Wait – is this a brand-new paragraph? When did that get added to the text? How much other new material did the author add on the second pass? Rats. Do I even have time to do another complete reading of the manuscript?
Microsoft Word allows you to select an option called “protect document,” which means that all changes made to a text will appear in track changes and that no track changes can be accepted or rejected. “Protect document” allows authors to comment on their editors’ changes and to suggest further edits, but none of these edits can be made “silently” – that is, without being flagged in track changes. On a Mac, “protect document” is an option under “Tools”:
For Windows, you can find the “protect document” under the “Save” or “Save As” options.
But why would an editor even bother to use such a tool?
Once the “first pass” of copyediting is complete (which may actually have required two or more readings by the copyeditor), the text might not be read word for word again until it’s set in pages and the proofreader takes a turn. Project editors are busy people, and they’d prefer to save time and money by reviewing only those passages marked by the copyeditor. (Some publishers even spend very little time proofreading the set pages. I don’t personally think this is wise, but it happens.) So once the copyedited text has been submitted to the publisher, the assumption is that the text has been made as correct as possible – and that all edits have been flagged for the project editor’s attention.
For this reason, it’s important that copyeditor and author alike make all changes in track changes. An author may have a perfectly reasonable edit to make – an additional clause or even a paragraph that will help clarify an idea, for example – but that addition may require further copyediting, like the consistent formatting of numbers, for example, or hyphenation. And what if an accidental typo or dangling modifier crept into the new passage? But if the new text is inserted in track changes, the copyeditor knows to pay special attention to it and to save the author any embarrassment caused by the kind of errors that any of us could make while writing. When a manuscript is already complicated – as when, for example, multiple authors are writing and reviewing the text – having all revisions marked in track changes is especially important.
In fact, it’s so important to make sure that no changes are made silently that many copyeditors routinely use the protect-document option whenever they send edited work to an author for review. Here’s why:
- It’s very easy to delete or reformat something by accidentally clicking the mouse. (Haven’t you ever clicked the mouse without meaning to and thought, “Wait. What did I just do?”) If the document is protected, the accidental change will be marked so that the author and editor can review it, increasing the chances that any mistakes will be fixed.
- Protecting a document helps a less-experienced author remember that all communication between writer and editor needs to be completely transparent – which means all changes need to be visible.
- The protect-document option prevents errors from finding their way into a text that must be reviewed or created by several people. Any time another person adds new material to a document, the chances increase that typos will be inserted into the document – unless the edits are made in track changes so that they can be reviewed.
- Such a tool also protects the document if an author, for any reason, might be tempted to sneak changes into the text. This doesn’t happen often, but occasionally authors can be angry or offended by the editing process — perhaps by something that happened before the copyeditor even received the manuscript from the publisher. Or an author may think that no one “has the right” to change his or her writing. But no matter how valid in terms of content and authorial voice, any silent changes to the writing might be inconsistent with the editing style already used throughout the manuscript – and therefore the resulting book will look less professional than it should. Because an editor can’t know which authors might be resistant to editing, he or she may routinely password-protect documents. (Authors of course have the right to assert their writing preferences; but it’s best to assert these rights in a forthright rather than a covert way. Editors are used to being open and discussing editing issues – and adjusting editorial approaches as much as possible to please the writer.)
Note that a document that has been protected without a password can be unprotected at any time, even by the author. When you must be absolutely sure that no unmarked edits are put into the text, you’ll need to create a password. But when you use a password, keep these things in mind:
- You want to create a password that will be easy for you to remember but difficult for someone else to guess. Something like “123” or “password” isn’t a good choice. But something like “UB?2ilQ-802sS~” also isn’t a good choice, unless you keep a record of it.
- If you decide to use a password, track changes cannot be accepted by anyone, even you, without it – meaning that if you forget the magic word, no one will be able to create a cleaned-up version of the text when the time comes. So you’ll need to unprotect the document before sending the final version to the project editor. For that reason, it’s wise to make a note of the password and keep it in a safe place. A password that seems obvious in the moment might not be so memorable two weeks later.
- Protect-document passwords are case sensitive. Before you have a moment of panic because your password was rejected, check to make sure the caps lock hasn’t accidentally been turned on.
Protecting documents is an especially good idea when an editor is working with a multiple-author book. Individual writers in a multiple-author manuscript might make silent edits that are inconsistent not only with the editor’s style but also with one another, increasing the chances that the final text will be extremely inconsistent. Imagine a book with dashes, for example, formatted in four different ways or with key terms spelled several different ways. How much confidence would you have that the authors know what they’re talking about? “Protect document” is just one more tool in the editor’s toolbox for making text look consistent and professional. And when the publication looks professional, so do the authors.