Electronic versus Hard-Copy Editing by Bobbie Christmas

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Q: I can’t decide the best way to get someone to edit my manuscript. Should I let my editor edit the electronic file, or should I print out the manuscript and mail it to her?

A: The answer depends on several factors, because both methods have potential positive and negative implications.

Having an editor edit your electronic file certainly saves paper and time, because you don’t have to print out, box up, and mail or hand-deliver your manuscript. With electronic editing you can send the file immediately by email, and the editor can return your edited file the same way, which could save up to a week of transit time back and forth. It also saves you time at the computer, because you don’t have to input every detailed change your editor suggests. As a caveat, though, be certain your editor uses Track Changes, a simple-to-learn method that allows you to click on each change the editor made and accept, reject, or revise each change.

Yes, electronic editing saves you time in the editing phase because you won’t have to type in every change; the editor has done them for you, but you still must go through the manuscript word for word and accept or reject each change. You also have the option of blindly accepting all the changes without rereading the file, an act that surely is a true timesaver, but a scary proposition, because differences of opinions between editors and authors are common.

Back to the negative side, having your electronic file edited usually costs a little more, because it takes a little more concentration to work on the computer than on printed paper. It’s easy to miss errors on the computer screen.

With hard-copy editing, you print and mail or hand-deliver your manuscript. This method takes a little time and a lot of paper and could incur shipping charges, but some people—both editors and writers—prefer to stick to this old way of editing. It has some advantages, too. For example, I don’t know why, but it’s a fact that the human eye more easily spots errors in printed matter than it spots errors on a computer screen. For that reason creative writing teachers tell writers to print out their manuscripts when reading them for errors.

Besides time and paper spent printing and mailing the manuscript back and forth, another drawback of working with a printed manuscript is that when the manuscript returns to you, you have to input all the detailed changes to your electronic file, and it’s easy to miss things, if you aren’t careful. On the other hand, you have total and complete control over everything that is done to your manuscript this way. You can easily disregard changes you disagree with, without having to go into the file and electronically reject them. Another advantage is that some editors charge a little less for editing the printed manuscript, because such editing is easier on the eyes. Here’s my final point about working with printed manuscripts: Many older editors with the most experience have not switched over to editing electronically. If you want a seasoned editor, you may have to choose hard-copy editing.

In summary, each method has its pros and cons, and your decision may be based on your needs. If speed is vital to you, you may choose to have your electronic file edited. If accuracy and price are more important, you may choose hard-copy editing. Also, depending on the editor you choose, he or she may work only one way or the other, and you will have no choice, other than finding another editor.


Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.

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