Visuals and figures are catch-all terms that describe any content that is not body text or a heading. These can include photographs, diagrams, drawings and other art, as well as graphs and sometimes charts or tables. Copyediting means changes to the labels or sometimes to the display of values (such as fixing the length of bars on a graph; see the full list in the link below). Sometimes it’s possible and helpful to edit these visuals right in the MS Word manuscript. Here’s how.
If graphs are linked Excel creations, it’s often possible to double-click on the graph and then navigate within the visual to fix some titles and some labels while still in Word. Editing the source file is necessary to fix category labels, data points, and the like. If the Excel source file is available on your computer, double-clicking the image in the Word file may launch Excel and give you full access to the contents. Be sure to note that changes were made, as Word won’t track that.
Editing Diagrams & Tech Art
When diagrams and technical art such as flow charts were created in Word — perhaps using the Smart Art function on the Insert ribbon — it’s usually possible to edit them directly, right in the Word manuscript. As with graphs, click on the element once, and then click again to access the contents.
Editing details such as font type and size, or the colour scheme might be futile, as Word changes these aspects “responsively” when visuals are resized or at other whims, and because the designer may be making grand changes later. So ask if you should bother or not.
This is not something that copyeditors do nor is Word appropriate software for doing that. Leave a comment with the requested changes.
Check out this checklist for editing visuals so you don’t miss a thing.
Leave a comment about the changes that were made, as Word will not mark up the changes itself. Avoid fancy letter formatting to indicate changes (e.g. underlining, colouring, etc.), as this requires someone to clean it all up as laboriously as you applied it. It is likely to get missed and end up in the final product.
Word does not like to attach a comment to a visual. If you must leave a comment — to request changes, for example — either attach it to the figure number or to another character immediately before or after the visual. In the comment, refer to the visual by number or another defining feature such as its title.
Figures are often not editable in Word. And when they are, it’s rare that editing them in Word will give the best results or that the changes will be picked up by the formatter. The design team may be working from a folder of original art rather than with what’s in the Word manuscript. Most often, it’s best to leave a comment requesting changes, rather than making the changes.
Double-clicking a figure opens a different function: a pane on the right that lets you change attributes of the “shape,” but not its contents. Either click slower or right-click on the visual and select Edit Text from the menu that pops up.
For changes to non-text contents of visuals, it can be more effective to create a PDF and draw on it to describe your requests. After all, designers are visual communicators, and long prose describing changes can be lost on them.
Got a gnarly Word problem? Submit your problem and we’ll try to answer it in the Q&A thread.
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