by Samantha Rohrig
Published at 2021-07-21
The first step in preparing a document for publication is the copyediting of the work. The majority of copyediting tasks today are carried out on-screen using the mark-revision feature (e.g., track changes) built into the powerful word processing program of your choice (e.g., Microsoft Word). Need to add in a missing comma? No problem. Correct a misspelling? Easily fixed. Delete a repetition? Just strike it out! Even leaving a query for the author is as simple as inserting a comment bubble that will appear in the margin of the document where you can provide a more detailed explanation about a change being made, and the author can respond.
After a heavy copyedit, all the redlined text in a manuscript can appear a little overwhelming, especially for a first-time author. But ultimately this process of tracking changes made to a document ensures complete editorial transparency. The author can clearly see what corrections have been made or suggested by the editor, and the decision to accept or reject these changes is left in their hands. (For a bit more about track-changes, check out our blog “Why Is My Document So Marked-Up?”)
At some point following the editing work and the subsequent revisions, a final draft will be prepared for proofreading. And often this final draft will be transformed into a PDF document that requires a different set of tools for the proofreading work.
This process of trackable on-screen proofreading has proven to be a suitable (and time efficient) replacement for the now less common practice of making changes by hand on a hard copy of a manuscript using a standardized set of marks and symbols (also known as traditional proofreader’s marks). Even if one’s unique penmanship ensures that no two proofreaders use identical markings, the conventions themselves are universally understood by publishing professionals, and a list of the symbols can be easily supplied to a first-time author, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
Where the transition to on-screen editing has been less successful in its universality is in the marking up of page proofs across the various on-screen tools that are available to proofreaders, including PDF markup software such as Adobe Acrobat. While Acrobat provides a number of useful options for working with page proofs, it does not offer a standardized markup method that is used consistently across the field of publishing, the way that proofreader’s marks were once used. This means that even if nine out of ten clients ask you to use Acrobat when proofreading their documents, all nine may have different expectations for how you actually go about marking up the pages. Some may ask that we use the comment tool, others may ask for the pop-up notes, and still others may have their own customized stamp palette that does incorporate the traditional proofreader’s marks with other marks of their own design.
Proofreading conventions are developing even more slowly in the case of digital content; “proofreading electronic copy is still in its infancy,” as one of my instructors in the Ryerson Publishing Program recently described it. Earlier this year, we had a couple of queries from interested clients looking for a TEC editor to proof their company websites. In both cases the websites had already been developed and had been in use for some time. The problem we faced was how we would gain remote access to the sites in order to make corrections to the copy and offer suggestions for improvement.
Moreover, there is the issue of editorial transparency. Unlike using track changes or PDF markup tools, making changes to a website’s content through backdoor access does not allow you to use visible track changes to make suggestions or query the client. Changes are simply made directly to the copy and that’s that. Even if only a few changes were made, such as fixing typos and adding commas, few clients would be comfortable with this arrangement because they could not see these changes themselves.
There is a new web-based tool on the market that Beth and I were lucky enough to work with just last month when a client hired us to proofread its website and introduced us to Pastel. This is a cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) tool designed to support the collaborative submission and collection of feedback on live or soon-to-launch websites. The software is marketed to web designers and their clients on the premise that leaving feedback on a website under development should be “as easy as leaving a sticky note on a piece of paper.” In practice, this also proves the perfect method for bringing a professional proofreader into the fold. After one quick 10-minute training session, we knew just how friendly Pastel was.
Pastel allows multiple collaborators to browse all areas of the website in question by granting them access to a unique URL link. Collaborators can then leave feedback in the form of smart comments placed on any part of any page, just like placing a comment on a PDF in Adobe Acrobat. And just like using Acrobat, comment bubbles can be used to point out corrections: “insert comma here,” “delete this repeated word,” “set text in italics,” and so on. Comments also appear in a scrollable list to the side of the website where anyone with access can easily organize and filter and respond to (and ultimately resolve) suggestions and queries in real time.
Although this is still a more involved process than using track changes on a Word document, I have yet to come across another user-friendly web tool like this. Pastel easily allows you to browse from page to page and see the copy and all the other design elements of the website laid out exactly as they appear on the live site. Not only does this allow you to check the copy, but it also enables you to fulfill many other checks that typically fall under the proofreader’s purview: ensuring font consistency and the distinctive treatment of headings and titles; checking the placement and quality of illustrations; checking the design and placement of tables and figures; checking spread balance and the use of white space; flagging broken links—the list goes on.
On the whole, the conventions of editing web copy may still be in their infancy, but with more and more clients looking to make their online presence as polished as their published print documents, a program like Pastel seems poised to gain greater use and popularity among web designers and proofreaders alike.
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