Thank you, Microsoft, for the editing tools included in Word. I greatly appreciate the spell-checker, grammar-checker, and Find features.
The “checkers” are those squiggly red or green lines that appear under words or sentences that Bill Gates has his doubts about. The checkers are most helpful if you know the basics of spelling and grammar. They are good reminders to pay attention, but you can’t, of course, rely on the checkers, as they aren’t great at understanding context. If you accept all of the suggested checker changes, you could end up with an underline-free mess.
On occasion, the checkers are maddening. When I typed the word “racecar,” for example, the checker suggested I change it to “race car,” with a space. Being someone who doesn’t follow NASCAR, I wasn’t sure which spelling – or more specifically, spacing – is correct, so I accepted the suggestion. Just as I was about to move on to other matters, the spaced version was suddenly underlined, and I was encouraged to write “racecar.” I admit that I accepted the change recommendation five or six times before breaking free of that Sisyphean black hole.
While editing my new book, more than the checkers, I was dependent on the Find feature of Word. The editing process I followed involved searching through the manuscript for one problem at a time. For example, I wanted to avoid the use of wimpy modifiers, like “very,” so I entered “very” into the Find window and reviewed each use of the word. Find is very easy to use and very convenient.
Without the Find feature, I would have to read the entire manuscript multiple times, once through for each problem word or grammar issue. I can’t stand the thought of reading my entire manuscript twenty times or more. I do like my book, but I like Moby Dick, too, and I only got through it once.
My adventures in Finding included the following:
I recently experienced a religious conversion and accepted the truth that there is no reason to include two spaces following a period. However, I still commit this small sin about half the time when writing. In the editing phase of the project, I decided to root out those extra spaces. I entered two spaces into the Find window and Replaced each occurrence with a single space. That correction went quite well as I was able to Replace All with a single stroke. Unfortunately, most of my Finding was much more tedious, requiring more cognition than simple space removal.
I learned that I have a deep and abiding passion for the word “that.” I love it so much that I use it excessively and unnecessarily. For example, I arguably used it unnecessarily in each of the previous two sentences. I Found hundreds of occurrences of “that” in my manuscript, and I scrutinized each. I spent hours on the task and, by the end, I questioned whether the word is spelled t-h-a-t. No matter how common the word and how simple the spelling, when you see a word hundreds of times in quick succession it begins to look foreign.
Sins of Omission
One of my beta-testers for my manuscript pointed out that I had repeatedly failed to include a comma between two independent clauses joined by a conjunction. I was upset to learn about this omission, as it is a rule of grammar I am familiar with and try to follow. I made clever use of the Find feature of Microsoft Word by entering “ and I ” in the search field. Find found more than 300 phrases with that combination of spaces and characters, and I had to determine which ones required a comma. After reviewing each, I learned that I had incorrectly omitted 200 commas. Of course, I had to search for other conjunction pronoun combinations (e.g., “and he,” “and she,” “and they,” “and her,” “and his,” “but I,” “but he,” etc.). It was a long day of editing.
Those are just three examples of my efforts to Find problems in the manuscript. I have a list of more than two dozen words I searched for to decide if I was using them appropriately. In total, I spent 30 or more hours Finding and fixing. Drudgery.
Despite the toil, I am grateful for Find. First, I am grateful I didn’t have to read through my complete paper manuscript multiple times to find my mistakes. Second, I think the act of finding and fixing those errors will help me avoid them in the future. It would be very cool to find that I learned from my mistakes and I wouldn’t have to spend so much time editing.
You can search for omitted commas, extra spaces, and extraneous thats in my new book Metal Fatigue: The Making of a Middle Aged Metal Head. I’m sure there are a few errors, but I think you’ll find a fair amount of humor, too. Enjoy.