Editing: 5 Quick Tips to Improve Your Book

By | January 7, 2015

Using find and replaceEditing a manuscript seems to be one of the most ignored steps of the publication process when you are in a hurry to get a book on the shelves.

But editing is one of the most important steps of publishing and should not be ignored nor taken lightly.
Ok, you know this. But wait, don’t skip over this post.

Even those who “know” this need a reminder that editing is one of the single most important steps you can take to produce a professional publication. I’m talking about copyediting, not style, storyline, character development and those other issues you need to do in the editing process.

I’m talking about creating a really clean, professional manuscript.

Editing is tedious, so I’m going to give you a few tips using Find and Replace that will help make the editing process easier, save time, and make you more productive.

Most word processing programs have a Find and Replace feature. You can use this tool to make your editing more effective and efficient.

Use these 5 steps to quickly clean up your manuscript.

Click Here for a PDF version: Find & Replace Tutorial

1. Turn on non-printing characters while editing

Most word processing programs have a nifty option that allows you to see all non-printing characters. In fact, if yours is on, you may find it annoying as you write because it shows every paragraph mark and tab. But for editing, this can be a helpful tool. It allows you to see inconsistencies that you just can’t see in a naked document.

Change your View options so you can see all non-printing characters. In Microsoft Word you would go to Preferences and click the View tab. You’ll see a selection called non-printing characters. Check the All box.

This tool will help you easily spot some of the tips that follow.

Find and Replace

2. Search for extra spaces

As we are quickly typing out our great story line, we don’t pay close attention to how many times we hit the space bar. And those extra little spaces are difficult to see. By using Find and Replace, you can quickly search 8o,ooo words and find those extra spaces.
Here’s what I do. Open the Find and Replace feature. In the Find field, enter two spaces. Simply place your cursor in the field and hit the space bar twice. In the Replace field, enter one space. When you click Find in Microsoft Word, the software will highlight all of the places in your document where there are at least two spaces. Now you simply click Replace All, and voila, you’ve eliminated those extra spaces without having to tediously search every line of your book.

3. Replace soft returns with hard returns

Here’s another Find and Replace editing trick. This one may or may not appear obvious to readers, but it will certainly help you create a clean document before you start formatting for print and ebooks. A hard return appears as a paragraph mark(¶), and for formatting, this is what you want; often we move to a new line by creating a soft return, which usually involves hitting Shift+Enter. These appear in Word as a down-and-left-pointing arrow.

In the Find field, enter ^l. This is the keyboard symbol for a soft return. In Word, you may also have a pull-down menu that calls it a Manual Line Break. In the Replace field, enter ^p, the carat symbol followed by a “p”. (carat is the 6 key) Again, Word will highlight all of the soft returns. You click Replace All, and your soft returns are replaced by paragraph marks.

Find and Replace

4. Search for punctuation errors

Again, you can use Find and Replace to search for and edit a host of punctuation errors. One search I use looks for misused quotation marks in dialogue. For example: “I always place punctuation inside quotation marks in dialogue,” said the writer. The comma should be placed inside the quotation marks, so in the Find field, I enter quotation comma “, or quotation period “. In the Replace field, I enter the correct punctuation, for example comma quotation ,”. I click Replace All, and I’ve quickly resolved this common punctuation error.

5. Replace en dashes with em dashes

Here’s one of my pet peeves. Know the difference between an en dash and an em dash. The en dash is that short dash next to the zero key on your keyboard. An em dash is a longer dash, and to find it you need to go into Insert/Symbols/Advanced Symbols on the Word menu. Then em dash is your first selection.

5 Quick Tips to Improve Your Editing

Writers love to use dashes, so to quickly fix this irritating little error, I use Find and Replace. Here’s a quick and dirty way to do it. First, find the em dash symbol and insert one into your document. Copy it to your clipboard, and paste it in the Replace field. Now search your book to see what kind of dashes are used. The easiest editing tip here is to just copy a dash from your manuscript and place it into the Find field. Don’t hit Replace All just yet. There’s one more step. Notice whether you placed spaces before and after the dash. If you did, you will  need to add a space before and after the dash in the Find field. Why? Because technically an em dash does not have

First, find the em dash symbol and insert one into your document. Copy it to your clipboard, and paste it in the Replace field. Now search your book to see what kind of dashes are used. The easiest editing tip here is to just copy a dash from your manuscript and place it into the Find field. Don’t hit Replace All just yet. There’s one more step. Notice whether you placed spaces before and after the dash. If you did, you will  need to add a space before and after the dash in the Find field. Why? Because technically an em dash does not have

Notice whether you placed spaces before and after the dash. If you did, you will  need to add a space before and after the dash in the Find field. Why? Because technically an em dash does not have a space before or after, so you’ll want to replace these spaces as well with just the em dash.

Here’s an example:

He looked perfect – too perfect.

He looked perfect—too perfect.

And here’s a BONUS editing tip:

When you find an editing error in your manuscript, use the Find and Replace feature to show you if you’ve made that error repeatedly.

While Find and Replace can’t find every error in your book, it can save a great deal of time on finding and correcting those errors you know are likely to exist.

Happy editing!


Do you have other Find & Replace tricks? Leave a comment below.

Click Here for a PDF version: Find & Replace Tutorial
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3 thoughts on “Editing: 5 Quick Tips to Improve Your Book

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