Briefing authors

Unless you’re doing all the writing yourself, as an editor you’re always at the mercy of whatever your authors dump in your inbox. If you’re doing the typesetting as well, then doubly so.

If it’s at all possible, it can be a real timesaver in the long run to get together with authors and point them in the right direction before they start writing. And obviously, the value of preparation is in direct proportion to how long and complicated the publication is going to be. Anyway, here are some suggestions for making the process a bit less painful.

Styles and formatting

This is probably the most important thing of all — getting your authors to use the Styles and Formatting functions in MS Word saves an awful lot of time. You can use this basic template I posted on an earlier entry.

Spend ten or fifteen minutes explaining the concepts and make sure the authors understand how to use them. Even if you don’t want the numbered headings that are on the template, I would still advocate them, as they make authors think about the structure of their documents — if left alone, they tend to throw in headings willy-nilly, without thinking how they fit into the bigger picture. (And it only takes a minute to turn off all the numbering when the writing’s finished.) Updating the table of contents allows them to see how their publications are building up — hopefully saving you the bother of trying to fix the structure later.

Style guides

Your organisation will no doubt have a style guide, to encourage good writing practice and consistency. However, less-experienced authors have a tendency to be daunted by them, or to ignore them completely. The best compromise may well be to go through the most common mistakes and inconsistencies. This is especially important if a publication has multiple authors.

In my experience, the biggest issue is usually capitalisation and the second, for more technical publications, is referencing. Unfortunately you can’t stop them writing drivel, but if you’re an editor, then that’s what you’re paid for.

Graphs, images and tables

This may make you unpopular, but there are several good reasons for keeping graphs, images and tables out of MS Word files.

  • Upon import into Quark, they at best get mangled and at worst disappear. And often leave stray captions in the text
  • A lot of authors have a terrible habit of writing things like ‘the table below’ or ‘the graph above”, which would be fine if you were printing on a roll of paper, but useless if you’re laying out a book, especially one with columns. Removing them will hopefully remind them to cite tables and pictures properly (as in ‘see Table 3’) and also to caption them.


Bitmap images in Word don’t import into Quark and placing them in Word degrades them anyway.


How authors generate graphs isn’t of vital importance as they’ll probably need redrawing anyway. What is important is ensuring that the person creating the graph for print can see the data that was used to generate it. Despite Microsoft’s Object Linking and Embedding, a lot of Excel graphs become pictures when they’re pasted into Word.


Upon import, tables get converted into tab-separated text. In the old days, this was the only way to make tables in Quark, but nowadays it’s better to use the automatic table functions present on later versions. Unless the table is very small, I’ve actually found the best way is to get authors to do their tables in Excel which, in my experience, imports into Quark quite well (more here).


Unfortunately you’re almost certainly going to have to recreate these from scratch. Sorry!

Some basic typography

Try to get authors to avoid incorrect and unnecessary formatting. Some examples are:

  • Not using double spaces after full stops
  • Not pressing enter twice to start a new paragraph
  • No unnecessary formatting such as title pages, manual page breaks, section breaks and the like
  • Not using a hyphen where a dash should go (MS Word will convert two hyphens into a dash)


Not that there’s anything wrong with using footnotes, but unfortunately Quark doesn’t really support them. They will import, but Quark puts them all at the end of the imported text string. If there are only a few footnotes, it’s not a massive effort to place them manually, but for a document with a lot of references, this can be very time consuming. For this reason, you might want to suggest the author puts references at the end of a section or chapter.

Leave a Reply

You can use these XHTML tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>