Editing Notes Alphabetically

This week I’ve been editing notes–4,028 of them to be exact. And boy, were they a mess–a garbled collection of inconsistency and error. They looked something like this:

Jones, Sunlit Land, 24.

Era of Sand, Jan. 1953, 59.

Today’s News, April 17, 1965, 3.

Jones, Sunlit land, 33.

Era of Sandy, January 1953 20.

Jones, Sunlit Land, 78.

As I worked through them, I kept wishing I had a way to sort them alphabetically, so they’d look like this:

Era of Sand, Jan. 1953, 59.

Era of Sandy, January 1953 20.

Jones, Sunlit Land, 24.

Jones, Sunlit land, 33.

Jones, Sunlit Land, 78.

Today’s News, April 17, 1965, 3.

Then I could easily compare notes that cited the same source and make sure everything was consistent. But how? Suddenly the solution struck me. (No, it didn’t hurt.) I could put the notes into a sortable table. Since the notes were embedded, automatically numbering ones, I’d need my trusty NoteStripper program to strip them out as text. (If they had already been text at the end of the document, I could have put them into a table without first using NoteStripper.) Anyway, here’s the procedure:

1. *Back up your document* in case something goes wrong.

2. If you’ve been working with Revision Tracking turned on, turn it off and make all revisions permanent. Otherwise, you’ll run into problems with a bug that refuses to actually delete notes when Revision Tracking is on.

3. If you’re not already working in Normal view, make the switch (View > Normal).

4. Open the notes pane (View > Footnotes).

5. With your cursor at the top of the notes pane, click “Edit > Replace.”

6. In the “Find What” box, enter “[^013]([!^02])” (carriage returns not preceded by a note number; don’t include the quotation marks). Yes, this will work on a Macintosh.

7. In the “Replace With” box, enter “@@@1” (again, without the quotation marks).

8. Put a checkmark in the “Use Wildcards” (or “Use Pattern Matching”) checkbox. (You may have to click the “More” button to make this available.)

9. Click “OK” to make the replacements. Now all of your notes are (temporarily) just one paragraph long.

10. Use our NoteStripper program to strip notes to text. For note number format, select “Number with period and tab.” When you’re finished, all of your notes will be (unembedded) text at the bottom of your document.

11. Select all of the notes.

12. Click “Table” and then “Convert Text to Table.” Set “Number of Columns” to 2. Set “Separate Text At” to tabs.

13. Click the “OK” button.

You should now have a table full of numbers and their corresponding notes. To sort the table alphabetically:

1. Your table should still be selected from step 13, above. If you’ve moved your cursor so it’s no longer selected, put your cursor in the table and select the table (Table > Select Table). *Don’t skip this step.* (I’ll explain more below).

2. Click “Table” and then “Sort Text.”

3. In the “Sort By” box, select “Column 2,” which is the column holding your note text.

4. In the “Type” box, select “Text.”

5. Click “Ascending” and “No Header Row.”

6. Click the “OK” button.

Now your notes should be sorted alphabetically, and you can edit to your heart’s content. (If your paragraph formatting is double spaced, you may want to change it to single spaced.) This is a pretty efficient way to work. You can easily spot typos or discrepancies in citations just by looking at the length of the lines:

10142 Jones, Sunlit Land, 24.

11773 Jones, Sunlit land, 33.

10044 Jones, Sunlit Land, 78.

If this weren’t a monospaced font (sorry), the second line would be a little shorter than the other two, so you’d know something is off. Ah, there it is–that lowercased l on “land” should be capped.

You can also sort your notes numerically, if you want to look at them from that angle:

1. Put your cursor in the table and select the table (Table > Select Table). *Don’t skip this step.* (I’ll explain more below).

2. Click “Table” and then “Sort Text.”

3. In the “Sort By” box, select “Column 1,” which is the column holding your note numbers.

4. In the “Type” box, select “Number.” (If you select “Text,” your note numbers won’t sort properly.)

5. Click “Ascending” and “No Header Row.”

6. Click the “OK” button.

You can switch back and forth between alphabetical and numerical order as needed. Just be careful *not* to sort one column at a time (or change any of the note numbers–avoid globally finding and replacing numbers as you edit). If you do, you’ll lose the correspondence between note numbers and their notes, which would be very, very bad. (Hence my emphasis on selecting the whole table before sorting. You kept that backup, right?) One way to avoid this entirely is to select the first column and format it as hidden, but then, before reembedding your notes (as explained below), you’ll need to select the table and turn off the hidden formatting. Also, don’t delete the @@@ markers that indicate paragraph breaks; you’ll need them later to restore the breaks.

After you’ve finished editing your notes, you’ll need NoteStripper again to get them back into your document as embedded, automatically numbered notes. Here’s the procedure:

1. Select the table of numbers and (now-edited) notes (Table > Select Table).

2. Turn the table back to text (Table > Convert Table to Text; Separate Text with Tabs), which will give you a number and a tab preceding each note.

3. Use NoteStripper’s “Text to Notes” feature to turn the text notes into embedded ones (see the documentation for instructions).

4. Open the notes pane (View > Footnotes).

5. Find “@@@” and replace with “^p” to restore your carriage returns.

That’s it! If you’re ever faced with a bunch of notes that need to be wrestled into submission, maybe this technique will help you as much as it did me. If your notes are simply text to begin with (not embedded), you can use the technique without NoteStripper.

You can learn more about NoteStripper (a terrific program) here:




Francesca Flynn sent a few more thoughts about ideal editing software. She wrote:

A feature I’d love for copyediting: A “Style Chooser,” not just a ms template, but complete grammar- and style- checkers for commonly used editorial styles such as Chicago Manual of Style and American Psychological Association. I’d love to be able to toggle a switch to “Chicago, 1st preferences” to have “extra” commas (per open-style punctuation) and so on be flagged.

I came across another “ideal software” idea — something I’d like fixed in Word, anyway. (I use Word 97): I appreciate the dialog box “Do you want to save the changes you made to xxx.doc?” But I wish I could respond with, “I don’t know — were they important, or did I accidentally lean on the space bar?” If Microsoft declines to offer the necessary AI (artificially intelligent entity) as a free upgrade (to overwrite Clippy!), I would settle for another button in the save-changes dialog box: “Display changes.” This would be especially helpful when I’ve had several interrelated documents open at once.

Francesca Flynn

Writing & Editing

Sebastopol, California


Thanks to Francesca for her comments.



If you’re interested in automating your notes and bibliographic references, you might want to investigate the EndNote software, which you can learn about here:


EndNote isn’t the only game in town, however, although it is the best known. To learn about other contenders, see the overview of personal bibliographic software here:


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