the page hints (maybe subconsciously) at what will come next, and of course, computers have yet to master grammatical differences between words that sound the same, but are spelt differently. However, on-screen editing is better suited for global checking. In particular, using search and replace. It’s ideal for correcting words that are consistently spelt incorrectly, or where you simply want to swap one word for another, or where you want to check that dialogue has all its beginning and end speech quotes.

For example, did you know that typing ^$ and then either or in the search box (depending on whether you use double or single speech quotes) will find dialogue not ending with punctuation. Try it. This is a really useful aid to proofreading, as it can be easy to miss this kind of error when checking many pages of dialogue.

However, with all of the advances in, and advantages of, on-screen editing, working from hard copy gets my vote. In future, I shall ensure that I print out every chapter for copy-editing. But, I shall first run it through Word’s proofing options, correcting any immediate spelling errors, and investigating any highlighted grammar issues (although, most of those seem to operate on warped logic). After editing on paper, I shall return to the electronic copy, update it using Track Changes, finally running it through some integrated editing software that I have bought. After all this, it may not be perfect, but using the tools that the computer offers will certainly provide the means for my human editing to be as faultless as possible.

As for the heavy parcel: sadly, it wasn’t the six-volume set of Joseph Wright’s, The English Dialect Dictionary, but a box of twelve wardrobe dehumidifiers (don’t ask!). Oh, and the cat hadn’t been as sick as I had first thought. 🙂

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