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Effective onscreen editing: a book review

by Tim Bugler

Republished here with the kind permission of the Society of Editors (Queensland) Inc. from the April 2008 issue of their newsletter, Offpress.

Effective onscreen editing is the work of Geoff Hart, a Canadian editor and scientific communicator with more than 20 years experience. I reviewed a pdf version; a print version is available from

The first thing that struck me on opening the pdf was the layout. The pages of the pdf are in landscape format, with two columns of text on a page to produce the effect of a double-page format. The design is minimalist, and the optimisation for onscreen reading is obvious and delightful.

The second thing that struck me was the size of the book. The extent in this format is 743 pages (731 + xii); the word count is 150 000 or more. Clearly there’s an awful lot to read here.

Hart explains in his acknowledgements that the book is based on his column on onscreen editing for Intercom magazine. He takes us from a conceptual overview of the pros and cons of onscreen editing right through to managerial advice on how to implement onscreen editing in the workplace. He has clearly done a lot of work in expanding from this base and combining his articles into a single cohesive text, but the episodic nature of his original material remains apparent in the extensive, almost exhaustive coverage. I think some of this material, such as the section on how to calculate pay rates, for example, could have been cut without impairing the book as a whole.

Some opportunities were also missed in the design and organisation of the text. The introductory chapter refers to four sections plus the introductory material; however, only two of these sections and the introductory material have section opening pages. Section headers do not appear in the table of contents or on headers within the chapters. Given the length of the book, I feel that some additional navigational support would have been useful.

Of course, the fact that this is an ebook (or, if you prefer, e-book) means that other kinds of navigation are available. The reader can click on entries in the table of contents and the index to go straight to the relevant page, or they can use word searches and electronic bookmarks.

Most of the text focuses on using Microsoft Word. However, Hart regularly points out differences between different releases of Word and provides frequent advice for Macintosh users. Also, his approach throughout is to start from basic principles — for example, when discussing notes and comments, he talks about what they are for and when they are useful before he looks at how to use them in particular programs. This will make the text useful for any editor, even those working with the most obscure independent word-processing software.

Working from principles doesn’t mean that Hart skimps on practice. He offers an abundance of specific and detailed tips on how to optimise computers, software and work procedures for editorial efficiency. His approach is aided by his relaxed, free-flowing writing style.

I wholeheartedly recommend this title to any editors who work onscreen — which nowadays is just about all of us.

[Reviewed for the Society of Editors (Queensland) Inc. April 2008]

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