One of the recent trends in publishing has involved using ‘track changes’ to let proof-editors and authors exchange notes about work going through the publishing process.
- Microsoft’s ‘track changes’ protocol isn’t exactly that of anybody else. Even they’ve changed it (the switch came from Word 2003 .doc format to Word 2007 .docx) – meaning that the onus is on the author to have a compatible version, or run into trouble. This actually happened to me in 2014 where I spent a lot of time trying to make Word 2003 address ‘track changes’ adjustments made in a Word 2010 document.
- ‘Track changes’ is an office collaboration tool and it’s optimised for that functionality – it’s well suited to the ‘change and change back’ ping-pong of corporate writing. It is NOT, I repeat NOT, a dedicated editing tool. The system sort of works for proof-edit scale reads, but not the line-editing that must follow.
- Line editing is virtually impossible with it, because the visual display of tracked changes makes it a very slow and painstaking process for a line editor to figure out what’s in, and what’s not. I’ve seen typeset text with broken sentences and other weird content, wholly because the line-editor couldn’t figure out what the changes were and ran ‘accept all’.
- Contrary to popular belief, a Word file isn’t a document. It’s an executable – specifically, Word uses XML coding to do its tricks, wrapping that database up in a shell. Don’t believe me? Change the extension on a Word document to .zip and open it that way. See? What this means is that everything you ever type into it – including ‘deletions’ – is actually still there. And ‘track changes’ deletions sometimes get read as current text by the InDesign import filter. The result is more broken sentences and more work for a long-suffering production editor.
Commercial publishers know this too – it’s why a manuscript usually is handled via ‘track changes’ when being proof-edited, so that the proof-editor and author know what’s happening. But the rest of the process involves taking the manuscript ‘as is’, clean, and checking it for integrity through a series of line-edits. Often on paper, even if the book’s also being published electronically.
I have to agree with this approach. On my experience – which has involved being on both sides of the process – there’s no substitute for paper. More on that soon.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015