The Problem of Proportion

One of the main problems editors have working on a computer is that they lose their sense of proportion about the manuscript. What do I mean by sense of proportion? While working on a paper manuscript, with the pages piled neatly on the desktop, editors know exactly how much work they’ve done: 112 pages, stacked on the left, are finished; 204 pages, stacked on the right, are left to edit. In my experience, they also know that chapter 3 is about, oh, half an inch from the bottom in the left-hand stack if they need to go back to it. And they know, semi-consciously, that the odd foreign word the author used was about twenty pages back and about a third of the way down the page. In other words, they have a “positional memory” that helps them find things. It’s not as efficient as their word processor’s “find” function, but it’s not bad, either.

Editing on the computer throws all of this out of whack, because on the computer there are no discrete pages, just one long, solid mass of text that scrolls up and down. I know which “page” I’m on because Microsoft Word tells me the page number on its status bar. Still, when I fixed that misspelling, it was about half an inch from the top of the screen, but where is it now? And on what page?

Microsoft Word does include some tools that can help overcome this problem. If you’ve used Word’s built-in Heading styles to mark your headings (which you should), you can use Word’s Outline view to see your document’s overall structure, navigate to the areas where you want to work, move paragraphs around, and “promote” or “demote” Heading levels. (To use Outline view, click the View menu item at the top of your Word window. Then click “Outline.”)

Another tool, in Word 97, 98, and 2000, is the Document Map. (To use it, click the View menu, then “Document Map.”) The Document Map is like a table of contents that appears in a window on the left side of your screen. You can use the Document Map to see the structure of your document by expanding and contracting the heading levels that appear in it. Unlike Outline view, however, this will not change the display of the document itself. You can also click a heading level to jump to an area where you want to work. The Document Map is similar to Outline view but without the clutter. I highly recommend this powerful and elegant feature. If you have room on your monitor, you might consider leaving the Document Map open all the time.

As I thought about other ways to solve the problem of proportion, I wondered what would happen if I could “lock” a document’s pages, using manual page breaks to separate the text into discrete pages that fit nicely onto the screen. Seemed like a good idea. But the text would flow to a different page when I made changes. Solution: Set the page length to its maximum of 22 inches so there’d be plenty of room for text to shift without actually moving to a different page. I created our Page Lock macro to do all of this at the touch of a button. The macro is included in our Editor’s ToolKit program, which also sets Word’s Page Down and Page Up keys to go to the top of the page (like turning a manuscript page) rather than the next screen.

Using all of these tools together makes a real difference in the “feel” of editing on the computer. You can better understand the size and proportion of your document, and you’ll have a better idea of where you last saw that funny misspelling your author is so fond of using. It may not be as direct and intuitive as working with a stack of paper, but it may be close enough.

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