Advanced Formatting Issues for Book Translators: How to Prepare Your Text for Publication

Today’s blog post covers:

  • what document formatting entails
  • the difference between copy and proof
  • several macros and Find & Replace routines that can speed up advanced formatting issues

Hundreds of MS Word documents have passed through my (virtual) desk over the years, in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the font changes size, shape, or colour. Paragraphs have been formatted with strange indents, footnotes haven’t matched up or have even disappeared, and there have been all kinds of text boxes and section breaks inserted.

When a book is being prepared for publication, the typesetter or indie book formatter deals with most formatting issues. As an editor and book translator, I work with copy, typically in MS Word, rather than proofs. Copy can be thought of as the “raw material”. Proofs are typically PDFs with all the layout features and final formatting included on them. They display how the final book or report will look when printed, with running heads, page numbers, and the correct fonts and styles applied. Traditionally, proofreaders mark up PDFs, although “proofreading” is often used to refer to all kinds of language editing outside of traditional publishing. You can find more on this distinction here.

Now, all language editors do a bit of formatting work, such as:

  • ensuring all paragraphs are formatted consistently (indented or spaced?)
  • checking that curly rather than straight quotation marks have been used everywhere
  • applying Word Styles to ensure consistency of headers and other text features (block quotations, footnotes etc.)
  • occasionally applying a Word template

To check the paragraph consistency, zooming out so you can see lots of pages in Print View is helpful, as is printing the text out and turning it upside down. There are macros and software (e.g. FRedit or the Editors’ Toolkit) that can help with checking quotation marks. Word Styles are a topic of their own, and there are whole courses available covering their many uses.

Publishing in Reverse: Going from Proof to Copy

Occasionally, I receive files that have advanced formatting issues to deal with. For instance, I have received texts on more than one occasion that have the layout features of a PDF proof, but the file is an MS Word document. This usually happens with books for translation. This kind of proof is the final copy the author has before the manuscript is turned into a PDF proof. Features such as footnotes are no longer linked up (they have been “stripped”).

Now, this usually happens with books that have a lot of pictures and diagrams in them, as it’s helpful for the author to share a version with all pictures cued in the right place. Yet, as a translator, I need copy as the English version will look different to, say, the German or Croatian version.

The issues that arise here can take time to resolve and so here are some tips if you plan to deal with them as an author yourself:

In this situation you will need to:

  • Delete the running heads
  • Remove the original character formatting
  • Delete any section breaks
  • Remove any line-break hyphens
  • Reapply any footnotes

These steps should ideally be completed before translation. Why? Because most translation software (e.g. SDL Trados) preserves all formatting, so a simpler text with no running heads etc. will mean less work.

  • Delete the running heads: If they are in special text boxes, use this macro
  • Remove the original character formatting: I found this link useful. But beware! If you have bibliographies and sections with nuanced use of italics, you need to be careful not to remove the italics. If you need to retain these features, my solution was to use a F&R routine to highlight all italic words, THEN to press the remove all formatting button, and then to use another F&R routine to italicise all the highlighted words
  • Delete any section breaks: Click here for a macro and other solutions
  • Remove any line-break hyphens: these are hyphens when words are split up at the end of lines in proofs, e.g. li- cence. Sorting this out is best done in the translation software you use, i.e. when you go through the text sentence by sentence
  • Reapply any footnotes: As for footnotes, there is a program called NoteStripper that can reapply them. Personally, I haven’t found it to work on the documents that I have had to format. However, there is a “long way round” to doing this, as follows:
  • Highlight all numbers in the document, using this F&R routine with wildcards turned on: Find <[0-9,.]{1,}>, Replace with ^& (highlight).
  •  Use Word’s “Insert Footnote” feature to link up the locations of the highlighted in-text numbers with the stripped footnotes at the bottom of the page.
  • Remove all highlighting when you are done.

If anyone has come across similar challenges and does things differently or has any more tips to share, feel free to write a comment below!

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