Category Archives: Technical

Talking tech: Can a machine use conscious language?

In this Talking tech column, Andy Coulson delves into the world of artificial intelligence to find out how it might be able to consider the use of conscious language or edit text in the future.

For this issue of The Edit my column is going to be a little different from normal. Usually, I try to highlight how technology can help you with the theme of the issue. This issue’s theme, conscious language, proves to be a bit of a challenge on that front. What I am going to do instead is to get the crystal ball out and do a bit of speculating about how technology might develop to help ensure more conscious language use.

Natural language processing

Natural language processing (NLP) is the term used to describe a field of computer science that covers developing computer systems to understand text and speech in a comparable way to a human. This is a branch of artificial intelligence (AI), and I will get into some more detail about that later. This enables tools like Google Translate or the digital assistants Siri or Alexa to work. This is the field from which any tools (or indeed our competitors!) will come that will be able to improve how conscious the language in a text is.

Just to simplify things (slightly) I am going to ignore speech and all the computational issues that speech recognition brings. Let us concentrate on text and look at how machines are taught to understand that and make decisions about how to respond to it. To date, a lot of the NLP development has focused more on teaching a machine to respond to some text, whereas what we are trying to think about is how a machine would understand and amend a text. Microsoft and Grammarly both use AI to help improve their editing tools, so you can be sure there are other tech companies experimenting with this.

While language is to a degree rule based, it is also full of subtleties and ambiguities. The rules allow tools like PerfectIt to work – we can describe and recognise patterns and so teach a machine to do this too. This only takes us so far, as NLP then needs to pick the text apart to find the meaning within it. It must undertake a range of tasks on the text to enable the computer to ‘understand’ it. These include:

  • Speech or grammatical tagging, where the computer figures out the role of each word. This would be where it would identify ‘make’ being used as a verb (make a jacket) rather than a noun (the make of jacket).
  • Recognising names, so it can identify a proper noun. It knows Lesley is likely to be someone’s name rather than a thing, so ‘picking Lesley up on the way’ can be interpreted in the right sense.
  • Resolving co-references, where it relates a pronoun to a previously named object, so it recognises that ‘she’ is ‘Kathy’ from a previous sentence. This task can also be involved with dealing with metaphors or idioms – recognising that someone who is cold may not want an extra jumper but might not be much fun to talk to.
  • Sentiment analysis, which is also known as opinion mining. Here the computer is attempting to recognise more hidden aspects of the text, such as whether the tone is positive or negative.

All of these, and other functions we would need in order to make judgements about how conscious the language used in a text is, do not lend themselves to rules. Rather, they rely on a knowledge of context and conventions. Acceptable language in a novel set in 1960s Alabama would be quite different from that used in a modern social sciences paper about the same city and its inhabitants, but understanding the context will frame and shape language choices.

How machines learn

So, we have realised we are not going to be able to fix this one with a clever macro. What sort of computation do we need? Step forward AI – a term that covers a number of fields that involve machines that mimic human intelligence. One of the main aspects of this that NLP uses is machine learning, a field of computing covering machines that learn a task or tasks through different approaches.

One of the best-known AI companies is Google’s DeepMind division. They have made a name for themselves by approaching AI from the perspective of learning to play games using machine learning. To understand how they have progressed in the field we need a bit of a history lesson.

In 1997 an IBM project called Deep Blue beat the then World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov. What Deep Blue did was to search all possible moves in the game and then pick the best next move. What is different about DeepMind’s AlphaGo is that they had to follow a different approach, as the game of Go has so many more possible moves than chess. This version of AlphaGo used neural networks (a brain-like arrangement of computing elements with lots of connections between each element) to compare the best move from the current position and the likelihood of winning from that move, which gave a more efficient way of narrowing down the choice of moves. AlphaGo was trained by playing vast numbers of games of Go to improve its ability to select moves and predict its current chance of winning. Eventually, in 2016, it beat Lee Sedol, widely regarded as one of the best players of all time.

DeepMind have since developed AlphaGo further and, instead of playing against experienced players, it learns from scratch by playing against itself. It uses a technique called reinforcement learning, where the system tries to optimise a reward called a Q-value. It has been able to play and master various video games from scratch (the Atari benchmark). Here AlphaGo tries to gain positive awards (and avoid negative ones) by, for example, collecting a game’s currency or surviving for a certain amount of time. It can then use the information about what it did and what reward it received to alter its strategy and see if that improves the Q-value.

Why is this important? It shows a progression from a very controlled environment with a limited (although large) number of variables, to a more complex one (Go) and then to a more generalised one (more varied games). We are still not at the point where this could be applied to a problem (like our language one) with very few constraints, but this certainly shows a progression. The latest version, AlphaZero, has apparently taught itself chess from scratch to a world champion level in 24 hours.

This technique of using neural networks and reinforcement learning seems to me to offer the potential to create tools with a more subtle understanding of learning. One issue that can cause problems is that AI often uses huge datasets to train the systems, but using already acquired data can bring with it historical problems. Microsoft created an AI chatbot for Twitter called Tay, designed to mimic the speech patterns of a 19-year-old girl, which it did very well right up to the point it learned to be inflammatory and offensive and had to be shut down. Microsoft believe that the trolling the bot experienced taught it how to be offensive. Similarly, Amazon developed an AI system to shortlist job candidates, and this showed a distinct bias against women. Amazon tracked the problem down to an underlying bias in the training data.

Given the increasing pressure on social media companies to filter offensive content, platforms like YouTube and Facebook are undoubtedly trying to use AI to recognise problematic language, and some of this may lead to tools we can use to highlight issues. However, as editors and proofreaders we are looking to improve poor language choices and make it more conscious. Looking at how the Editor function in MS Word and Grammarly have developed, they certainly point to a way forward. While I am not convinced a machine is going to take my job for some time, I can certainly see where it could make progress. I think the challenge of issues like conscious language is that they have too many subtleties, and the human ability to make judgements about these, and even to have a productive discussion with an author about a passage, means a human editor will continue to be able to add something a machine cannot to a piece of writing, for the foreseeable future.

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: chess by Bru-nO on Pixabay, robot by mohamed_hassan on Pixabay, Go by Elena Popova on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Making friends with macros

In this post, Ben Dare tries to persuade you that macros can be your allies and aren’t too mysterious really. Ben starting using macros very soon after becoming a CIEP member and finding out about them for the first time; he hasn’t looked back.

Macros: More familiar than you may think

A macro is a way of giving Word a job to do, to make it easier for yourself.

We all do this anyway: take a simple yet essential job like starting a new line.

There, done.

I could have used tabs to move the cursor to the next line, or even spaces! But I have little doubt that all readers of this blog know that Enter tells Word to do the job quickly. Time and faff saved.

Now, inserting a new line with Enter is not called a macro – it’s an inbuilt Word function. But in many ways, a macro is just the same, only it’s a job that’s not inbuilt. You get to choose it.

Let’s say a project has inconsistent quote marks, and we need to change the single quote marks to double. Given the possibility of quotes within quotes, and the other uses of the closing single quote mark (apostrophe), using a global change here is asking for trouble. For argument’s sake, we’ll also assume there are other things we’re looking for as we scan through the document, so we aren’t keen to do endless rounds of item-by-item find and replace. It’s going to be done as we read.

So each time we spot one, we:

  • place the cursor on the mark
  • delete it
  • type in the new mark
  • go to the second mark in the pair
  • delete it
  • type in the new mark.

That’s a fair amount of clicking and tapping. Instead we could try a macro: PunctuationToDoubleQuote (to use this or any macro, you need to add it to Word and likely give it a shortcut – and we’ll cover those steps below). Now all we need to do is:

  • make sure the cursor is somewhere before the first quote mark
  • run the macro (by typing the keyboard shortcut you’ve assigned to the macro, like Ctrl+Alt+2)
  • run it again for the second quote mark in the pair.

Every time you run the macro, the next quote mark after your cursor will automatically change from a single to a double quote mark. That’s an example of a macro that makes one change a bit easier, and there’s a macro to do it the other way round too (PunctuationToSingleQuote).

Note: this post was created using Word 2016/Windows 10. Users with other set-ups may have slight differences. Notably, Mac users will want to use ⌘ and Option instead of Ctrl and Alt. Most of the macros here work the same, but for the exceptions there is usually a Mac version available. You can often find them by reading the entry in Paul Beverley’s book, starting with the final paragraph of the general introduction.

A tool for (almost) every occasion

There are other jobs very familiar to you, which take a few clicks/taps or more, that a macro can help do quickly and accurately:

… and so many more. They are all simple jobs, but take a little bit of clicking/tapping. A macro can do it with one keystroke.

Then there are jobs that you simply might not easily be able to do without a macro or other specialist software:

  • ask Word what a particular character is, and what’s the code to reproduce/search for it (WhatChar)
  • analyse a document for inconsistencies in general approaches to numbers, spelling, language, abbreviations and more (DocAlyse)
  • get a table of hyphenations, showing possible inconsistencies (HyphenAlyse)
  • find capitalised words that are spelled slightly differently, to help check whether one of the spellings is wrong (ProperNounAlyse).

These macros don’t edit your document, but provide information about it. This helps you make consistent choices from the beginning.

There are tons of macros available but don’t be put off by the choice. Try one. And when using one becomes natural, another can easily be added, and another – the time saved adds up.

How to get one and use it

A beginner will likely get macros in two main ways:

1. Use one someone else has made

A great place to start with this is CIEP member Paul Beverley’s huge, free repository that he introduces here: http://www.archivepub.co.uk/book.html. The introductory pages and ‘Favourite tools’ might help you know how to find what you’re looking for, and instructions are included. In this blog I’ve used macros from this repository.

But internet searches are also your friend. There are other macros out there to be found, although you may need to pay for some.

Once you’ve found one, it’s time to add it to Word and give it a shortcut. Let’s add PunctuationToDoubleQuote:

  • go to https://www.wordmacrotools.com/macros/P/PunctuationToDoubleQuote.txt
  • select the whole text – a macro always needs its ‘Sub’ top line and its final ‘End Sub’ – and Ctrl+C (or copy it)
  • in Word, either press Alt+F8 or go to the View tab and click the Macros button to bring up the Macros menu window
  • in ‘Macro name:’ type in ‘temp’ (as because you’re using a ready-made macro, you’ll be changing this)
  • click ‘Create’
  • you’re now in the macro library
  • select the as-yet empty ‘temp’ macro, from the first ‘Sub’ to ‘End Sub’
  • Ctrl+V to paste in the full copied macro
  • Ctrl+S to save and Alt+Q to close (or use the file menu).

Now that macro is added to your Word, and you don’t need to do that again. Time to give it a shortcut, to make it easy to use (you can always use Alt+F8 and run a macro that way, but it’s not the quickest):

  • right-click on some empty space in the top menu ribbon
  • click ‘Customize the Ribbon’ to get this option window:
    (Tip: You can add any macro to a ribbon tab by choosing ‘Macros’ in the ‘Choose commands from:’ box and then using the ‘Add >>’ button. But I’ll stick to keyboard shortcuts in this post.)
  • to give a macro a keyboard shortcut, click on ‘Customize’ at the bottom, next to ‘Keyboard shortcuts:’
  • in this new window, navigate down the ‘Categories:’ list to ‘Macros’ – it’s near the bottom
  • choose your macro in the list (it’s now got its full name)
  • click in the shortcut box and type in your shortcut; I’ve chosen Ctrl+Alt+2 as ‘2’ is the key with the double quote on it (UK keyboard)
  • check for Word telling you that’s already in use. You can see my shortcut is already assigned, but I don’t use that one, so happy to override. You can choose another if preferred
  • click ‘Assign’
  • click ‘Close’.

That’s the keyboard shortcut set. Time to open up a test document with some single quotes, and test away!

Tip: to save time in future, the next macro you install could be CustomKeys, to quickly bring up the keystroke customising box!

2. Record them yourself

This may feel scarier than downloading a readymade macro, but the beautiful thing about recording them is that they are tailored exactly to the job you need. And apart from setting up the recording, you’re only doing things in Word that you already know how to do! For instance, I once had to delete a number at the start of certain paragraphs, add ‘PPP’ and a tab instead, and apply a paragraph style. Again a few clicks, and monotonous to repeat. To set up a macro to avoid this repetition, I:

  • placed the cursor before the number
  • clicked the View tab
  • clicked the dropdown menu under Macros
  • clicked ‘Record Macro’
  • gave it a name (‘PPP’)
  • clicked the ‘Keyboard’ icon to give it a shortcut (‘Alt+1’ is convenient for me), then ‘Assign’ and ‘Close’.

From this point onwards, Word was recording every single thing that I did in the program. The only thing it can’t record is using the mouse to move the cursor or select text – make sure to place the cursor where you want it before recording, and to use the arrow keys to move around or select text. So to make my macro, I simply carried out the steps I wanted Word to record and repeat when I next ran this macro:

  • pressed Ctrl + Shift + Right Arrow to select the whole number and following space
  • pressed Delete to delete the selection
  • typed ‘PPP’, then pressed Tab
  • clicked on the appropriate paragraph style button.

Now that I’d completed every task I wanted in the macro, I clicked the square ‘Stop recording’ button on Word’s bottom bar (or back in the Macro dropdown menu in the View tab).

Then, for every other instance where I needed to make this change, I simply:

  • placed the cursor before the number
  • pressed Alt+1.

I’d never find that macro online – who else would need it? But for a job that needs repeating many times, it saves many clicks and taps, and time. Give it a go!

Tip: for other hints and tips on recording and using macros, members should check out the CIEP’s fact sheet Getting started with macros.

You’re not alone

If you’re part of the CIEP’s forums, there’s a community ready on a macro-specific forum to help each other to find, use and improve macros. One person has a problem, others help find a solution, everyone benefits. And we’re a friendly bunch to boot.

About Ben Dare

Ben Dare is a Professional Member of the CIEP and copyedits/proofreads for projects on sustainable food systems and sustainable living (and almost anything else when asked nicely). Otherwise, he’s probably playing with Lego or Gravitrax, cooking, running, swimming or (regrettably) doing chores.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: leaf by MabelAmber, wooden letters by blickpixel, both on Pixabay.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Talking tech: Find and Replace

In this latest Talking tech post, Andy Coulson looks at how Find and Replace can speed up editing and styling references.

In keeping with this month’s theme of references for The Edit, I’m going to take a look at how we can use one of Word’s most powerful in-built tools – wildcard Find and Replace. References have to conform to tight formatting rules, and these lend themselves to using wildcard Find and Replace to tidy them up. This is particularly handy if you have a paper that was written with one form of referencing that needs to be changed to a different one. I’ll give a brief introduction to wildcards, then share some examples that focus on the type of issues in references and finally I’ll take a quick look at using these with Paul Beverley’s FRedit macro and PerfectIt.

Before we get cracking, a word of warning. Many academic authors use reference management software like Mendeley to produce reference lists. This software manages the references outside of Word and links to the Word document. With Mendeley you see references as form fields in the document. If you make changes, the next time the document is opened with a connection to Mendeley the reference list and links are overwritten, losing your edits. If you think this is the case, make sure you clarify how your client wants references edited.

Find and Replace can also be a blunt instrument, so use it with care. While you are refining your search, work on a copy of your text. And don’t use ‘Replace All’ unless you are very clear what you are replacing. It is safer to step through the things being found by using the ‘Replace’ or ‘Find Next’ (if you want to leave something unchanged) buttons.

Wildcards

Word’s Find and Replace feature has a number of hidden extras. If you’ve not already found these, they can be revealed by clicking the ‘More’ button under the ‘Replace with:’ field.

This opens the menu shown below and, as we are going to look at wildcards, we need to check the ‘Use wildcards’ option.

So, what is a wildcard? It is simply a character that can be used to represent anything else. A very simple example is using the character ‘?’ in a wildcard search. If you have ‘Use wildcards’ selected, put ‘r?n’ in the ‘Find what:’ field and ‘ran’ in the ‘Replace with:’ field then press ‘Replace All’, you would replace all instances of ‘ron’, ‘run’, ‘ren’, etc with ‘ran’. The ‘?’ tells Word to find any letter, so it looks for the pattern ‘r’ followed by any letter, followed by ‘n’. This does require a little thought, because what you have now also done, potentially, is turn ‘iron’ into ‘iran’, and a ‘wren’ would become a ‘wran’.

Now that example should alert you to the problems with this, but this is a very simplistic example and to do something more useful we need to dive deeper. Wildcards allow you to specify more complex patterns in the text, and as we will see in the examples below we can do some quite complex searches, often with a little trickery.

As this is a (relatively) short article I’m not going to be able to go into all of the possibilities. The best way to learn how to use these is to experiment. If you want some help, there are a number of resources available:

Examples

Let’s have a look at a couple of reference-related examples in detail so we can see how these work. For the referencing gurus out there, I am going to omit some required information from the references for clarity and play a bit fast and loose with referencing styles.

Example 1: Initials in names

Different referencing systems use different conventions for citing authors’ names in the reference list. So, you may have Hartley, J.R. (APA style), Hartley JR (Vancouver style) or even J.R. Hartley. Usually a reference list will be (largely) consistent, so it has a pattern we can find and a pattern we can replace it with. We will start with these three references:

A.N. Author. (1986). Writing for beginners (2nd ed.). Jones Books

S. Editor. (2021). Editing for fun and profit (1st ed.). MyPub Ltd

I.S.B. Nash. (2007). Cataloguing books (3rd ed.). Big Books Inc.

With Find and Replace we need to break problems down into manageable chunks, and sometimes multiple searches, that can be implemented by Find and Replace. Let’s assume we need to change author-name style in the list to Vancouver. The first issue we can tackle is the structure of the author names – setting them after the surname.

To do this we use the ‘Find what:’ string¹

^013([A-Z.]@) ([A-z]@).

What this does is:

  1. Looks for a line break: ^013 (‘^’ tells Word the number following is a character code. Note that these are for Windows and may be different on a Mac. You can find a list of these in the Wildcard Cookbook and macro book mentioned above).
  2. Looks for one or more initials: ([A-Z.]@) – the round brackets are grouping together and are important when we come to replace things; the [A-Z.] looks for capital letters or a full stop and the @ tells Word to look for one or more occurrences of these. Note that there is a space after this term, like in the text.
  3. Now looks for a capitalised word: ([A-z]@) – a combination of upper- and lower-case letters.

Now we replace the surname first and the initials after using this ‘Replace with:’ string:

^p\2 \1

This replaces the text as follows:

  1. We put the line break back in: ^p – note that we are using a different code here. ‘Why?’ you may ask. Because Word …
  2. Next we put the surname in: \2 – the \2 tells Word to use the second item in round brackets, what we found with item 3 above.
  3. Finally, we add the initials back in after a space – \1 – using the first bracketed item we found in item 2 above.

This leaves us with:

Author A.N. (1986). Writing for beginners (2nd ed.). Jones Books

Editor S. (2021). Editing for fun and profit (1st ed.). MyPub Ltd

Nash I.S.B. (2007). Cataloguing books (3rd ed.). Big Books Inc.

Now we need to remove the extra full points. We have to do that in two steps, by taking out all the relevant full points and then adding back the one after the final name.

So, removing the full points we use this ‘Find what:’ string, which simply finds one capital letter followed by one full point.

([A-Z]).

We then put the capital letter back in using this ‘Replace with:’ string:

\1

This gives us:

Author AN (1986). Writing for beginners (2nd ed.). Jones Books

Editor S (2021). Editing for fun and profit (1st ed.). MyPub Ltd

Nash ISB (2007). Cataloguing books (3rd ed.). Big Books Inc.

Now we add the final full point back in before the bracket with the year. That bracket gives us a pattern we can identify to put the full point in the right place. So, we use the ‘Find what:’ string:

([A-Z]) \(

As before, the round brackets contain a string to find one capital letter; this is followed by a space and finally by \(. ‘What is that?’ you may ask. Well, we use brackets to create a sequence in the search string that we can return to later, so in wildcard searches round brackets (and a number of other symbols) work as commands. In order to refer to those symbols we need to escape it, which means adding a backslash in front, so \( finds an opening round bracket. We can then use the following ‘Replace with:’ string to add the full point.

\1. ^40

As before \1. adds the initial back with the full point and ^40 puts an open bracket back. Again, note the different way that replace refers to the character, but that’s just the way it works I’m afraid. This then gives us:

Author AN. (1986). Writing for beginners (2nd ed.). Jones Books

Editor S. (2021). Editing for fun and profit (1st ed.). MyPub Ltd

Nash ISB. (2007). Cataloguing books (3rd ed.). Big Books Inc.

Example 2: Adding styling

I realise this is not proper Vancouver referencing, but I want to show you how we can add styling using wildcards. In this example we will apply italics to the book titles. As before, we need a pattern to recognise which part is the book title. In this case we have the end of the year ‘). ’ and the start of the edition ‘ (’. However, in order to find the title we have to find more text, the two brackets before and after, which we don’t want in italics. This means we need to be a bit cunning!

To do this we use this ‘Find what:’ string:

(\). )([A-z .]@)(\([0-9])

  1. (\). ) finds a closing bracket \), followed by a period and a space and we want to keep those, so we group them.
  2. ([A-z .]@) looks for a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, spaces and full stops – our surname and initials.
  3. (\([0-9]) looks for an open bracket \( plus a number – the characters at the start of the edition.

If we then replace this with:

\1%%\2%%\3

we put %% before and after the characters of the title that we want to italicise:

Author AN. (1986). %%Writing for beginners %%(2nd ed.). Jones Books

Editor S. (2021). %%Editing for fun and profit %%(1st ed.). MyPub Ltd

Nash ISB. (2007). %%Cataloguing books %%(3rd ed.). Big Books Inc.

We now have the title clearly marked, so can then style that. We search for the modified title with %% before and after.

%%([A-z .]@)%%

We then replace that with just the title text, which we have put in round brackets, so \1 goes in the ‘Replace what:’ field. Before we replace this, we need to tell Word to italicise this text. If you tap on the ‘More’ button in the bottom left you will see a ‘Format’ button. Pressing on this pops up the menu shown below. If you select ‘Font’ the font dialogue box pops up and you can select ‘Italic’. You will also see ‘Font: Italic’ appears under the ‘Replace with:’ field.

Running that Find and Replace gives us our final list:

Author AN. (1986). Writing for beginners (2nd ed.). Jones Books

Editor S. (2021). Editing for fun and profit (1st ed.). MyPub Ltd

Nash ISB. (2007). Cataloguing books (3rd ed.). Big Books Inc.

Integrating with Macros and PerfectIt

Wildcard Find and Replace searches like this are real timesavers, but there’s no obvious way of saving these and using them again and again. There is a short history for both the ‘Find what:’ and ‘Replace with:’ fields if you click the down arrow at the right of each, but I don’t find this particularly helpful.

Both Paul Beverley’s FRedit macro and PerfectIt support using wildcards, so offer a way to reuse multiple Find and Replace searches. As the point of using things like macros and wildcards is to save you time sometimes the investment of time to set up those searches in a macro or PerfectIt may not add up compared to just running the searches. For example, I do some work on papers for academic journals that are about 6,000 words long. I get material for multiple different journals, so it is quicker for me to just use a few Find and Replace searches rather than setting up, say, FRedit. However, a book or multiple papers for the same journal would change that, and setting up FRedit or PerfectIt would then be worthwhile. Having said that, writing this has convinced me to create a file of Find and Replace searches I can refer back to. I will probably format this as a FRedit list so I can use these with that macro.

PerfectIt allows you to perform wildcard searches in the ‘Wildcard’ tab. This lets you use all the features of wildcards in Word Find and Replace and adds a couple of neat features. The first of these is that you can add an instruction or prompt that explains what the search is doing, because, as we saw above, patterns can crop up in unexpected places. The second of these is that you can add exceptions. PerfectIt’s manual page uses the example of apostrophes being added to numbers followed by ‘s’, so ‘we have 3s, 4s and 5s chosen’ is correct. However, if we talk about ‘Page 4’s content’ we need the apostrophe. We can make numbers after the word ‘Page’ an exception.

FRedit is a scripted version of Find and Replace, so runs multiple Find and Replace searches from a list. It uses all the forms in Word Find and Replace, but has a few little tweaks you need to use in the file of searches we set up. FRedit doesn’t present us with the dialogue boxes that Word Find and Replace does. So in the file we use ‘|’ to separate the ‘Find what:’ and ‘Replace with:’ terms on a line and add ‘~’ at the start of the line if we are using wildcards. We can also add formatting easily. I sometimes use FRedit to quickly highlight things so I can then take my time on a read-through to check the context. For example, if you have an app called Balance it needs capitalising, but if you also talk about keeping your balance it doesn’t, so you have a mix, but the context will determine which you use.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas and encouraged you to go and experiment. I can honestly say learning how to use wildcards and Find and Replace efficiently has helped speed up my editing enormously. Combining these with FRedit or PerfectIt speeds things up even more where you have longer pieces or house styles you use regularly.


1 Paul Beverley has flagged that while ‘[A-z]@’ will find any letter it does not pick up on accented letters. A better solution is ‘[A-Za-z]@’.

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: magnifying glass by towfiqu barbhuiya on Canva, joker by Roy_Inove on Pixabay.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

The 2021 CIEP conference: Using Word styles

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Abi Saffrey reviewed Using Word styles, presented by Jill French.

Stylish editing

This session allowed people who have not yet completed the CIEP’s Word for Practical Editing course to benefit from Jill French’s calm and clear approach to explaining something that many editors, let’s be honest, are a bit bamboozled by.

Microsoft Word is packed with tools and functions that many editors never use, but styles are incredibly useful even when a client (or manager) does not ask for them to be applied to a document.

Jill explained that a style is a pre-set combination of font features (size, bold) and paragraph attributes (spacing, indents). Existing styles can be applied or amended using the Style section of the ribbon at the top of the Word window, or by expanding that into the Style Pane (by clicking on the little arrow in the bottom-right corner). As well as applying styles to text, it is possible to add ‘direct formatting’ using the Font and Paragraph options on the ribbon. Direct formatting only affects that one occurrence of the text, whereas Styles can be modified to amend all occurrences throughout the document.

Jill walked us through elements of the Style Pane, including the very useful Style Inspector. The little icon with a magnifying glass gives all the style details of a selected character, word or paragraph. Jill then moved on to cover applying built-in styles, creating new styles and amending a style. As well as looking at the font elements of a style, she covered elements of paragraph formatting, including line spacing, indents (or not) and page breaks. The latter was one of my major takeaways from this session – it’s possible to add a line break to a style; so, for example, each chapter can start on a new page if you add a page break to the chapter heading style.

Jill briefly looked at how styles can help with reordering content. Via the navigation pane (on a PC found on the View ribbon), or by clicking Ctrl+F, it’s possible to see the sections of the document under ‘Headings’. Within that pane, it’s possible to drag one heading to above/below another, which reorders the text within the document – mind blown!

To share styles, it’s possible to share a document with the styles within it, or create a template document (filename.dot) that can be used as the basis for new documents or attached to existing documents.

Jill finished the session by highlighting how Word styles can save time, keep documents under control, and make them (and you) look professional.

The session was a very comprehensive introduction to Word styles, and demonstrated the importance of using this functionality in everyday editing life.


Learn more about working in Microsoft Word in the CIEP course Word for Practical Editing.


Abi Saffrey has been tinkering with Microsoft Word documents for over 20 years.

She’s an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, offering editorial project management and copyediting to a variety of organisations that publish digital and printed content.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new? How green is my computer?

For most of us our computer – be it a laptop or desktop, Mac or PC – will be one of our biggest purchases. This article by Andy Coulson looks at how we can make the best choice environmentally when making that purchasing decision.

Clearly this is an absolute minefield, as it covers so many areas: how easy it is to recycle, power usage, how environmentally sound the manufacturing process is (eg, use of toxic chemicals), how employees are treated and how ethical the materials used are (eg, rare materials from conflict zones or produced under poor working conditions). Given the limited nature of the article I’m going to concentrate on issues around buying for long-term use and recyclability. However, my research has highlighted how difficult it is to get useful information on this topic.

I’ve written before about the difficulty of disposing of electronics in a sustainable way (Editing Matters, September/October 2018). The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2013 set out disposal requirements for electrical equipment, but don’t really help us when making purchasing choices as they focus on what happens once the equipment is in the waste stream. But as I mentioned in the earlier article, there are charities and companies that specialise in reusing or recycling old equipment.

Reducing and repairing

One of the first things to consider with IT equipment purchases is whether that equipment actually needs to be replaced. Most computers can have additional memory and hard drives installed, both of which can be cost-effective solutions for a machine that doesn’t seem to be as functional as before. As I’ve written about before, a slow machine can often be a sign that some basic maintenance and management of the software is needed. If you don’t want to do this yourself, it is well worth finding and cultivating someone who can help. There are many small IT support companies and individuals who do a brilliant job, and you’ll be supporting another local business.

One good example of an IT device designed to maximise its lifespan is the Fairphone. The company’s approach is to make a phone that is modular so that you can replace, for example, the battery or the camera module easily at home, thus extending the lifespan of the phone. It also sells spare parts and provides repair tutorials. In addition, Fairphone uses responsibly sourced materials and partners with manufacturers who have safe working conditions and pay fairly.

Reuse and refurbishment

When you get to the point of needing to replace a machine, a refurbished model may be one option. ‘Refurbished’ can cover many things, but essentially if the box has been opened after leaving the manufacturer the contents cannot be sold as new. This could range from a return or a cancelled order (meaning the machine is like new), or a cosmetic scratch, through to a computer with a minor manufacturing fault.

Companies such as Apple, Dell and Lenovo produce millions of computers each year. Among those, there are some that will fail quality control. Modern manufacturing is a very accurate process, and often these faulty computers can be brought up to standard easily. For example, the components are soldered to the circuit board inside. Occasionally you can get a bubble in the hot solder and this can mean a chip pin doesn’t have a good connection. Something like this is easily fixed with a hot soldering iron. In such a complex piece of equipment there are lots of places where an issue can crop up, but these can be resolved relatively easily.

If you search for ‘refurbished Mac’ or ‘refurbished PC’ you will find a number of specialists dealing in these, including the manufacturers themselves. Many companies will sell manufacturer-refurbished products. These machines are significantly cheaper than new, and come with a reasonable manufacturer’s warranty. You can also buy third-party refurbishments, and while these can also be good, you do need to do your research and check on the terms of the warranty.

Replacement

Understandably, many people will be uncomfortable with adding an element of risk into their decisions, and will want to buy new. How do you make a good decision from an environmental viewpoint? As I mentioned at the start, there are a lot of factors involved in that decision, and often a distinct shortage of information to help you make it.

Two certification systems that can help are TCO and EPEAT, although they tend to focus on the major suppliers like Apple, Dell and Lenovo because of the cost involved. For example, TCO covers a range of areas that products are measured against: conflict materials, social responsibility, hazardous substances, electronic waste and the circular economy. I’m going to focus on the last two of these here.

Electronic waste is a topic I’ve talked about before, and it links closely to the idea of a circular economy approach. Currently, we largely operate in a linear economy. We use new materials (eg, mined metals rather than recycled) to make things and then dump them when they are finished with. A circular economy approach embeds the idea of keeping things in circulation for as long as possible through repair, reuse and recycling. Companies embracing this approach will do things like:

  • ensuring spares and repair information are available
  • having recycling pathways, allowing materials like metals to be recovered and reused
  • offering buy-back and take-back schemes for upgrading, so materials can be recovered and recycled
  • utilising standards, such as USB-C, to minimise the number and type of cables needed, and
  • creating durable products.

A TCO-certified laptop will have information available about criteria such as how many battery charge cycles you can expect from the battery, and the percentage of recycled plastic used in the machine. However, trying to find this information when you buy is very difficult. For example, Ebuyer lists the certification in the product specification, but you’ll have to trawl the internet to see what that means.

What to do?

The long and short of this is that it is very difficult to make a well-informed choice. So my conclusion is really to maximise the use of what you have and dispose of old equipment responsibly, so it can, hopefully, be recycled. When you replace a machine, ask the awkward questions about environmental aspects of the machine and perhaps consider buying refurbished.

Ethical Consumer and Mossy Earth both have useful guides if you want to read further.

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: green laptop by cloudlynx; e-waste  by Volker Glätsch, both on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new? Technology terminology

Of bits, nerds and cookies

Computing has added many words to our vernacular, as well as bending the meanings of others and repurposing them. This article explores the roots of some common terms we take for granted or might have been bemused by.

Acronyms, abbreviations and portmanteaus

Computer terminology loves acronyms, abbreviations and portmanteaus for their ability to create a simpler term from something more long-winded. Your computer is bristling with these – disks are connected by USB (Universal Serial Bus) or SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment); data is copied into RAM (random-access memory); the images reach your monitor via an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) connector, and data is sent around in bits (binary digits).

Many acronyms and abbreviations come from people’s names. For example the RSA algorithm, which is at the heart of most security on the internet, is named after its authors: Rivest, Shamir and Adleman. Meanwhile the Linux operating system takes its name from its original author, Linus Torvalds, who wrote it as a version of Unix.

Technology has often relied on abbreviations for practical reasons. In the early days of text messages, abbreviations were essential to fit a short message length with limited typing capability. Early computing systems used modems to connect to the internet, and transmission speeds were slow (remember the fun of waiting for an image to download with a modem?), so abbreviations slimmed down messages. This has carried over into social media today. One example pertinent to editors is TL;DR, which means ‘too long; don’t read’. Perhaps we should reclaim this as NAE – needs an editor.

Inventions

Some words are complete inventions. For some reason, customer support seems to provide a rich seam of these. Maybe this says something about the job? Two examples are PEBKAC (problem exists between chair and keyboard) and the error code Id10t (I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself). Terms for the user seem to be a common theme – perhaps this confirms the stereotype of computer people not always being people people! My favourite has to be ‘wetware’ or ‘liveware’, which interfaces more or less neatly with the hardware and software.

Repurposing

Repurposing or flexing the meaning of language has always happened, and the terminology of technology is no different. Many of the most common terms have come to us via this route.

One good example is the term ‘surf’, as in ‘surfing the internet’. One of the first uses in the computing context was in 1992. Before that the term for the practice of riding on boards on waves can potentially be traced back to 15th-century Hawaii. In the 20th century surfing became more popular in the US, especially in 1960s California. It seems to be around the 1980s that some new uses started to appear – ‘van surfing’ (dancing on a van roof); ‘train surfing’ (riding on the roof of a train) and then ‘channel surfing’ (hopping from channel to channel using a TV remote control). I suspect it was a short hop for Silicon Valley to borrow and adopt the term from there.

Your average computer geek’s (originally meaning ‘fool’ or ‘freak’ in Middle Low German, but has become a slang term for a slightly obsessive enthusiast) reading matter often draws inspiration from some odd sources. Nerd, another term for the stereotypical slightly obsessive computer person, appears to come from the Dr. Seuss book If I Ran the Zoo. Cookie, a term for a small packet of information passed between a web browser and web server, came from ‘magic cookies’ used by programmers, which in turn has its roots in fortune cookies, as it is a small container for information.

Often history has had a hand in the repurposing of words. Patch is a good example of this. The term is now used to describe a series of changes to computer code to fix problems or improve the code. If you look at the update history on your computer, you can often see references to patches. This comes from the time when paper tapes or punched cards were used to put information into computers. When you needed to change a program, you had to cut out part of the tape and patch in a new bit. Meanwhile ‘bug’, used to describe an error in computer code, is often wrongly attributed to Second World War computing pioneer Grace Hopper, who tracked down a problem to a moth caught in one of the computer’s relays (a sort of mechanical switch). She taped it into the logbook for the computer with the word ‘bug!’ written next to it. However there are earlier records of bug being used to describe defects in mechanical systems as far back as the 1870s, and Thomas Edison certainly used the term in his notes.

Problems

Some computing terminology has, like any language, acquired problematic terms. Recently I worked on a computing book that referred heavily to the ‘master–slave system’. This term refers to a computing system (or part of one) where one piece of equipment or component has a controlling (master) function. The term is decades old, and a recent article in Wired found that in 1976 67,000 US patents used it. Unfortunately, this means it is deeply embedded in many technologies, despite being rooted in unacceptable practices and discriminatory language.

In the book I worked on this led to a lot of discussion, as the term is so well understood that really it needs an industry-wide agreement on what to use instead. Fortunately the company whose technology the book was about was happy to implement its own approach, using ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ instead.

The issue raises a lot of questions within the industry, highlighting yet another area in society that suffers from a lack of diversity. Wired’s article on this, ‘Tech Confronts Its Use of the Labels “Master” and “Slave”’, is an interesting insight into why changes like this take so long.

As you can see, like any new innovation, technology has adopted, stolen, repurposed and occasionally mangled existing language in order to describe itself. And these new words have then been incorporated into more general English usage, often with further repurposing.

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: cookies by Jason Jarrach; surfer by Jeremy Bishop, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

A new CMOS style sheet for PerfectIt users

PerfectIt users asked for a CMOS style sheet, and PerfectIt has delivered!

Exciting news – from 10 August 2021, PerfectIt will include a style sheet for the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) for all PerfectIt users, whether on PC or Mac. I think this addition to the program will make many PerfectIt users very happy! The style is an official product that the CMOS team has created for use in PerfectIt.

A valuable tool for editors

In case you are yet to discover PerfectIt, it is one of the best tools available for improving the speed and quality of editing in MS Word. PerfectIt arrived on the scene about 12 years ago as a consistency checker, picking up things such as ‘centre’ and ‘center’, ‘Client’ and ‘client’, ‘8’ and ‘eight’. The program flags these inconsistencies and prompts the user to decide whether to make changes and which option to choose. Over the years, PerfectIt’s capabilities and usefulness have increased. For example, the program now fixes basic formatting issues and can create lists of abbreviations and comments as quick, discrete tasks.

The power of style sheets

Using PerfectIt’s built-in style sheets takes the program to another level because it picks up not just inconsistencies in a document but also deviations from the chosen style. The program has style sheets for different spellings (eg Australian, Canadian and US) and organisations (eg European Union, United Nations and World Health Organization). All style sheets are available in both the PC and Mac versions, although anyone using the PC version of PerfectIt has the added benefit of being able to modify those style sheets or even create their own.

Online style guides

When I first started editing, looking up something in a style guide meant finding the book, consulting the table of contents or the index, then scanning a particular page to find the relevant advice. Today, editors can generally consult an online style guide, making the process much quicker and easier. CMOS was a trailblazer in this regard, with an online version first available in 2006. In Australia, we lacked a local online style guide until recently, when (like buses) three came along at once!

Now, imagine that the power of the online version of CMOS could be combined with that of PerfectIt. Well, that’s exactly what is now on offer for PerfectIt, with an integrated product that shows both the relevant advice from CMOS and the appropriate portion of the manual. This product is available to anyone who is running PerfectIt 5 (the latest version of the program) on a PC or Mac and has a subscription to CMOS Online (although only those using the PC version will be able to customise the style sheet).

PerfectIt + CMOS in action

To investigate the new feature, I ran PerfectIt on a test document, selecting the CMOS style sheet. The first thing it finds is under the ‘Hyphenation of Words’ test, and the sidebar tells me that a word appears with and without a hyphen:

If I want to know more, I simply click on ‘See more from CMOS 7.83’ and, hey presto, the relevant section of CMOS appears (I can scroll down to read the complete section):

The beauty of this system is the seamless link between PerfectIt and CMOS, which allows me to access the relevant advice without leaving my Word document.

In another example, under the test ‘Spelling Variations’, PerfectIt picks up the use of ‘focussed’ and gives this summary:

As above, I can click ‘See more from CMOS 7.1’ to see this particular entry from the manual:

You’ll notice that some of the text is red – those are active links that take me directly to the websites. Some quotes from CMOS text contain links to other parts of the manual; again, these appear in red and take you into the online CMOS.

A highly detailed style sheet

Looking behind the scenes (via the ‘Style Sheets’ section of the PerfectIt tab), we can see what makes up this CMOS style sheet. The first page explains that the style supplements the 17th edition of CMOS and is designed to help users to apply the style and learn how it works.

Clicking on ‘Always find’ in the Style Sheet Editor provides a list of the tests that PerfectIt runs for this style sheet. The list is more extensive than for previous style sheets. For example, in the case of hyphenation, the WHO style sheet has the categories ‘Hyphenation of Phrases’ and ‘Hyphenation of Words’, whereas the CMOS style sheet has those two categories plus numerous subgroups. It also has multiple subgroups under ‘Preferred Spelling’:

If we investigate one of those subgroups, ‘Hyphenation of Age Terms’, we can see where the notes that appear in the style sheet come from:

The text under ‘Instructions’ in the list above is what appears in the sidebar (directly under the name of the test) when PerfectIt is running. This level of detail makes the CMOS style sheet extremely useful.

Congratulations to the team

Having been involved with the various iterations of PerfectIt’s WHO style sheet, I’m aware of the work that’s involved in developing the program’s style sheets. I can only imagine how much harder it must have been to take this to the next level by adding links to CMOS, and I congratulate PerfectIt and CMOS on a job well done. I’d love to see this approach extended to other style guides.

PerfectIt is a fabulous tool for editors, and the addition of the CMOS style sheet has taken it to a whole new level.

Disclosure

The author received a one-year subscription to PerfectIt and CMOS in return for writing this review.

About Dr Hilary Cadman

Dr Hilary Cadman is an established technical editor and trainer. She is passionate about helping fellow editors to save time and improve the quality of their work by becoming confident with technology. She runs online introductory and advanced courses in PerfectIt. Find out more at: cadmantraining.com

New to PerfectIt? Try taking one of Hilary’s online, self-paced PerfectIt courses. CIEP members receive a 25% discount on all Cadman Training courses.

Log in to CIEP as a member > Training > Promoted courses > Cadman Training

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Liz Jones, information team editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new? How to be your own IT department

This article by Andy Coulson, for the regular What’s e-new? column in members’ newsletter The Edit, looks at how to cope when things go wrong with your technical set-up, from initial troubleshooting to simple fixes, and where to look for more help and advice.

The article covers:

  • Backing up before you start
  • Being methodical
  • The power of the off button
  • Diagnostic tools.

As self-employed professionals, we have to wear a number of hats. One of the least popular and worst fitting is the IT hat. Let’s face it, for most of us faced with IT problems the challenge is avoiding a rapid descent into playing laptop frisbee. But there is a lot you can do to resolve IT problems for yourself and build your confidence and skills in tackling those in future.

Before you start

If you read no further, please, please, please take this one thing on board. Back up all your important files regularly. Also, do it before you try making changes to your system. If you have Microsoft 365 and Windows 10 this should be automatic for a lot of your documents, but here’s how to do it: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/back-up-your-documents-pictures-and-desktop-folders-with-onedrive-d61a7930-a6fb-4b95-b28a-6552e77c3057. If you use a Mac, it is a little more complex: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/office-for-mac/how-to-use-onedrive-for-backup-on-mac/m-p/29589. Both Mac (Time Machine) and Windows (Backup/File history in settings) have good internal backup systems that also back up the Windows or MacOS. Take a little time to learn how to use them, buy an external disk drive and set them to automatically back up on a regular basis.

When you have a problem with IT there are typically three areas: simple hardware, like a loose plug, covered below in ‘Be methodical’; simple (often inexplicable!) software issues, covered in ‘The power of the off button’; and more complex problems, covered in ‘IT A&E’.

1. Be methodical

When a problem occurs, you need to step away for a moment and be really methodical about it. Say your printer isn’t working. The first port of call in the absence of any other clues (such as a message on screen) is to check physical things: Is it switched on? Is the power plugged in? If it uses a cable to connect to the computer, is that plugged in? At both ends? You don’t need to know much about computers to check these things – you need to look carefully, wiggle plugs to make sure they are fully pushed in, and follow cables to make sure the right ones are plugged in. But the point is to be methodical and thorough.

2. The power of the off button

If a program appears not to be working then closing and restarting it is a good starting point. If the program has frozen, then in Windows, press Ctrl, Shift and Esc at the same time. This causes Task Manager to pop up, and from here you can right-click on the frozen application and select ‘End task’ to close it. On a Mac you use the Option, Command and Esc keys, select the app in the Force Quit Applications window, and then click on ‘Force Quit’. If you then reopen the application, it should run normally.

If this doesn’t work then try restarting the computer. I’m always slightly concerned by how often turning something off and back on is a solution to software issues, but it is nevertheless a fairly reliable method. This can cure some apparently serious issues. For example, if I try and do a reboot on my laptop, I get an alarming-looking blue screen saying ‘Do you want to start Windows in Safe Mode?’ when it restarts after shutting down. With a little help from Google I quickly realised a) this was not a drastic problem, and b) I couldn’t fix it easily, and if I simply used the power button to switch off and then start up again all was OK.

A related solution worth trying if you are having Word issues in Microsoft 365 is to use the repair function. In Windows 10 if you go to ‘Settings’, then ‘Apps’ and find Microsoft 365, click on ‘Modify’ and you will get a pop-up that prompts for a ‘Quick repair’ or ‘Online repair’. Try a Quick repair, and if this doesn’t work run the Online repair (but be prepared to be patient).

3. IT A&E

If you have an error message or make no headway with the earlier fixes, then you need to try some diagnostics to get to the bottom of things.

Google is one of the simplest diagnostic tools to use. If you have an error message, search for the text and any error number in Google. For Windows and Word issues it will often have answers from Microsoft’s knowledge base near the top. These can sometimes be a bit techy, but they are generally accurate and safe. As you get away from Microsoft and Apple’s pages be prepared to be cynical and critical about where the information comes from, as there are bad sites out there. (For example, I would trust a reputable technology site or magazines like Tech Republic or ComputerWorld over a random post on Reddit.)

Device drivers (the software that speaks to the hardware) have a reputation for being a source of problems. With Windows 10 these are generally updated automatically, but occasionally a manual install can resolve a problem. This windowscentral.com article – windowscentral.com/how-properly-update-device-drivers-windows-10#page1 – can guide you through the various options in the order in which you should use them. If you can use the first method, it will be the safest as it uses drivers that Microsoft has tested.

Both Microsoft and Apple provide inbuilt diagnostic tools that can help to identify issues, particularly in hardware. For example, Windows has a number of these tools:

  • Task Manager – Run this using Ctrl-Shift-Esc to see what software is running and how much memory and CPU effort it is using. This can help you spot programs that are doing something odd (for example using a lot of CPU %).
  • Performance Monitor – This can give you an idea about what might be slowing your PC down. You can find it under the ‘Windows Administrative Tools’ section in the Start menu. You can also see something similar under the Performance tab in Task Manager.
  • Reliability Monitor – This is quite well-hidden, but it allows you to visualise how reliable your system is and get historical access to error messages. The easiest way to find it is to search for ‘Reliability history’ in ‘Settings’.
  • Windows Disk Management – This can flag potential issues with disks. This is under the ‘Windows Administrative Tools’ section in the Start menu.

As you go along, it is worth keeping notes on things you fix, preferably not on the computer. This will help by reminding you of what you have done, so you can fix things that happen again. It’s also a good thing to look back over and realise how much you have learned.

Finally, it is worth finding a local computer repair person and building a relationship with them for the times when you can’t fix it yourself.

Summing up

The article has looked at:

  • The importance of backing up files before performing fixes
  • Where to start with diagnosing and fixing problems
  • Simple fixes
  • Finding out more about problems
  • Where to go for more help

What else is e-new?

Andy has written many articles demystifying software and technology. Check out:

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: dog desktop support by Pavel Herceg; blue screen by Joshua Hoehne, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

What’s e-new? Passwords

By Andy Coulson

Passwords … We all have dozens and dozens of them. But how many of you have not changed the default password on something you’ve bought, or use the same password for lots of things? If so, you are not alone – the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) found that ‘Less than half [of people surveyed] do not always use a strong, separate password for their main email account’. The NCSC did a large survey in 2019, and the summary of the results makes interesting reading.

So, what can you do about this? The NCSC has a list of six key actions:

  • Use a strong and separate password for your email.
  • Create strong passwords using three random words.
  • Save your passwords in your browser.
  • Turn on two-factor authentication (2FA).
  • Update your devices.
  • Back up your data.

This is a good list to work through, and I’ve discussed some of these before, but I’m going to dig into others a little deeper.

Strong and separate

Ideally, you should have a different password for each login. But, like me, I bet you have some types of account that you use the same password for. However, I don’t do this for important things, like banking or email. The NCSC highlights having a different password for your email as being the one to start with. The next problem becomes how to remember all these different passwords, and I’ll pick up on that with password managers, below.

So, what is a good password? You’ve probably seen a password security meter on some sites, where the password is rated from poor/weak to good/strong as you type it. Can you think what gets you into the strong category? Broadly, it’s more characters – the longer the better.

But it’s a little more complicated than that. You need to avoid repeated or sequential characters (like ‘aaa’ or ‘123’) in the password, as these weaken it. It is also crucial to avoid personal information – your name, parts of your address, date of birth, family members’ names and so on – as part of the password.

So where does that get us? ‘B7meapofngh04psnf’ is a strong password, but is a bit tricky to remember, so I’ll let you into a little secret. Most of the time, three or four random words as a phrase will create a really secure password. For example, the password at the start of the para is considered very strong, but so is ‘CanteloupeRiverArtichoke’. Which is easier to remember?

Many sites ask for a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. Where sites or apps require this, you can always add a symbol and number to a phrase, such as ‘CanteloupeRiverArtichoke+3’.

So, our four takeaways from this are:

  1. Use separate passwords for at least email and banking, but preferably all your accounts.
  2. Make passwords long and as random as you can.
  3. Don’t use personal information, repetition or sequences in passwords.
  4. If you need to remember a password, use a three- or four-word random phrase.

Testing and checking passwords

Before I dive into this, a word of warning … If you are going to put a password into something, make very sure you know what you are putting it into. It would be very easy to run a ‘check my password’ scam website! However, the sites listed here are, to the best of my knowledge, safe and legitimate. I mention potentially compromised passwords below. This does not mean that someone is misusing the password, it just means that there has been data stolen from somewhere that potentially contains that information. Often these thefts are so large that many passwords are not used, so if your password is ‘potentially compromised’, simply take action and change it as soon as you find out.

First of all, if you use Google there is a built-in password check-up. If you go to your Google account online you will likely see this on the home page. If you click on ‘Take action’, it will highlight passwords potentially compromised in data breaches. You can then go and change those. It will also flag weak passwords and those used on multiple accounts.

Another good resource is ‘have I been pwned’, which sounds rather spammy, but is a highly regarded source of information about data breaches. You can use the site to check if your accounts have been affected by a data breach.

Finally, many websites have a password strength checker that allows you to get a sense of how good your password is. However, if you want to play around with ideas there is a good checker on the bitwarden site (bitwarden is one of the password managers discussed below). This also gives you an idea of how long a typical modern password cracker tool would take to work this out.

Managing your passwords

Many security experts suggest using a password manager to hold your passwords. These are software packages that keep your passwords in a highly encrypted online store, allowing you to use the passwords and logins across devices – so on your laptop, phone and tablet. Essentially you need to remember one, very strong, password to access all your accounts, but each account can then have a different, very strong password. That master password is never stored on the provider’s computer, so even if they are hacked the hacker only accesses the encrypted gobbledygook. Needless to say, your one password needs to be one you can remember, and it needs to be kept safe!

The NCSC article mentioned earlier explains that most modern browsers (Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox) have a built-in password manager. These work well, but it is worth spending a little time understanding the limitations of these. I’m especially impressed with Firefox’s Lockwise, though I’d rather use a separate password manager as it spreads the risk around.

There are a number of well-regarded standalone password managers on the market that provide similar features and a mix of free and paid-for versions. You need to be looking, at a minimum, for end-to-end encryption (this means your passwords are never available as plain text – they are always scrambled except on your device); cross-platform applications (ie you can use them on your laptop, tablet and phone) and secure password generators. Most of them also offer (but you may have to pay for) options such as secure sharing, which allows you and a partner to both have access to a shared account or service, in case, for example, one of you falls ill. I use one called bitwarden, but other well-known packages are LastPass, 1password, KeePass and Dashlane. Dropbox has just added a password manager to some of its paid plans.

2FA – a further level of security

2FA is short for ‘two-factor authentication’. You may be familiar with this from your bank; banks have upgraded their security in the last year or so. This is where, after entering your password, you need to enter a code that is texted or emailed to you, so you use two factors to log in. They often use your phone for one of the factors, as you often have it on you and this means it is more likely to be you.

Many services support using 2FA, including Google and most of the password managers. If you can use 2FA to secure key tools and services it is worth doing, as it makes hacking your accounts even harder.

Good luck and stay safe out there!

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 


In previous What’s e-new articles, Andy has covered accounting, working efficiently in Microsoft Word, Word’s Editor, and useful online resources related to fixing computers, managing time and keeping fit.


Photo credits: padlocks by Georg Bommeli; purple artichokes by Joanna Kosinska, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Making the most of Microsoft Word

By Alison Shakspeare

It’s a fierce world out there, particularly for freelancers, and freelance editors need to make the most of every second when their hourly income rate depends on it.

Although ‘other software is available’, Microsoft’s Word is still the go-to writing program across the English-speaking world. Therefore, maximum familiarity and minimum ineptitude have got to be good things – and those are on offer through the CIEP’s Word for Practical Editing course.

I’ve been using Word since expensive new IBM PCs were gingerly invested in by my then-employers. There was no money for training and an infant worldwide web, so when you had a query it was a case of wading through cumbersome, incomprehensible manuals or picking the brains of those who’d been using it for longer. So, over the years I’ve gradually absorbed and researched ways and means of improving my knowledge and use of this ever-updating, universal software – but it’s amazing what you fail to pick up on if you jog along on your old familiar track.

You can tell the course has been written by practising editors because it acknowledges the numerous approaches to editing tasks. Therefore you don’t feel that there is only one way to use the program or to find and use the tools. The course uses screencasts as well as documentation, so you can absorb the information in the way that suits your brain best. And when you’ve finished you end up with the study notes, exercises, model answers and a range of useful resource downloads to refer back to.

What Word for Practical Editing is not is a beginner’s guide to using Word. You do have to be a user, and you do have to know your way around the basic conventions and tools, or you’ll find yourself floundering in a sea of unfamiliar terms.

What Word for Practical Editing does do, which may be unexpected, is widen your knowledge of working in the editing world in a business-like manner and of dealing with clients.

Whether you use a PC or a Mac, this course is for you if you want to:

  • extend your knowledge on approaching a project, beginning with the client brief before you approach the Word manuscript and tips on setting up the program and its tools, and different ways of viewing it
  • improve your ability to find errors and inconsistencies – not only are you told how to use the inbuilt Find & Replace (F&R), Spelling & Grammar and Macro tools and are referred to some great add-in programs, but you are also given a useful list of common errors any editor needs to be sure they are clearing up
  • clearly communicate your findings with your client – from checking the compatibility of your Word versions, to being sure that what you receive matches the brief, to different ways of showing Track Changes; you are also given useful templates for a stylesheet, an invoice and a feedback form
  • check that you are using styles and templates as effectively as possible – there are several layers to using these universal bugbears, and if every Word user were sent a copy of this information the air might be less blue
  • widen your knowledge of shortcuts – and you can download a useful list of them to keep referring to until they become second nature
  • gain insights on archiving and CPD, because jobs aren’t always done with once you’ve sent off the edited Word doc.

I will probably not end up using all the shortcuts the course introduced me to, even though they save on keyboard time and could even ward off RSI, but I’ve certainly expanded my knowledge of what Word offers and tightened up my use of it – and therefore increased my hourly income.

What more could you want?

Alison Shakspeare came to editing after a career in arts marketing and research for leading national and regional organisations. Her client base has expanded as her skillset has grown from basic copyediting to offering design and layout services. She truly enjoys the CPD she gains from working with academics, business organisations and a growing number of self-publishing authors.

 


Photo credit: Love to learn by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.