Font geeks love to debate readability and myriad other details about fonts. The other thing that matters when editing is being able to tell when the wrong character has been used. Font choice can cleverly conceal a wrong character hiding in a document: a 1 looks like an l, a superscript o looks like a °, an ‘ masquerades as a ′…
Changing the font to one that shows a more drastic difference between characters is one solution. Some editors prefer to edit in Helvetica, Calibri, or Verdana for just such a reason. If you modify the font of the “Normal” Style, it’s easy to undo this font change before finalizing the file. The client will never know the trick that helped you spot those apostrophes that should be primes. Just turn off Track Changes when you change the font.
You need more backup than hitting “save” every few minutes. You need a system that saves you from hours of redoing work because of a corrupted file or stolen computer. A thumb drive copy of working files is the absolute minimum you should have. Keep that backup in a separate and secure location, too.
The Backup Selections
The simplest solution is to back up everything, always. An archive of finished projects is the most old-school backup method (if permitted by your contract), but best practice is to back up all files on the schedule given here. This includes your business files (e.g., bookkeeping and marketing materials), and your email, calendar, contacts, and blog or website. Even back up your trash bin.
LFMF: I once wrote and deleted a whole chapter in a day. I couldn’t recover it when I reconsidered, because I did it between backups and I wasn’t backing up my trash bin. If your software isn’t a subscription, also back up your programs or applications folder. The wisest editors manually back up their macros too, as retrieving them from a backup file is a pain in the neck.
The Backup Schedule
Backup early and often, per this schedule of increasing intervals:
1 backup per hour for the last 24 hours
1 per day for 30 days
1 per week for the last year
1 per month older than one year
Destroy the oldest backup file when you’re out of storage space.
PRO TIP: Automated backup software (either built into your computer’s operating system or that comes with the backup drive you buy) uses a backup schedule something like this. The backup software also makes digging through backups easy.
Dispose of old backups with the same security measures you use for the backups that you keep. You have to be sure personal and proprietary information can’t be read by someone else.
The Backup Plan
Some editors save a backup file as they finish each chapter, giving it a new name. Others save a renamed file only at the end of each workday. Adding a descriptor such as “edited to Chapter 19” or “WIP” (for “work in progress”) helps keep these versions sorted. The cost of backup systems is now quite far below your hourly editing rate, so automating this process is highly cost effective as well as efficient and reliable. Many computers and external hard drives come with backup software built in, such as Apple’s Time Machine or Carbonite for Windows-based computers. Backup software can also work with offsite systems (including “the cloud”) rather than your own on-desk hard drive (e.g., Dropbox). Just be aware that anyone with access to a shared file might inadvertently delete that file from their (and everyone’s) system. That said, hard drives can also fail. Solid-state systems (such as SSD) appear to be more stable than the old technology of spinning disks. You can add space to a cloud backup system as you need it.
Whereas we used to keep every backup on a separate floppy disk, now they’re all on a single drive, making them vulnerable to a single failure; so consider having two drives that you swap every day or every week, depending on your risk tolerance.
There is no “cloud”—it’s just a hard drive in someone else’s building. Before storing backups in the cloud, consider restrictions stipulated in your work contract: The client may not allow you to store files offsite. They may prohibit foreign storage (common in government contracts), so find out where that cloud server is. They may also have security requirements such as physical locks, firewalls, encryption, and passwords. Though one advantage is that cloud services often have better system security than any one editor could afford.
LFMF: Ask if the location where the cloud server is based often loses power, such as on a storm-prone coast. Do they have emergency power, and backups of their own system?
If you keep backups in your own office, they are as vulnerable to theft and fire or water damage as your main computer is. A safety deposit box is physically secure offsite storage; even someone else’s office may be. At least put backups in a different part of your building, maybe in a fireproof safe. An old freezer can resist a lot of heat and water; that makes it a useful option for storing several hard drives or even laptops when you go away—just don’t plug it in.
The Insurance Plan
If your data is critical, follow the 3-2-1 rule: keep three copies of all data—two locally, on different media, and one copy offsite.
Quality check the backup system often. Verify its CIA: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Is it protected? Is it working as planned? Are files undamaged? Can you get a file when needed? Is there more than one way to get at files? The nightmare these checks avoid is finding out the system hasn’t been working, just when you need it most.
PRO TIP: Use antivirus software and clean the system often. The last thing you want is to reactivate a virus when you access an archived file.
The powerful Find and Replace function is one of the reasons editors still prefer using Word for editing documents. Despite the endless program crashes, and all the fails listed here, the power of wildcards and special characters (regular expressions) in Word just isn’t matched by Google Docs, Pages, or any of the myriad alternative programs our clients try to get us to use.
Yet anyone who earns a living using Word can tell you it lets them down in spectacular ways. Knowing some of the ways a Find and Replace effort will malfunction not only lets you be aware that Word may not have your back, but lets you avoid these problems too:
Not only does Outline view in Word let you assess the structure of a document, it lets you move chunks of content with a click. On the View ribbon, click Outline in the Views group on the far left. Or at the far right of the document frame, click the icon on the bottom that looks like a bullet list (Figure 1). This displays the document as chunks of content, each marked by a square, minus or plus sign as shown in Figure 2. A plus sign means that there is content “within” that level. In the example, the Shortcut heading has no content “within” it but the List heading does.
These fast and accurate ways to select text
can revolutionize the way you work. Keyboard shortcuts are especially good when
precision is required to cut, copy, or style content, or when a very large chunk
is concerned. These shortcuts won’t jump unexpectedly like a mouse can.
Not only do these methods work in Word,
they work in most other software including WordPress, Adobe Acrobat, and other
content management systems. (Instructions for Windows users appear in brackets
if they’re different from the Mac instructions.)
Select the word the cursor is in, then the sentence, paragraph, or the whole document using this toggle repeatedly: fn + F8. To quit this mode, press escape.*
Select an entire sentence with cmd + click anywhere in the sentence. (In Windows: ctrl + click)
Select one word forward or back of the cursor’s position with shift + opt + right/left arrow. (In Windows: shift + ctrl + right/left arrow)
Select one paragraph forward or back with shift + opt + up or down arrow. (In Windows: shift + ctrl + down/up arrow)
Select a word with a double-click and the whole paragraph with three clicks.
*The fn key lets you access the root functions of the F keys that are now usually mapped to shortcuts like screen brightness and volume controls. If your F keys don’t operate computer functions, you may not have to press the fn key.