Deciphering a Redlined Manuscript

RedliningMore and more often, the editing stage of a book or journal article headed for publication is entirely paperless. Copy editors work on screen with the use of the tracked-changes feature of their word processor, and writers receive the edited version either as an e-mail attachment or as a link to a site where they can download it.

Depending on the amount of editing and the word-processing skills of the copy editor, the results will be more or less easy to read and respond to. In this post, I’ll discuss how to  look at redlining and what you can reasonably expect from a copy editor who works in this fashion. Next week, I’ll write about what your editor can reasonably expect from you.

Typically in a redlined document deletions of text are marked by a strikethrough line, and insertions are underlined. The results are colorful and easy to read. But—surprisingly—the appearance of the changes, including their color, depends not on the preparer’s settings, but on the reader’s. Thus, if you don’t like the way the editing is displayed, visit the Options section of the Track Changes feature in your word processor and tweak the choices until things look good.

Here’s an example. Depending on Microsoft Word’s settings, deleted words and phrases may not be struck through. Instead, they simply disappear from the text, leaving a balloon off to the side to note what has been deleted:

Writers either like or loathe this. To some, it makes reading the final text easier; others prefer to see the underlying original. Either way, it’s easy to impose your preference by going to Track Changes > Options and telling it to Never (or Always) Show Balloons.

One tricky aspect of redlining is that the underlining and strikethrough lines don’t work very well with punctuation. An inserted quotation mark () is not highly distinguishable from a deleted one (), since both appear to be underlined. Edited hyphens and dashes are either undetectable or baffling (or if printed out in black and white, invisible):

Editors can reduce such annoying clutter by turning off the tracking feature when they make uncontroversial changes—for instance, changing sentence caps to headline caps in a table of contents or bibliography, which might otherwise look like rows and pages of this:

Instead, the editor might change only the first title visibly, noting that henceforth titles will be headline-capped silently. Copy editors should be candid about their silent editing, explaining it in a cover letter or in the MS as it occurs.

Although it can be difficult to see the final text through all the colored confetti, the miracle of word processing affords an advantage over old-fashioned pencil markings, in that you can easily hide the editing. With a click or two, it’s easy to view the document in either Original or Final form.*

Something that sometimes confuses writers is when an editor inserts or deletes a linked footnote or endnote but subsequent notes appear not to renumber. Not to worry: the notes will renumber only after the tracked changes are “accepted.” And unless the editor has given you permission to electronically accept and reject her edits, that won’t happen until after you complete your review and send back the document for her to finalize. (You can preview the renumbering, however, by viewing the document in Final form.)

Copy editors usually have questions for you, which they may type using Word’s Comments feature:


Alternatively, editors may type queries directly into the lines of text—perhaps bracketed in bold or with highlighting . Or they can format their questions and comments as footnotes. The biggest advantage of using comment s or footnotes is that they can later be deleted systematically and there is less danger they’ll end up in the published document. However the queries are formatted, if you don’t receive clear instructions on how to respond to them, be sure to ask.

Next week: What your manuscript editor can expect from you.


*You can toggle joyfully between original and final versions by means of a shortcut key. (I use Alt-n.) Instructions here.

~ ~ ~

Readers may send Carol questions about academic writing, editing, and publishing. Write to her at (Please ask questions about Chicago style here.)

Return to Top