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One Editor’s Editing Process

Editing is a subjective process, especially because editors are individuals. Thus there is no one “right” editing process that all editors follow. Because you might find it instructive, I am sharing here the process that I follow, but I invite you to share your process in the comments so that all of us can learn from you.

I currently use Microsoft Word 2010 (running on Windows 7) for editing. The documents that I most frequently work on are manuscripts for articles to be published in biomedical journals, so some of the following steps may not apply to the type of documents you edit. However, I use most of these steps when I edit book-length manuscripts. Note that I do frequent saves of files throughout cleanup and editing.

1. I rename the file sent to me by the client to show that it is unedited (sample file name: MurphyArticle_unedited.docx). That way, I will have an untouched file in case I have to start over because of computer problems or problems with the backup files that I store on Dropbox or Carbonite.

2. I make a copy of that file, naming the copy to show that it is the first edit (sample file name: MurphyArticle_1steditbyKOK.docx). Creating a new copy of a file and appropriately naming that copy at each stage of editing is my form of version control. It allows me to document what happened to the document at different times.

3. I do basic file cleanup, including changing two spaces between sentences to one space, removing spaces after paragraph marks, and removing extra line spaces.

To speed up cleanup, I use some of my own macros and FileCleaner (for Windows and Macintosh), a package of macros that I purchased from the Editorium, owned by editor and publisher Jack Lyon. FileCleaner does other tasks, including these:

  • Changing underlining to italics

  • Fixing spaces around ellipses

  • Changing straight quotation marks to curly ones

  • Removing extra tabs

  • Changing hyphens between numerals to en dashes

  • Deleting spaces around em dashes

Using macros allows you to automate the routine tasks of editing so that you can spend your valuable time on thought-intensive processes. Editorial professional Paul Beverley explains in the blog post “Macro Chat: Increasing Your Work Rate” why and how this works.

Lyon’s book Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word can help you learn what you need to know about creating your own macros or adapting those that other editors have created. The Editorium sells several other macro packages, and Beverley offers a free online book of macros.

I also do wildcard searches to quickly find repeating problems. Lyon’s book Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word will help you learn how to do this. For additional helpful information, see the blog post “Macros and Wildcards: Essentials or Added Extras?” by editor Hazel Bird.

4. If I see that the author has cited references as footnotes but I know that the author’s target journal requires the use of a reference list at the end of its articles, I use the Editorium’s NoteStripper (available for both Windows and Macintosh) to instantly convert the footnotes to references. NoteStripper can do other tasks too, including these:

  • Move notes to or from the ends of sections (not just to the end of the file)

  • Turn inline tagged notes into embedded notes

5. I move all tables and figure legends to the end of the file, because this is where most of the publishers of my clients’ articles want them to be until it is time for the designer to do page layout. Each table gets its own page, and all of the figure legends go together on a single page.

6. I turn on Word’s Track Changes function.

7. I skim to determine heading levels, to ensure that topic organization is okay. I use comment bubbles to make notes to myself for reorganization, if that is a task that the client wants me to do.

8. I do any necessary text reorganization.

9. I apply Word styles to standardize the various elements of text (e.g., first-level headings, second-level headings, regular text, equations, numbered lists, bulleted lists, extracts, footnotes, elements in tables [title and number, column heads, side heads, first-level body text, second-level body text, bulleted or numbered lists, footnotes], figure captions). You can learn more information about styles at these links:

10. I run the software PerfectIt to find any major consistency issues that will require more than just quick decision-making.

11. I highlight all table and figure callouts. I double-check to ensure that they match the tables, figures, and captions regarding numbering and to ensure that each callout is in the most logical position in the text.

12. If the file has a reference list, I edit that to fill in missing information and match the desired style (usually the AMA Manual of Style, 10th edition). I use Edifix, an automated cloud-based service (subscription required) that edits reference-list entries to match specified styles. This saves me a lot of time. My 2014 review of Edifix explains more.

13. I run a spelling check on the entire file. I use Word’s built-in checker, with the addition of Stedman’s Plus Medical/Pharmaceutical Spellchecker (available for Windows and Macintosh), which integrates itself with Word. Some editors prefer one of the following spelling checkers, all of which integrate with Word:

14. Even medical spelling checkers can’t verify all drug names, so I verify some drug names using online resources, including some of these:

15. I edit the main text according to the desired style (usually AMA), waiting until later to edit any additional materials such as an abstract or appendix.

16. I edit each table and each figure and its caption as I come to the appropriate callout. Waiting until this point ensures that I am familiar with what the text around the table or figure callout is talking about.

17. I run ReferenceChecker to ensure that all items in the reference list are cited in the text and that no references are duplicated, and I correct any citation problems.

18. I edit the abstract at this point because editing the text first ensures that I can easily determine whether the author has done a good job of summarizing the important points in the article.

19. I run PerfectIt again and make any necessary changes for consistency.

Part of the consistency check involves dealing with abbreviations. PerfectIt will point out any instances of undefined abbreviations, so it’s easy to find where I have to add full terms. However, many of my authors’ publishers have a style preference for avoiding the use of an abbreviation unless it is going to appear a minimum of three times in the manuscript. For example, if the abbreviation MRI appears only twice, I will have to change both instances of MRI to magnetic resonance imaging. If I click the Generate Table of Abbreviations button in PerfectIt, I can see all abbreviations, both defined and not defined. PerfectIt can’t tell me how many times each abbreviation has been used.

Paul Beverley suggests the following ways to handle this situation: “Alternatives are (1) to use a word frequency program for the book, so you can look up the frequency of each (e.g., TextSTAT, which is not my program but is available off the internet) and (2) to put the acronym list into the bottom of the main file of all the text, click on an acronym (no need to select it), and run CountPhrase.” You can find CountPhrase in Beverley’s book of macros. To learn more about the usefulness of TextSTAT, see Louise Harnby’s blog post “Revisiting an Old Favourite: TextSTAT, Word Lists, and the Proofreader.”

20. I reread the edited manuscript, looking for anything I’ve missed.

21. I run another spelling check.

22. I turn off Track Changes, and then search for and delete extra spaces.

23. I turn Track Changes back on.

24. I password-protect the document so that any edits made after that point will be recorded by Track Changes. You can search the Microsoft Support website for instructions if you don’t know how to do that. I find it best to protect documents so that my authors don’t make changes that they don’t alert me to, such as adding new sections of text.

25. I send the author the edited manuscript for review.

26. When the author returns the reviewed manuscript, I save that file under a new name (sample file name: MurphyArticle_1streviewbyauthor.docx). I do a final cleanup pass to look for any remaining infelicities and to review the author’s edits.

27. I send the finalized file, with a new name (sample file name: MurphyArticle_finalfromKOK.docx), to the author.

For links to additional tools to help automate routine editing tasks and for links to style resources, see the “Editing Tools” page of the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base.


Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, ELS, has been in publishing since 1984, working through 1994 as an in-house production editor for various publishers. Since 1995, she has been a self-employed editor, doing business as KOK Edit. She is board-certified in the life sciences and is a medical editor with a specialty in editing manuscripts written by non-native speakers of English. Her editing has helped researchers in more than 20 nations get published in more than 50 different medical journals. For one of her clients, she serves as managing editor for the Journal of Urgent Care Medicine. She blogs at EditorMom.

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