Don’t let the marked-up text distract you

Don’t let the marked-up text distract you

decorative image of a bunch of red pencils

The amount of mark-up you get back from the editor doesn’t signal how good or bad the writing is. But it can be disconcerting to see your work heavily marred in red. Here are two ways you can try to minimize the distraction of tracked changes.

When you get your edited file back, you might be shocked to see it look like this:

Blurred image of Word document that is half red with corrections.

You have, after all, birthed the document, and to have another person meddle with it can be daunting.

But don’t let the red discourage you. It doesn’t mean that your editor was making a complete mess of your work or that your paper was terrible.

In fact, this blurred image above is of a text that I thought was quite clear. The writing was a bit wordy and some words and phrases needed adjusting, probably because the authors were reflecting the sentence structures of their primary (non-English) language.

But the sentences were straightforward, the overall structure and messages clear, and I had little trouble adjusting the English.

The redness is deceptive

How much red you see doesn’t reflect how “good” the paper is. There are a lot of corrections that are not about your writing skills.

For example, many edits are

  • mechanical fixes, like unifying the spelling into US or British English or replacing, for example, “eg.” with “e.g.”
  • fairly simple ones, like switching around the order of a few words in a sentence or moving part of a paragraph to after a figure instead of before.
Another blurred image of text that has red corrections
This is a paragraph where -zed/-zation spellings were changed to -sed/-sation, a dashed word was changed to one word (e.g., “policy-maker” –> “policymaker”), and “United States” was replaced with “US.”

Of course, knowing this doesn’t make it much easier to see a work that you’ve spent a lot of time and effort to prepare come back covered in marks.

Two tricks to avoid getting distracted by the red

If all this mark-up irritates you or throws you off (or you just don’t know what to do with all the tracked changes), here are some things you could ask the editor to do to lessen the amount of red on the page.

☘ TIP 1: Ask the editor to make the small changes “silently”

  • “Silently” means without tracked changes.
  • You decide what kind of changes the editor may make silently. For example:
Punctuation“only one space after periods”
“use double quotation marks and put the punctuation inside”
“use em dashes with no spaces around them”
“serial commas”
Spelling“UK spelling with -ize/-ization”
“unify to healthcare, not health care” (or better yet, “unify spellings listed in the style sheet”)
Formatting“Headings should be maximum capitals: Watch This Space”
“Table titles should be bolded, minimum capitals: Table 1 Population in this town, 1990”
Hint: All these points would be in your style sheet…so do make one!

These are mostly mechanical changes that will not change the meaning of your text.

Having a style sheet will help. In a style sheet, you can specify the standard spelling, punctuation, and formatting scheme that you and the editor will follow.

When returning the edited document to you, the editor should give you a list of the universal changes that were made silently.

Side by side comparison of the same text (blurred). The one with silent changes is less red.
Two versions of the same text with mark-up, but one has silent changes. Can you see the difference?

☘ TIP 2: Ask for a “clean” copy and review that

Along with the file with tracked changes, ask for another clean copy, with no tracked changes. Review the clean copy so you can get a sense of the more polished version without being distracted by all the red.

Let the editor leave in their comments/queries in the clean version. That way, they can bring your attention to issues that need your decisions and clarifications.

** CAUTION with multiple copies**

Having multiples copies of files makes it easy to mistakenly work on the wrong version. Do take care that you are using the latest one, especially if you’re going back and forth with your editor. (You could, for example, make sure you consistently add the date to the filename.)

You will have your own preferences on what you need to see and what you want to be kept invisible. Make sure to tell your editor at the outset what you want, so that you can finalize your writing efficiently and hopefully without feeling too aggravated 🙂

If you would like to discuss whether we might be a good fit for your scholarly writing project, please send me details via the contact form or email me at

Cover image by Lucas Wendt via Pixabay

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