Thursday, May 13, 2010

Editing Large Texts: the Uses of Command+F

Find command is indispensable when working on large chunks of text.

Press Command and type F to open the Find window. Then  type the word, or word combination, or part of a word in the window - and presto, you can scan a very large text in seconds to find what you are looking for. Here are a few tips I've noted to myself while copy-editing and reviewing a draft of a 340-page book.

Take for instance a situation when you notice that a woman character is described as having shiny auburn hair on page 187. You definitely remember that she was a red-head before. But on what page? Type 'read-head' and click on 'Previous' to find the passage to check. And there she is, a read-head on page 23. It's not just that people do change the colour of their hair, it's also that authors sometimes forget how they described their characters. It happens even to great writers, like Tolstoy. In War and Peace Prince Andrei has grey eyes in one part, blue eyes in another and wears a small icon of Mother of God in one passage, but St.Nicolas in another.

Click 'Next' to scan forward and see if the error appears further down the text.

Then, for example, you notice that a name or a particular word are spelled in different ways. Is it a mistake? Should it be corrected? Do you need a cross-reference?

Take 'kabuki'. Is it 'kabuki' or 'cabuki' or 'kobuki'? Check the word in the dictionary and then click on 'Find and Replace' to scan the text.

Take the name Krushev or Khrushev, the Soviet leader during the Cuban missile crisis. Which is it? There is also a Khrushchyov variant. Choose one spelling and stick to it for indexing and referencing purposes, if not for anything else.

Or the word 'czar' which seems to annoy the Tea Party movement in America so much. It can also be spelled, correctly, 'tzar' or 'tsar' reflecting the phonetics of the original Russian word, while 'czar' incorporates the Roman-Byzantine etymology (Ceasar). In this case just choose the most commonly used spelling and correct throughout, using 'Next' or 'Find and Replace'.

I posted recently on putting together a book in Pages where I recommended breaking big projects into manageable chunks. Here I'd add: with large bodies of text pre-edit them using the tips above BEFORE breaking the text into chunks (chapters, sections or pages). This will help to avoid errors and discrepancies. 

Command+F works in most internet browsers. Suppose you googled something and found a long article on the subject. To find the relevant passage in the article, type Command+F to open the search window (it's at the top in Safari and at the bottom in Firefox), then type what you are looking for.

Users of Apple Mac OS X have long appreciated the Spotlight search tool, which allows to search for files on your computer. It has its human limitations, though. What if you don't remember the name of the file? Or the same word appears in a multitude of files?

Here Command+F comes handy because you can open it in any folder or any window and start the search from where you are.

And of course these notes apply to most other word processing applications with search function.

Read my post on Teapots and the Tea Party movement and a Russian-style tea party. Photo: Apple blossom, ©A.Anichkin

And watch 'We don't need no stinkin CZARS' video about Teapotters fighting czarism (begins at 5:40 min into the clip). Video by New Left Media.

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