MS Word can track and show every little change an editor makes to a manuscript. Every fixed spelling, every replaced word, moved comma, and font change. But that can end up making a manuscript look like it was torn to shreds rather than polished with a soft cloth. To avoid giving the writer a panic attack, sometimes editors make required, routine changes silently—that is, without tracking them.
We make these changes silently not only to make it easier to see the important changes that should be vetted, we also make some changes silently because they are non-negotiable matters of house style and tracking them would give the writer the mistaken impression that they can choose to reject those changes.
Here are the kinds of changes an editor might make silently:
- two spaces to one
- multiple tab marks to a single, tab set
- spelling variants to [preferred dictionary]
- automated bullets/numbering to manual (or vice versa)
- font and style changes
- official names, after commenting on the first correction
- moving punctuation inside quotes or parentheses (or outside of them, as the situation or style warrants)
- margins and line spacing
- changing hyphens to dashes in number ranges
- changing en-dashes or hyphens to em-dashes
- changing spaces to non-breaking spaces
- straight quote marks to curly ones
- apostrophes to prime symbols
- single quotes to double ones (British to North American style)
- extra hard returns (especially when used to start a new page)
- codes and tags for production workflow
- terminal punctuation in vertical lists
- turning a typeset table into a formatted table
- corrections to the editor’s name in the acknowledgements
The danger of tracking changes silently is that what seems inconsequential to the editor might actually be of critical importance: like changing all the skinks to skunks (lizard vs stinky mammal) or taking the second F out of the correct logic term, iff. So if you choose to not track such changes, do at least leave a comment noting that they’ve been done, or say so in the cover letter when the file is transmitted.
Of course, there are some clients who want to see Every. Single. Change. That’s easy for an editor to do. And when they can’t read through the red-lining, there’s always Word’s View > No Markup option. If, however, the editor’s motivation for tracking every move is to prove their worth, it’s time to evaluate what best serves the client.