Thursday, May 28, 2009

Star track

Editing on paper, bah! Since I’m cack-handed (nope, it doesn’t mean what you think; check it out) my lousy handwriting has far more in common with a Jackson Pollack painting than the winning entry for a prize in penmanship. Perhaps I should have been a doctor. Then at least my pig pen would have come in handy for writing prescriptions. Luckily for my poor clients, the gruesome days of unruly writing are gone. Three cheers for on-screen editing. Now my corrections, revisions and comments are much easier to follow.

Thanks to Microsoft’s "Track Changes" I work in my clients’ Word docs with TRK turned on. I’m not the only trackie using this form of document collaboration technology. This is the world's most commonly used tool for tracking revisions in docs created by multiple authors. Automatically it marks every change or comment made with a name and the date and time so that all involved in the writing and reviewing process can see who did what, when, and in a fresh colour for each collaborator to boot.

But be warned, as with all information communication technology, GIGO rules OK. Don’t throw TRK in the garbage if you forget to delete a tactless comment before passing the doc on to the next person in the chain (bad), or back to your client (worse) or over to opposing counsel (worst). Legal horror stories abound [1].

My nastiest moment came the time I forgot to turn TRK on, only discovering this once I’d finished the work and had to send it off to meet the deadline. Of course I confessed this to the client, Fedde Jasperse, operations manager at Taalcentrum-VU, who soothingly reminded me that I could still track the changes I’d made with the “Combine Documents” feature. Thanks again, Fedde, and to borrow a famous phrase, deep joy!

Since I’m in a joyful mood I’d like to share a star trackie tip I learnt through Elisabeth Heseltine, a fellow member of the European Association of Science Editors [2]. Yes dear Reader, there are moments when it is wise to over-ride the name, time and date markers supplied by Track Changes. Let me hasten to add that I couldn’t find out why Professor Heseltine should want to change these markers. In my own case, I don’t need to alter the name except when I’m asked by an agency to work under their heading instead of my own business name, NEEDSer.

On the odd occasion, however, I prefer to keep the timing to myself, for instance if I'd rather not have it be known that I've worked through a weekend. Then I’ll do a Combine Documents just before delivering the work on schedule. That way all my changes and comments will get marked with the same time and date and I won’t risk my client getting (subliminally) tempted to think I make a habit of working unsociable hours. Do you think this self-protective practice is deceitful? Why? The client can still track what's been changed and that is what truly is important.

Talking of true, did you know that the most famous split infinitive in the galaxy nearly didn’t happen? Yes, really. The next to final draft of the very first episode of Star Trek had “ go bodily where no man has gone before.” One of the writers caught and corrected that “bodily” but was careless in marking the insertion. So the person saddled with typing the final script put the righted word in the wrong place. This couldn’t have happened with Track Changes turned on. If you believe that, you’ll believe Mr. Spock had a bodily funny bone and could tell you I’m only joking. Let me leave you now with these four track stars in galactic harmony. Enjoy, and see you next week!

[1] What’s the most horrible thing that ever happened to you when you were using Track Changes? Feel free to post your star trackie bloopers in COMMENTS and give us all a fright!
[2] “EASE-Forum Digest: December 2008 to March 2009” compiled by Elise Langdon-Neuner in European Science Editing, Vol 35(2), May 2009.


  1. Ah yes DEEP JOY of the full boding moon. But my question this month is how do you change the default language in the comments boxes?

  2. I give up! How do you change de fault language in the comments boxes (we wouldn't want to change de fault-free language now, would we?)? Seriously now, just tried resetting the primary language for Office (to Dutch, in my case) and that didn't work (Comment didn't turn into Opmerking). Maybe because I ain't got no Dutch installed... only the doubled variety.