Critiquing Using Word and Open Office

Part One of the Critique Series

Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

Critiquing in the digital age. Gone are the days of sorting through stacks of line edits in your double spaced manuscript, bloodied with red pen in indiscernible handwriting, returned to you by critique partners that you met down at the local coffee shop. Actually, if you can find people to critique with at a coffee shop, wow. I applaud you. I for one haven't been so lucky. Okay, actually I was, but then she moved away. Sniffle sniffle.

But even if you do have local crit partners and don't have to collaborate via the internet, you can still find something useful in today's post. Meeting in person does not change the fact that you can save a lot of trees and make life a bit easier on yourself by using the built in functionality of word processing programs to help streamline some of the work for you. So let's get to it.

I've gone through and taken snapshots of both Open Office and Word 2007 in action in order to help guide you through the process. There are subtle differences in the two programs, so pay attention, but by and large you can get the same things accomplished in both.

Track Changes:

One of the first things you're going to want to do with any critique is turn on 'Track Changes'. This feature allows the recipient of the critique to go through and see exactly what you've changed and then choose whether or not they will keep the changes. In both Word and Open Office a black, vertical line will appear net to any line with a correction. Right clicking on the change will bring up an option menu that will let you choose to accept or decline the change.

MSW: Select the 'Review' tab and click 'Track Changes.' Yup, it's that simple.  

OOo: Once you're used to the Word tabs that are so annoying when you first upgrade to 2007, finding things in menus becomes annoying. For OOo you have to Edit>Changes and then choose 'Record' and 'Show' if you want to see it recording the changes.

Line Numbering:

Each time I get a document to critique I start by numbering the lines. I've found it to be helpful when going over any questions that the recipient might have. They can refer me directly to which line they are talking about as opposed to going through the headache of “third page, second paragraph, about halfway through the third line.” Just say, “Line 93,” and we're all set. No confusion there.

MSW: Go to the 'Page Layout' tab, select 'Line Numbers' and then direct it to number in the way you would like. I usually just go with continuous.

OOo: Tools>Line Numbering pretty simple, no?


Gone are the days of trying to squeeze your comments between double-spaced lines of text. By using the comments feature you can be as wordy as you'd like. Normally, wordiness is a bad thing, but when you consider that you're trying to be delicate with your criticism, that you want it to come across as “you're going in the right direction, I'd just like to see you expand this,” rather than, “you suck,” then the extra words end up counting for a lot.

Both Word and Open Office expand your screen when you start using comments (they're called 'notes' in OOo, but I'll just call them 'comments' for both programs) and tuck them off to the right. Comments is one of the areas where Word outdoes OOo. Word will number the comments for you so that they are easier to refer to. It also allows you to highlight a section of text and comment on the highlighted section. OOo will only place an arrow marker at the beginning of your highlighted area, so it makes it harder to cue a person in to a line or a series of lines that you want to comment on. The person being critiqued with OOo has to guess at where your reference begins and ends unless otherwise specified.

As I mentioned in the Word vs. Open Office post, one way OOo one ups Word is through having an option to comment on a comment. Although, honestly, I don't see much point to the feature unless you're collaborating. If anything, this feature makes it easier to commit one of the deadly critique sins that we'll talk about tomorrow, responding to criticism.

Another nice feature of Word is that when you hover the cursor over a section of highlighted text, it will pop a dialogue box that shows you the comment. You know, just in case you can't trace that dotted line back to it's origin.

MSW: Each time you want to make a comment in Word, just go up to the 'Review' tab and hit 'New Comment'. Wherever your cursor is in the text is where your comment will be attached. Or, if you have a section of text highlighted (click and drag with the mouse) and then hit 'New Comment', the comment feature will highlight that text and attach the comment to all of it.

OOo: While OOo doesn't highlight, it is a bit easier to add your comment. Just hold down Ctrl+Alt+N and it will give you a new comment where your cursor is. Otherwise it's under the 'Insert' menu. I haven't been able to find such and easy keyboard shortcut for Word, so if you know of one, please share. With as much commenting as I do on crits it would save lots of time.


After I've gone through all of the comments, deleting those that I don't, hanging on to the ones that I need to give more thought to, and accepting the changes I feel should be made in all of my returned critiques, I start the merger process. This collects the remaining feedback and all the changes into a single document. Word call's this process “combine,” and it might take a little while for the process to complete, but hang in there. To be safe, I set my merges to take place in a new document. I haven't tried to do more than two documents at a time, and I really don't think that it's possible. I reduce by twos until I can get it all down into one document.

(Note: I haven't used this process of combining in a long time. Last time I used it was in the 2003 version of Word. I'm trying it right now in 2007 as an experiment, an experiment that is not going so well. I started the combination process about 30 minutes ago with two crits of the same chapter and I'm still waiting for Word to show me something.)

(Note to the Note: Crash! Word apparently could not handle all of the comments left by my crit partners.)


As I noted in my crit guide. I use the simple highlight feature to draw attention to things like repetitive words. If I find that someone is using an odd word rather often, I'll simply conduct a search for that word and highlight it each time it appears. Explaining this in a crit guide helps cut down on explaining it each time you do it.


And there you have it. Those are all the features that I use when critiquing. Of course I'm no word-processor guru or anything, so I'm sure that there are probably more features that need to be added to this. I'm also sure that as smart as all you folks are, you know of some of them. So please add them to the comments so that I can update this article. And don't worry, I'll be sure to give credit where credit is due.


Amber J. Gardner said...

This is so helpful! I knew Word has features to leave comments on documents but I've never used it and never even touched it since I didn't know how. But now I do, and it looks easy and fun to do.

Hey, by any chance you have any room in your crit group?

damihjva said...

I miss you too, Dave. :)

David Noceti said...

Hey Amber, I'd be happy to give you a critique if you'd like, just send it my way at As for critique group, it's actually just starting and is capped at five because it has deadlines and lots of reading and submissions involved (we're all working on books). I'll talk more about how I'm structuring it in the last post of the series. There might be one slot open, as someone is still on the fence about the entire thing and we're waiting to hear from her. But as for general critiquing I don't really have a "group" for that. Regular requests for crits just tend to show up.

So, if you're interested (might want to check out how I crit myself in tomorrows post) I'm more than happy to give you a read. Just be patient, I've got a couple other critiques on the back burner and they'll likely quarter me if I bump you ahead of them. :)

Amber J. Gardner said...

Cool, thanks! Let me know if that spot opens up! I want to snag it :). And I'll be patient. It'll probably be a while before I send you anything anyways since I'm still stuck on the first scene of the first chapter of my novel, gah.

Post a Comment