I find the mundane details of an editor’s process fascinating. I love talking with other editors about what time tracking software they use, how they navigate style guides (do they search or use the table of contents on Chicago Manual of Style’s site?), if they Google basic facts and proper nouns, how they organize a style sheet.
No matter how long you’ve been editing, it’s useful to talk shop with other editors. I always learn new tools to use or ways to work from these discussions.
And authors, you can learn from these discussions, too, and learn about tools to improve your self-editing process. Plus, being familiar with the tools an editor uses will help you understand their work and how they do what they do.
Now, let’s talk tabs.
When I edit, my resources are all online. I don’t own a physical copy of a dictionary, and I only pull out my copy of Chicago Manual of Style when the site is down. That means all my editing resources are housed in tabs on my Chrome window. These tabs are in a bookmarked folder (one for AP style and one for CMOS) so that when I’m ready to edit, I can simply click Open All, and all my editing tabs will fall into place in the correct order.
The order of the tabs is actually important as it indicates the hierarchy of resources to consult while editing: First, the client’s style guide or style sheet, then the style guide the client follows (AP or CMOS), then the dictionary, and so on. These are the tabs (in order from left to right) that I have open while editing.
I like getting paid for hourly contracts, and I like knowing how much money I’m making on flat fee projects. Thus, a good time-tracking platform is essential.
I started using Toggl as a full-time employee and found the platform easy to use. Now that I’m freelancing full time, I love how Toggl breaks down how much time I’ve spent on each client in a given time period, how many billable hours I’ve worked, and how many hours I’ve worked each day and week.
I pay for the Starter plan on Toggl, which lets you type in a description of the task you’re doing—a functionality I’d gotten used to at my full-time job. I like being able to be super specific about what I’m doing—tasks are a bit too vague to be useful all the time.
2. Google Docs of the Project
I have a few clients who work in Google Docs, which is just fine with me. Sure, the track changes isn’t as intuitive or useful as Microsoft Word’s, but it’s doable. In fact, I prefer to use Google Docs with clients on shorter projects (like blog posts and social media posts) that require lots of collaboration and quick turnarounds. Using Google Docs allows me to have the text open right next to all these other tabs that I use for editing. It requires less switching between applications and streamlines everything.
3. House Style Guide or Style Sheet
The client’s house style guide supersedes the general style guide they follow (AP, Chicago, etc.). For some clients, I work off style guides that I’ve developed myself as I’ve edited their content, and others have set style guides they share with me.
If I’m editing a book, I have the project’s style sheet open. I use a neat Google Sheets style sheet for indie authors that I adapted from Jeri Walker’s template, and for publishers, I use a Google Doc that I convert into a Word document at the end of the project. During the project, it’s easy to have the style sheet in a tab right alongside my other editing resources. And the Google Sheets style sheet lets me easily sort different types of names/style decisions into its tabs, realphabetize the listings quickly, and search for terms I need to review.
4. Style Guide
I have been professionally trained in two styles: AP and Chicago. Depending on what type of project I’m working on, I either have AP Stylebook online open, or I have Chicago Manual of Style online open.
If I’m working in Chicago style, I usually also have the CMOS Hyphenation Table and the Citation Quick Guide open in separate tabs. I love being able to quickly search for terms that I’m looking for on the site, but I often use the CMOS table of contents feature to scroll down and find what I’m after in a particular chapter.
I rarely (okay, never) use my hard copy of either style book.
If a word isn’t in the client’s style guide or style sheet, and it’s not addressed in CMOS or AP, it’s time to click to the next tab, Merriam-Webster.
I don’t own a physical dictionary, so using the online version of Merriam-Webster is a given. I don’t also have a subscription for the unabridged version, but the free version is the most updated anyway.
Thesaurus.com is handy when my brain won’t work and I can’t use “opt for” for a third time in two paragraphs. I don’t click to this tab as often as the others, but it’s useful to have it up and ready to go.
Google is usually open in more than one tab, honestly. It’s my go-to resource for checking spellings of proper nouns, like people’s names, companies, brands, and places, as well as basic facts. (I copy and paste every proper noun into Google the first time I come across it in a text to double-check spelling and capitalization.)
I’ve tried imagining editing before Google, and I find it frightening.
8. CoSchedule Headline Analyzer
If I’m editing a blog post or online article, I use the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer to workshop some title options. This tool scores your headline 0–100 and examines word balance, headline type, length, keywords, and more. It’s easy to tweak your original headline just a little to make it slightly more shareable and optimized for SEO. The headline analyzer also makes it easy to list a few title options for clients who like options.
Before I edit a piece of content, I run the text through the paid premium search CopyScape, a plagiarism checker. (Searches cost three cents for the first 200 words plus one cent for each additional 100 words, so it’s not too costly.) I do not want to work for clients who plagiarize content, so running this check upfront gives me an opportunity to ask the client why their content is showing up on other sites. (Sometimes the answer is as simple as I’m re-editing a blog post they’ve previously published and another site had copied their post.)
And I don’t want the client to run into problems if, say, a freelance writer submits work that is heavily copied from other sources. I want to make sure that any paraphrased text from a quoted or linked source is differentiated enough and that the client has put their own spin on interpreting that source. If I run into sentences that show up as duplicate content, I mark those spots to rework while editing.
10. BuzzFeed Style Guide
When I’m editing something that’s heavy on internet slang or pop culture references, the BuzzFeed Style Guide is a godsend. The word list is easy to search and often has newer words that aren’t yet in Merriam-Webster, like “deepfake” and “yaaass.”
11. Google NGram Viewer
I’ve been playing around with having Google NGram Viewer open while editing. When Merriam-Webster doesn’t list a word and it’s not immediately evident on the first page of Google results which spelling is preferred, I turn to Google NGram Viewer for insights. It’s not always useful—its corpus only goes up to 2008, making it useless for more recent words—but it does come in handy from time to time.
For example, when editing a historical fiction short story for Capsule Stories, the term “baby bump” felt like an anachronism. I checked on Google NGram Viewer, and sure enough, the term wasn’t used in its current meaning until the 2000s.
12. Twitter and Facebook
Yes, sometimes I have Facebook and Twitter open as distractions, which is a bad habit that I should stop, but I find myself searching on both platforms more and more for specific editing questions.
Twitter searches let me know if another editor or style guide has tweeted about something (is Pi Day capitalized?), and EAE Backroom’s backlog of posts and discussions is endlessly useful when it comes to specific style and grammar questions.
While I occasionally turn to social media for actual editing advice, I generally try to prevent distractions by hiding my Mac’s dock and hiding the bookmark bar on Chrome. The reasoning is: If I can’t see icons to click on, maybe I won’t be as tempted to click away from my editing.
That’s why it’s essential to have the right tabs open when I begin editing—finding the right bookmark or site once I’m already editing is a distraction I can easily avoid.