Thursday, September 8, 2011

Too Much Tracking

I've been editing for a while now, and I generally use "track changes" in Word as the best way to add to, delete from, and comment on a manuscript. As I was finishing up a document recently, however, the damn program kept crashing on me every 8 minutes or so. Very frustrating. I took my computer into my IT guys, and their suggestion was simply to upgrade to the most recent version of Word, since it seemed likely my current Word had corrupted somewhere. Okay, fair enough. Slight nusiance to have to reconfigure all my personal preferences and menu options and so on, but needs must. And on the whole, I like the new MacWord interface just fine and am getting quite used to it quickly enough.


One unexpected change was that when I reopened the document on which I had been working, I discovered that all of the comments had now been numbered automatically. I can see how this could be a useful feature. Several people working on the same document and wanting to discuss a comment on page 236 could now say, "comment 27" and know they were all talking about the same thing. My problem is not with the functionality of this new feature, but with a latent dysfunction -- the psychological impact -- that the software engineers failed to consider.

I like to think that I am a pretty good development editor and catch a lot of mistakes that otherwise might get missed, and that I have a lot of helpful suggestions to make. It is therefore not uncommon for me to be making three or four comments per page, over and above the usual grammatical additions and deletions. And authors have always been good with that, happy that I was doing such a thorough job. But now comes sequential numbering -- and suddenly it is unavoidably brought to the author's attention that that three or four comments per page add up to -- in this case -- 425 requested changes.

I cannot blame the author -- any author!-- for freaking a little bit at the prospect of having to address over 400 changes. It must seem completely daunting, in a way that three or four changes per page might not. Just as the journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step, so responding to the comment on the first page, then a couple on the next, appears doable; whereas taking on all four 400 at once may sound like a good time to bail....

Anyone know how to turn comment numbering off?

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