A blog for writers with tips on editing, proofreading and related tools.

Using Word macros to speed up proofreading

I’ve done a serious load of tedious proofreading tasks in my time. Of particular agony were a collection of 1000+ page Word documents that contained a series of nested tables. There were at least 90 different styles listed in the style panel, none of which applied to more than five instances of text. But even updating styles wouldn’t have made my job faster since Word crashed every time a style update was about to be considered. Those styles that had been set to auto-update were a trigger for a 30 minute MS Office fit and unwanted tea break. Not terribly fun.

There is a peculiar tension when an impatient person is fastidious about details. As keen as I was to move onto more exciting work, I just could not walk away from bullet lists that varied in indentation from page to page. At some point (read: five minutes into) in the completion of this task I started thinking ‘there must be an easier way!’. There was, and there is for you too.

Macros. Not just an odd message that appears at the top of MS Office products from time to time, macros can be your best friend (if you don't get out much). After watching a YouTube video explaining how these babies could be used to streamline tedious editing tasks, I was hooked. My first macro was ‘removedoublespaces’. It did what it said on the box: went through the documents searching for double spaces after full stops and replaced them with single spaces. All with two key strokes. Hallelujah!

Yes, this could be achieved by running a Find and Replace, but once the macro was created it was sitting there ready to run in every document I opened. With a handy keyboard shortcut!

I soon moved on to more ambitious macros, but the best ones remained the simple ones.  Like the one that searched for ‘pubic’ and replaced it with ‘public’ so that the heading Pubic Sector Trainers could never happen again. Very popular in my government services focused office job at the time.

One word of warning, as with the old Find and Replace, sometimes what is an error 99% of the time can actually be correct for that 1% you don't notice. For example, running through a document changing all Americanisms to Australianisms is all well and good, except when the direct quote from an American journal gets caught up in the excitement.

Also, beware of Word’s tendency to collapse when too many styles and tables are combined. If you are starting with a document that looks like Mickey Rourke circa 2010, remember that at a certain point, more surgery can’t help.

Here are some videos you might find handy if you're a newbie to macros:

Introduction to macros

Computer tricks: Introduction to macros