Jack Lyon talks about better word processing

Jack Lyon headshotJack Lyon is the owner and operator of the Editorium, which provides publishing add-ins for Microsoft Word. He’s worked in the publishing field more than thirty years, most of that time as managing editor of a trade publishing house. In 2006 he started his own publishing business, Waking Lion Press.

CMOS: When it comes to word processing, CMOS users probably represent every level of expertise (or nonexpertise), but regardless of skill level, we all experience frustration at times when we don’t know how to accomplish a task on our computers. Often we do something the way we’ve always done it—the slow way—because it just seems too difficult or scary to try to automate it. Is there a cure?

JL: Yes. The cure is to change your thinking—open your mind to new possibilities, new ways of doing things. Editors are smart people, so it’s usually just a matter of taking the time to figure something out or learn a new skill—time that will be amply repaid in effort saved on future projects. It’s not that difficult; anyone who can master the magnificent Chicago Manual of Style can easily master a computer. It just requires making a conscious decision to do so. Instead of seeing the computer as your enemy, see it as a tool to be mastered. I’ve written about that here.

CMOS: But for many of us, “mastering a computer” sounds about as easy as “Mastering CMOS.” It’s probably more realistic for us to dip in, figure out as much as we need when we need it, and gradually accumulate familiarity. Early victories feel so great—that’s how we gain confidence to tackle more.

Can you offer some baby-steps strategies for writers and editors who want to accumulate proficiency in word processing? Maybe a few moderately challenging but potentially life-changing Microsoft Word tricks?

JL: Maybe seeing the computer as “a tool to be mastered” is the wrong approach, but we should definitely see it as a tool to be used. Editors who work in Word the same way they’d work on paper are missing the power a computer can provide. So you’d like one or two moderately challenging but potentially life-changing Microsoft Word tricks? Glad to help out!

Let’s start with one of Word’s simplest but most useful features: Find and Replace. This feature is especially useful for editors, who are always trying to ensure consistency in style and spelling. If you were working on paper and realized after a week’s worth of work that millennium had been misspelled as millenium all the way through, the only way to fix the misspellings would be to go back through the manuscript manually and find them all! You could skim, sure, but it would still take a lot of time. Instead, try this:

1. Press CTRL+H to open Word’s Replace dialog.
2. In the Find What box, type millenium—the misspelled version.
3. In the Replace With box, type millennium—the correctly spelled version.
4. Click the Replace All button.

All instances of millenium will automatically be replaced with millennium. If you’re nervous about letting Word replace automatically, you can click the Find button to locate each instance of millenium and then change each one by hand. Honestly, though, each time you do that, you create the potential of making a mistake. It’s actually more accurate—and faster—to let the computer do the work. Just be careful to type millennium accurately in the Replace With box.

CMOS: That is a fabulous Word trick that editors would be lost without. We should caution that any global replacement is a bit dangerous, however. Some words may have different spellings within quotations or in the titles of books and articles, and it would be a mistake to change those instances. If a document has quotations or citations, it’s best to make changes one by one. Turning on the Track Changes feature might also be a good idea before you press Go. That way you can easily review the changes later.

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t point to Editorium’s free “Advanced Find and Replace for Microsoft Word”—even the most advanced searchers will learn something from it.

So what else do you have for us?

JL: Let’s talk about styles. In Microsoft Word, a “style” is a collection of formatting options saved under a descriptive name. For example, Word includes a style named “Heading 1”; you can see it on Word’s Home tab in the “Styles” group. If you put your cursor on a heading in your document and then click the Heading 1 button, your heading will turn bold, because the Heading 1 style is set to use bold formatting.

So why not just select the heading and press CTRL+B to make it bold? Because using the Heading 1 style marks your heading as a heading, and that’s useful in all kinds of ways. For example, it means that a typesetter can import your document into Adobe InDesign and the Heading 1 style will come in with it. The typesetter can then set the formatting for the style in InDesign, and all of the headings will automatically be formatted correctly. CMOS 2.79, “Software-generated styles,” explains this in more detail.

“Why,” you may be wondering, “can’t the typesetter just format the headings? Why should I have to worry about it?” Because heading levels (and other elements of document structure) should be an editorial decision, not a typesetting decision.

CMOS: We should add that styles aren’t just for people sending files to a typesetter. Anyone who wants to set up a long document—a company report, a term paper, a school directory—can label the elements and then later have easy control over how they look. It makes fun out of what would be tedium and agony otherwise: any time you want to play with the look of your document, you can redefine an element’s style in one place and every instance of that element will pop into the new style at the same time. That includes changing the font, color, size, indent, centering, amount of space above or below—styles are a powerful design tool and a great time-saver.

JL: Exactly. So I ask myself, “Should this heading be level 2 or level 3?” I decide, and then I make it so, using the appropriate style. (See CMOS appendix A.6.) Microsoft Word includes an enormous number of styles by default, but you may want to create your own styles for the elements you need. You’ll find instructions (and much more information) here. And if you’d like a collection of styles already created for editing books, you can download my free Author Tools Template.

CMOS: I don’t suppose you have anything to help navigate a large document? Something that will cut down on the carpal tunnel stress from scrolling up and down?

JL: OK—that would be Word’s Navigation pane. By default, this is hidden, but you can display it like this:

  1. Click the View tab on Word’s ribbon at the top of your screen.
  2. In the Show group, put a check in the box labeled “Navigation Pane” (in some versions, “Document map”).

Now, on the left side of your screen, you’ll see a box labeled “Navigation,” with “Headings” selected by default. Right now, there’s probably nothing in the box except Microsoft’s hint that you can use this feature to “create an interactive outline of your document.” To get started, they say, “go to the Home tab and apply Heading styles to the headings in your document.” So let’s try that:

  1. Open a document that has headings.
  2. Put your cursor on the first heading.
  3. Click the Home tab.
  4. In the Styles group, click the icon labeled “Heading 1.”

As soon as you do this, the heading will be displayed in the Navigation pane.

As you continue to apply heading styles as needed (using Heading 2, Heading 3, and so on), those headings will also be displayed in the Navigation pane, giving you a nice overview of the sections in your document and a way to easily navigate to those sections. Instead of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through your text, you can just click a heading in the Navigation pane.

CMOS: Wonderful! We just tried it here in a document with headings. It didn’t have heading styles, but it did have typed codes for the headings (<A>, <B>, etc.). When we applied Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. (using a global Find and Replace, of course), the Navigation pane filled with an outline of the document. When we clicked somewhere in the document, the corresponding section in the outline was highlighted.

Next, we clicked on a section of the outline in the Navigation pane and saw that we could drag it. So we moved it up, and the corresponding section of the text moved along with it. The chunk of text that moved began with the heading and included all the text between that heading and the next heading.

So the Navigation pane is also useful for reorganizing a document.

JL: You can also change the level of a heading in the Navigation pane. Just right-click on the section you want to promote or demote and you’ll see the menu.

CMOS: Excellent. To wrap up with a big finale, do you think you could walk us through making a macro? The most simple kind, please, using Word’s Record Macro feature?

JL: Sure thing. Whenever you find yourself using the same series of keystrokes over and over again, it’s time to simplify by recording a macro. It’s much like recording a song from the radio, only you’re recording keystrokes instead of music. Here’s the basic procedure:

  1. Start the macro recorder (just like starting a tape recorder).
  2. Do the stuff you want to record (such as typing text and running Word features).
  3. Stop the macro recorder (just like stopping the tape recorder).

Now let’s take a simple but real (and useful) example. As you edit, you probably find a need to transpose characters a lot—I know I do. You type univeristy instead of university or bungle the order of numbers or letters in a code. And it takes several keystrokes to correct the error. So let’s record a macro that will do it for us.

First, position your cursor between the two letters you want to transpose; otherwise, we’ll end up recording the movement of our cursor to that spot, which we don’t want to do. Then:

1. Start the macro recorder:

a. Click the View tab on Word’s ribbon interface.
b. On the far right is the Macros button. Click the little arrow at the bottom of the button.
c. Click Record Macro.
d. Type in a name (no spaces allowed) for your macro (such as TransposeCharacters).
e. Assign your macro to a keyboard shortcut (highly recommended): click the Keyboard button, press the keyboard shortcut you want to use (such as CTRL+SHIFT+T), click Assign, and then Close.

2. Do the stuff you want to record:

a. Select the character to the right of your cursor position (hold down SHIFT and press the RIGHT ARROW key).
b. Cut the character (hold down CTRL and press X).
c. Move back one character (press the LEFT ARROW key).
d. Paste the character (hold down CTRL and press V).

You’ve just transposed two characters—and you recorded what you did for future use!

3. Stop the macro recorder:

a. Click the little arrow at the bottom of the Macro button.
b. Click Stop Recording.

You’ve just recorded a macro! To use it:

  1. Position your cursor between two characters you want to transpose.
  2. Press CTRL+SHIFT+T.

That’s it! The two characters should be transposed.

As you can probably tell from all this, Microsoft Word is much more than a glorified typewriter. It can be a powerful editing tool for anyone willing to explore the possibilities. That takes time and effort, but the payoff is well worth the investment. I hope this helps.

To learn more about macros, take a look at Jack Lyon’s Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word and the editorial macros he has already created at the Editorium.

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