Tip: Using Highlights For Editing

Since I make my living as a geek, I’ll occasionally share techie tricks that I use to make my life easier as a writer.

Drop me a comment below or contact me if there’s something specific you want to know.  I’ll help if I can.

Here’s my tip of the day:

Using Highlights for Editing

When I’m writing in MS Word, I use highlights to mark places where my document needs work.  I use a blue highlight to indicate “unfinished”, a green highlight to indicate “needs research”, and a yellow highlight to indicate “needs to be fixed”.  That way, if I’m on a roll, I can just keep writing and come back to the problem area later.

In a 400-page document, it can get difficult to find all the highlighted areas.  That’s a lot of scrolling. 

Fortunately, you can search your document for highlights and jump to them automatically. 

How To Do It:  Highlighting

Step 1:  Find the Highlight button
It looks like this:  

In Word 2003 and earlier, go to the Formatting toolbar.  If you don’t have that toolbar turned on, you can enable it by clicking on the View menu, choosing Toolbars, and then clicking Formatting; or
In Word 2007 and 2010, it’s on the Home tab.

Step 2:  Choose your colour
Click on the little arrowhead to the right of the button, and choose a colour from the dropdown box.

Step 3:  Highlight
Click and drag your mouse over the text to apply the highlight.

Step 4:  Stop highlighting
When you’re done, click on the Highlight button again to disable highlighting.

Note:  Removing highlights
To remove highlights, click and drag to select the highlighted text in your document, then click the arrowhead on the Highlight button and choose “No colour” from below the coloured boxes.

How To Do It:  Searching for Highlighting

Step 1:  Set up the search

In Word 2003 and earlier, click on the Edit menu and choose Find; or
In Word 2007 and 2010, click on the Find button on the Home tab.

If the dialog box shows a More button at the bottom, click on it to expand the dialog box.  If you see a Less button, you can skip this step (it means the dialog box is already expanded).

Click on the Format button at the bottom of the dialog box, and choose Highlight.  You’ll notice that your search box now includes the words “Format:  Highlight” right under the “Find What” box at the top.

Step 2:  Search for highlights

Make sure there’s no text in the “Find What” box (unless you want to search for a specific word or phrase that’s highlighted).  As long as the “Find What” box is blank, the search will find all highlighted text.

Click on the Find Next button.  Keep doing this until you find the highlighted section you’re looking for.

Step 3:  Remove Highlight from the search criteria**

In the search box, click on the Format button again, and select Highlight.  You’ll notice that now your search says “Format:  Not Highlight” under the “Find what” box.  Repeat the process, and the “Format:” line will disappear.

Type a word, any word, in the “Find what” box, and click the Find Next button once.  This saves the settings so that you won’t be searching for highlights the next time you use the search box.

Close the search box.

**This isn’t essential to the process, but it saves you some frustration the next time you want to look for words alone instead of highlighted words.

99-Cent Train Wreck

Update May 30/11:  I just found an excellent post, “The Pricing of eBooks and Perceived Value“, on Bob Mayer’s blog.  Seems I missed two critical points in my post: 

1) There’s a place for 99-cent e-books as a method of diminishing risk for potential buyers.  The important point here is that not all your books get priced at 99 cents, and they don’t necessarily stay priced at 99 cents.

2) I didn’t mention the sliding royalty scale that’s applied to e-books.  Bob does the math in his post.  When I advocated jacking up the price of e-books, I was thinking in the range of $2.99 to $8.99.  Bob’s post explains why that range would be okay, but anything over $9.99 doesn’t currently work to the author’s advantage.

Here’s my original post:


I’ve seen a lot of discussion on blogs lately about the idea of selling electronic books for 99 cents.

I’m a business owner in real life.  I’ve spent the better part of the last four years reading up on marketing, consumer behaviour, and pricing.

This is like watching a trainload of people hurtling towards the proverbial busted trestle sagging into the proverbial canyon.

I only hope a few passengers will notice my frantic gesticulations.

Oh, look, charades!  Two words, sounds like… head… no… brain.  Neck.

Brain neck?

Yeah, that’s what I said.  Train wreck.

Bail out now, folks, ‘cause if you stay on that train you’re gonna end up with a locomotive parked on your chest.  At the bottom of the canyon.  Submerged in a raging river.  Surrounded by hostile…  Well, you get the picture.

On my business website, I priced my computer training workbooks exactly the same for the paper and electronic versions.  Nobody ever quibbles.  They buy electronic, because they can have it immediately.  They rarely buy hard copies.

Your work has value.  When people buy your book, they’re not paying for the way it’s delivered.  Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, they’re paying for the privilege of transferring a little bit of your brain into theirs.

That value isn’t diminished just because nobody killed a tree.  Spin that another way, and the electronic version is actually more valuable because the customer can have it instantly.

As soon as we begin to discount electronic books, we’re entering a commodity pricing system.  Simply put?  Some cheap bastard will always offer it for less.  And everybody loses.

This train ride is a one-way trip.  Once we let consumers believe that electronic books are “less valuable”, they’ll take it as a personal affront if we try to jack up the price later.  We’re in the early stages of this game.  Now’s the time to educate our customers about what they’re really getting.

Some people argue that lower pricing decreases the perceived risk for the buyer.  “I’ll buy it because I can afford 99 cents.  If it’s crap, I haven’t lost much.”

True.  But what’s the customer really thinking?  “This might be crap.”

Gee, that’s the reaction I’m looking for when somebody considers my book.  Not.

There are better ways to reduce perceived risk without diminishing value.  Let ‘em see the first chapter.  If it’s crap, I won’t sell any books.  But, arguably, if it’s crap, I shouldn’t sell any books.

When people buy something expensive, they value the item more.

Pens come to mind. Cheap pens cost about thirteen cents apiece if you buy a box of fifteen.  Or I can buy one fancy pen for upwards of thirty dollars.  A single refill for it costs six or seven bucks.

Why the hell would I buy one pen when I could spend the same amount of money and get enough pens to last me the rest of my friggin’ life?  When they look at my signature, nobody can tell what kind of pen I used.

But fancy pens still sell.

Why?  Somebody sold the customer on the look of the pen, the feel of the pen, the quality of the writing experience, the status of owning a pen that murmurs in a well-bred voice, “I am worthy of respect because my pen cost more than your shoes.”

That’s differentiation.  It’s a “better” pen.

As writers, our opportunities for differentiation are somewhat limited.  As long as the cover art is good and the title looks interesting, there’s no way to tell whether the book inside will whisk you to the pinnacles of literary ecstasy or make you recoil at the steaming heap concealed within its pages.

But ya know what?  If I pay six bucks for it, I’m gonna expect a little more ecstasy.  And if it delivers, I’m gonna go back and get me some more.

Whether I sell one thirty-dollar pen or three hundred cheap pens, it’s the same amount of money in my pocket at the end of the day.

Except that tomorrow, I have to go out and find more customers.  Three hundred is a lot.

We can’t stop people from pricing their books at 99 cents, short of creating a self-policing professional association.  I’ll stop laughing now.  The phrase “herding cats” comes to mind.

But maybe that’s a good thing.  It gives us an opportunity for differentiation.  I say jack up the price of those electronic books so people understand and expect the value they’re getting.

What do you think?

Tip: Readability Statistics

Since I make my living as a geek, I’ll occasionally share techie tricks that I use to make my life easier as a writer. 

Drop me a comment if there’s something specific you’re wondering about.  I’ll help if I can.

Here’s my tip of the day:

Get Readability Statistics For Your Document

Microsoft Word calculates readability statistics based on the length and complexity of the sentences and words you use in your document.  It doesn’t tell you anything about whether your writing is “good” or “bad”, but it can give you a hint if you’re making your readers work too hard.

The Counts are self-explanatory (and you can find them more easily than by using this method).  I’m assuming you know how to find your word count; if not, drop me a comment and I’ll do a post on it.

The Averages are used in the formulas that calculate the three things that concern me most as a writer:  reading ease, grade level, and passive sentences.

The frequency of passive sentences is an interesting stat for fiction writers.  All the “how-to” books warn against passive voice, and this is a handy-dandy way to see at a glance if you’re overdoing it.

Reading Ease is based on a 100-point scale.  The higher the score, the easier the document is to read.

Grade Level is based on average reading levels in the U.S. school system.

The readability score at the right is for my flash fiction piece “Freedom” (about 1000 words).  It’s told from Dave the trucker’s point of view, and you’ll notice that sentences are short, readability is a whopping 93.5, and it’s written at a Grade 1.7 level.  Dave is not a complicated guy.

Freedom, Too”, the companion piece told from Beth’s point of view, comes in at Grade 4.6. 

Another day, another 1000 words.  Just for contrast, here’s the score for a technical piece that one of my clients requested, describing the ramifications of the Privacy Act here in Alberta.  Trust me, you don’t want to have to wade through this puppy. 

(Disclaimer here:  As a technical writer, I usually write as simply as possible, but this one was full of polysyllabic legalese.  Kinda like those last two words.)

Conventional wisdom states that for most writing, you should aim for minimum readability of 60 to 70, at a Grade 7 to 8 level.  And yes, that includes non-fiction writers.  Despite the complexity of his concepts, Albert Einstein’s papers still clocked in at about a Grade 8 reading level.

How To Do It
Here’s how to get these little gems of wisdom in Microsoft Word (sorry, Mac users, Apple doesn’t consider this a priority.  Readability stats don’t exist in iWork at the moment.)

First, you have to set Word to show the readability stats (this is a one-time thing).

Step 1:
In Word 2003 and earlier, go to the Tools menu and choose Options; or 
In Word 2007, click on the round Office Button in the top left corner, and choose Word Options (lower right corner of box.); or
In Word 2010, click on the File tab and choose Options.

Step 2:
Click Proofing (this will be a tab in 2003 and earlier, or a menu selection in the left pane for 2007 and 2010).

Step 3:
Select the “Check grammar with spelling” checkbox.

Step 4:
Select the “Show readability statistics” checkbox.

After you have this set up, get your readability statistics by running your spell-checker through the entire document.  (I’m assuming everybody knows how to do this, if not, drop me a comment and I’ll do a post on it.)

Unfortunately, you do have to spell/grammar check the entire document before you get the stats.  When the check is complete, the readability window pops up automatically.

Hello, World

When a computer geek writes his/her very first program, it usually generates the following text: “Hello, World.”

Well, I’m a geek.  Go figure.

I’ve resisted blogging for some time now, but peer pressure is a terrible thing. I’ve lurked on several blogs for a while. Kristen Lamb  has never heard of me, but her RSS feeds keep nagging me to create a platform.

And I keep seeing flash fiction challenges.  That’s why I started this blog.  I want to play, too.

So here goes…