Make way for macros

two-people-typing-at-computerDragonfly editors are a diverse bunch, each with different strengths and specialties gleaned from years of experience, but always united in their quest to deliver readable, error-free copy to our clients. Sometimes we fly solo, and sometimes we work as part of a team of editors. To do what we do can be a challenge logistically and technologically, but we have a set of policies and processes in place that keeps us all on the same page (figuratively, of course).
One of the first things a Dragonfly editor does with a document—besides making a backup copy—is a series of what we call “housekeeping” tasks that takes care of little inconsistencies that might not bother a client but make an editor’s eyes bleed. For example, a document might have straight quotation marks in one paragraph and curly (a.k.a. “smart”) quotation marks in the next. Or one section of a document might use two spaces after a period, while another uses one. Microsoft Word’s search and replace function makes these tasks fairly simple, but when every second counts (and it often does), it’s a list of six or seven things that delay liftoff.
Enter the mighty macro, a tiny program that handles the housekeeping tasks we perform on all documents, plus a few other good deeds, with one keystroke (technically two, if you count holding down the ALT or CTRL key). It can take a bit of time to write and refine a macro, but it saves tons of time down the line.
A few Dragonfly guinea pigs—er, editors—have been using the housekeeping macro pretty steadily for a few months to work out the bugs, and it’s been seriously life changing. Just ask Jason Bovberg. “The housekeeping macro has changed the way I approach all new documents,” the Colorado-based editor said. “A little ingenuity has gone a long way in this little marvel: Multiple steps have been reduced to one, and my housekeeping time (not to mention actual editing time) has been drastically minimized. Bravo!”

What does the housekeeping macro do?

The Dragonfly housekeeping macro performs the following tasks:

  • Replaces two spaces with one.
  • Replaces straight quotes with curly quotes.
  • Replaces straight apostrophes with curly apostrophes.
  • Removes spaces around slashes.
  • Changes double hyphens to em dashes.
  • Removes spaces around em dashes (and will close up spaces around the en dashes that were changed to em dashes, too).
  • Moves periods outside quotation marks inside.
  • Moves commas outside quotation marks inside.
  • Removes spaces around en dashes.
  • Changes superscript st, nd, rd, and th to non-superscript.
  • Adds commas after e.g. and i.e. if they’re missing.
  • Flags troublesome words in bright pink.

The last task will highlight potentially troublesome words (e.g., “pubic” where we’re 99% sure the author meant “public,” “mange” where there should be “manage,” and “asses” in case the last s in “assess” is missing). The macro doesn’t change those words; it just draws the editor’s attention to them so he or she knows to check them. The macro will also highlight words or phrases like “in order to” and “additionally,” which our editors will normally change to “to” and “in addition,” respectively. Our current and client-customizable list currently includes asses, mange, bottoms, manger, pubic, additionally, ly-, in order to, in order for, since, along with, to include, and due to.

What could possibly go wrong?

Remember that time you searched and replaced “Eric” to “Erik” and then all the references to “America” got changed to “Amerika”? OK, maybe that’s just me, but you get the idea. Search and replace is a macro, and a macro will do EXACTLY what you tell it to do. If you write or run a macro that changes ie to i.e., you have to be prepared to fi.e.ld test your experiment yi.e.lds. Remember: With great power comes great responsibility.
One other potential glitch: Every once in a while we’ll get a document where the author, instead of moving a graphic or a line of type using tabs, will just add a bunch of spaces. The first task of the macro—changing two spaces to one—will mess that up. It’s a rare occurrence, and it would happen whether we were using the macro or Word’s search and replace function, but we’ll keep in mind that that can happen and be prepared to fix it if it does.

What’s next?

The housekeeping macro is a great starting point, but we can do a lot more. We’re currently working on macros that will help compile style sheets, create acronym lists, and help find words that vary depending on whether the document uses U.K. or U.S. English.
Macros can also help us with client-specific styles. For example, we can have a macro for Client A, who wants spaces before and after em dashes, and a different macro for Client B, who does not. Of course, we don’t want to be drowning in macros, but our goal is to save time and preserve our energy and brain cells for where they’re needed most. These little technological marvels will make it easier for us to deliver consistently excellent documents to our clients while keeping the eye bleeding to a minimum.
 
This post was written by Kathryn Flynn, a Senior Editor at Dragonfly.

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