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Shudder. I don't even like proofing on paper. I can't imagine how long it would take me to edit the books I do--which need very heavy editing--on paper. All hail word processing software!


And let's not forget that if you edit on paper, you're practically doubling your work, because at some point someone needs to make all those changes to the electronic document too.


This is interesting. Does anyone know if there has been research on this topic? I'm a former copyeditor who is now in the usability field, and usability research seems to show that people don't process dense text well when it's presented online.


I print out my work for editing and then transfer the changes to the electronic file, which allows me to do any find/replace or searches that may be necessary, and also to fact-check using the Internet.

I read a study that found that readers miss more errors reading onscreen than on paper, and I like being able to scrawl notes to myself that will never be seen by anyone else.


No contest: Electronic editing!


I copyedit both electronically and on paper and my personal preference is for paper. I set up all my style sheets and get my magnifying ruler and go to town one line at a time. Electronic copyediting does have its perks as well, as you've mentioned.


@Jennifer or MJ: Do you have a link to one of these studies? I'd love to present some evidence to my boss as to why we should be editing on paper instead of onscreen.


I used to be a die-hard "copyedit on paper" person when I first started copyediting for fun and profit (I like all the copyediting marks), but now that I do a lot of work for a company based outside my home area, I find I prefer electronic copyediting. I get a Word file, I mark it up using "Track Changes," and I'm good to go. This way, when I'm double-checking myself and find something that needs to be changed, I can do a global search and replace.


When I last worked in house, most of the copyeditors chose to (and were encouraged to) edit on hardcopy before taking in all of their corrections to the electronic file! The double handling was unbelievable.


Yes, I had a similar experience, and what Jennifer describes above as her method of working seems to be the same. To me, this seems quite inefficient - surely it's easier to do the edit onscreen and then print out for a final proofread if you really do feel you'd otherwise miss something? It's certainly not a method I'd recommend to any freelance, because it does double your workload. Either you end up with an hourly rate far below what you could have got (and might even end up going out of business), or you run the risk of being uncompetitive because your fees are higher than people who edit solely onscreen. The latter might not be a problem if your client's happy to pay, but as an ex-freelance manager, I had a pretty good idea of how long a particular piece of work would take, and I would have queried any invoice substantially above that - anyone who regularly submitted excessive invoices would be unlikely to get further work.


When I've done developmental editing for people I feel that I give them more of their money's worth by editing electronically. I write more comments and explain changes that I wouldn't bother with if I'd edited on paper. Plus I have horrendous penmanship that just gets worse the longer I write, so editing a book-size manuscript on screen is far batter than on paper. Copyediting might not be quite as difficult on paper, but I still prefer the screen.


I will try to get back here with some references next week. This weekend is pretty full--I'm helping my husband index his book--so I doubt I'll have times to look things up before then.

Keep in mind that the research I've seen has to do with reading web content. I'm not aware of research specific to copyeditors, although I just might be curious enough to design that experiment myself.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf

When I think back to when I used to edit on paper, I wonder how I caught as many things as I did. Thank goodness for onscreen editing!


I think I'd have chosen a different career if I'd had to edit on paper. Or without search-and-replace and online dictionaries (which I get through the university library) and the CrossRef DOI lookup engine and, of course, Google (finder of collocations, answerer of questions, revealer of plagiarists...). Editing on paper feels like walking around the city with sandbags tied to my feet, and because I can't search efficiently, every time I change my mind about a decision I worry that I won't catch all the previous instances.

And if you're doing complex editing on paper, either you or someone else somewhere is doing twice as much work on each MS.

Now, I prefer proofreading on paper, partly because the print-out makes it easier to spot typesetting-stage problems like bad word breaks, rivers, widows and orphans, repeated lines, reversed page numbers, and incorrect margins, but partly for the same reasons I detest editing on paper: making changes is far more work, which discourages me from making changes. At page proofs, one should be making only those changes which are absolutely necessary; when editing, especially when editing highly technical texts by authors writing in English as a third or fourth language, one wants freedom and ease to make larger-scale changes, write long and involved queries, move sentences around, experiment and change one's mind about how to fix something ...


The study I saw, and I will try to locate it and post the link here, dealt with credit card e-statements vs. paper statements. It found that people are more likely to miss errors in their statements if they check them on screen than if they check them on hard copy.

I get paid by the page, so I am not overcharging anyone. I find that I can move through the hard copy fairly quickly because I am not stopping to look things up; I just make notes to myself to check later. When I mark up the electronic copy, I check as I go. I have tried editing electronically, but I find that my eyes get tired and I have trouble following the lines of text after awhile.

By the way, I do flip the ms over and print the next one on the other side, so my paper consumption isn't quite as bad as it could be.

Scotti Cohn

I LOVE copyediting on screen!

Account Deleted

I have learnt the nuances of copyediting on paper. The computer is what everybody uses today, but learning the ropes can be very easy and worthy if you are doing it on paper. I really miss those days when my edited manuscripts had edits with red gel pens....the track changes marks cannot match that!

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