Macros for Editors: A Beginner’s Guide

Editors, particularly copyeditors and proofreaders, are tasked with detailed, often painstaking work. Whether we’re reading full manuscripts or troubleshooting the back cover copy for a new release, editors are entrusted with checking (and double-checking) punctuation, word choice, formatting, and grammar. In today’s increasingly digital world, there is no shortage of tips and tricks for writers (think of online grammar checkers like Grammarly). But what about digital tools for editors? In addition to the obvious editing and query tools found in Microsoft Word, it turns out that macros can be incredibly useful tools for editors. And if you’re new to the world of macros, don’t worry: until recently, so was I! If you’re an editor looking for ways to up your game, here’s a basic introduction to macros to help get you started.

My own dive into the world of macros began with a short but informative article by Adrienne Montgomerie. She describes macros as little programs that run in larger programs (like Word) and that can be made to “automate any routine task.” In other words, macros promise to let you do things with only a few strokes of your keyboard (rather than spending maddening minutes on repetitive tasks). Amy Schneider lays out a simple example for her readers: a macro for hyphens. Faced with a project missing a lot of hyphens, she got tired of the three-step process of navigating to the blank space, pressing backspace, and inserting a hyphen. To save herself time, Schneider created a macro. Using the hyphenated phrase deer-in-the-headlights as an example, she explained that the macro enabled her to “just put my cursor in any of five places (next to or in the word deer), hold down Ctrl with my right thumb, and hit Num0 with my right pinky three times. Hey presto!” When you’re editing, tiny tricks like Schneider’s example can save you time—valuable time that can be spent doing another run-through of the text, double-checking formatting issues, or performing other tasks that require more attention.

So now that we know that macros are helpful editorial tools, how do we make them? As someone largely unskilled in coding and most things tech related, I can reassure you: it’s far easier than you might imagine. Microsoft is an excellent place to go for resources and instructions, and the process is so simple you might be tempted to go crazy with it. It’s simply a matter of bundling steps into one macro. Use Word to record the steps for the edit (I would detail the exact instructions, but Microsoft’s resources are far more succinct than anything I could attempt) and then use the macro by either clicking a button on the toolbar or pressing a combination of keys, depending on how you decide to set it up. If clicking through Microsoft’s website sounds terrible to you, try James Marshall’s introduction to macros first. He provides excellent insight into not only making your macros but also wielding them effectively.

If you’re still not convinced to give macros a try, listen to Schneider’s advice: “Professional editors need to become masters of our tools, the most important of which is Microsoft Word.” Editors, like writers, are constantly honing their craft. And if learning a little bit more about macros has the potential to free up the time to conduct more substantive editing, editors should take the plunge.