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Editing – In Print Or Onscreen?

I don’t know about you but it seems like when I’m ghostwriting a book or other long manuscript, I can only be effective editing on screen up to a point. Maybe it’s my age or maybe there really is something to it. But I find I ultimately have to print the manuscript and go away to the computer with pen in hand to edit.

Take this morning for example. I’m ghostwriting an allegory and we’ve just about settled on the characters and setting. The client, however, wanted critical information introduced to the heroine by a different person than I had originally written. That means significant rewriting.

Yesterday I did all my work on screen. I edited the prologue which introduces the heroine and her mentor, and sets the stage with the problems she’s to solve. Using material we had originally developed for a different sort of book, I created a very rough draft of the first chapter.

This morning I edited both on screen then, knowing I was going to send off both later today, printed them. Taking a fresh cup of coffee into my garden, I scribbled all over the whole manuscript. Now it’s almost time for me to make those corrections, additions, etc.

Consistently I find my eye picks up things on the paper that it won’t see onscreen. The truth is even when it’s my own work, once it’s on the computer screen I tend to scan.

How about you? Do you need to print a copy to edit well?


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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • admin

    Re track changes… the thing I hate is it’s either all or nothing. And when I’m trading back and forth with a client it gets way too crowded. I’d like to be able not to show little corrections like elimination of an extra space without having to accept it.

    Okay, I’ll work at doing more editing online… and Bill, I’ll try the typeface change. I do think using all that paper sucks and would like to avoid it when I can.

  • Bill

    Two comments:
    I don’t much care for Adobe Reader, and you can find some good freeware alternatives.

    When I edit on-screen, I frequently convert the entire doc from MS NTR, which seems to be the default, to either Garamond or Georgia. Much easier on the eyeballs.

    Happy Holidays, all.

  • Bill, The main problem with track changes is that it up holds the fine tradition of MS.
    i.e. “everything should be harder to use and waste the maximum amount of time”

    Seriously, I really like track change as a concept. The problem is that the author needs to learn how to use it, not just the editor. It really should be developed to work with editable PDFs. Are you listening MS and Adobe?

  • I have to edit in print. It gives me the chance to jot down some notes as I’m editing, the stuff that I would like to see changed, and some shelf time to think about it. Once I get back to the computer I feel that my changes were better than if they were done straight from the computer.

    Jamwes’s last blog post..Can’t Keep It Up

  • Karen

    First of all, I love this blog, and I usually lurk. But I couldn’t leave this topic alone.

    When editing my own longer pieces, I prefer printing it out, and when brainstorming, I use pen and paper as well.

    However, much of my income comes from editing book-length manuscripts for publishing companies. With tight deadlines, printing a 100,000 word manuscript out, editing, and then transferring the edits to the file I need to submit would be far too inefficient. I have to agree with Bill regarding the Find and Replace feature in Word.

  • Bill

    I used to be in agreement with you all, but I’ve done so much work onscreen in the last few years that I’ve switched. Plus, my handwriting is so atrocious that frequently I can’t read it.

    Not sure what the problem is with TrackChanges. I use it constantly, and haven’t found any glitches.

    One of the publishers for whom I work has now switched to having proofreading done on editable PDFs. This takes some getting used to.

    The other, HUGE, advantage is being able to Find and Replace, which, in a large ms, can save hours of labor. To say nothing of being more reliable.

  • Hi, Anne,
    Yes, gotta edit on paper before I send it off.
    Is it because I spent decades reading print on paper before I worked on a screen? I don’t know. I have noticed, also, that my spelling — which always came naturally to me — is atrocious on emails; I make mistakes there that I never would make on anything handwritten.

    I think the reason I need to print and edit is because after working on a piece on the computer and looking at it on the screen for hours, when I print I’ve got a different perspective on the words and sentences. I’m just looking at it differently, and I can see things I did not see before.

  • Hi Anne,

    I am with you. When I was commissioned for a book, I just did not catch any errors on MS Word. I also would print out the chapter I thought complete and was able to find the error of my ways. I have been using a computer since 1984 but for editing, I still need the physical hard copy if it is more than 1000 words.

  • Dan

    Hi, Anne:

    I edit on the screen for my magazine stories. But I also write scripts for comic books these days, and, for some reason, I tend to edit these on paper. I find that by editing on paper, I’m more able to pinpoint places where my dialogue falls a bit flat. In comics, dialogue, of course, is crucial.


    Dan’s last blog post..Content writing and “real” journalism can co-exist

  • Isaac

    I’m a pen and paper guy. I think it’s becoming a lost art though. Computers are taking over the world and Arnold will come destroy us all.

    Isaac’s last blog post..First Blood quiz

  • Lorry Schoenly

    I,too, find I must edit on paper if the manuscript is longer than a couple pages. There is something physical about the 3 dimensional that allows me to pick up things missed on the screen. Also, if I am editing a newsletter and placement is important, I have to print the sheets and line them up like the fold-out to see the flow.

  • Hi Anne
    Paper wins hands down. Editing on screen, I find that it is better done with the text at 150% to 200% .

    But there is a natural law that says, “All mistakes become perfectly clear the moment the manuscript is in the post”. Bugger.

    The only feature of MS Word that is worth a pinch of the proverbial is track change and it is far from perfect.


  • I used to print and edit. Now I find it easier to just cut and paste right on the screen. The part I always forget is to edit on a copy, and save the original.

    However, when I edit a play script, I have to print out. My somewhat strange editing style has me laying the pages out on the floor, scenes running down and acts running across, so I can visualize the timeline and repeated images. It also involves ripping pages up and shuffling the parts. If I had to do that on a monitor I’d go mad.

  • Ian

    I’m right there with you on this one, Anne. I catch more mistakes in print than on screen. Also, in print I have a better feel for the overall piece.

    Oh, and I’m 31. I’m not sure if that’s old or young 😀

    Ian’s last blog post..Zumba: Farewell to Dignity

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