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Microsoft Word revision – the best solution yet

Yesterday I took delivery of a Microsoft Surface Tablet, yes the cheaper one running the cut-down Windows RT that the tech press have largely been so rude about. I’ll write about it in some detail later but it’s clear to me already that the tech press have got the wrong end of the stick here. You only have to read what real people – actual users – are saying about the thing to understand this.

A quick play with the Surface has made me re-examine the way I revise my own work. This is a crucial process for me, one I’m trying to refine as much as possible. Since I abandoned paper for digital editing a while back the system has come down to a two-part process. First I export a manuscript file to pdf. Then I read it and mark it up on my Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, using the digitiser pen. After that I pull the pdf back into the computer and go through the revisions line by line against the original Word file.

You can scribble notes and amendments in Word if you have a digitiser laptop. I’ve tried this before and never enjoyed it. Word doesn’t handle ink terribly well, even in the latest Office 2013 Windows beta which is what I’ll be writing about here. It’s fiddly and worst of all I hated the job of trying to deal with ink annotations in the same page I was working on. The side-by-side approach of a pdf on the left and a manuscript on the right seemed to work much better.

But what if you could handle that much more proficiently inside Word itself, without the fuss of a pdf export? It can be done and here I’ll show you. I’ve pulled the final version of The Killing into the Surface and scribbled a few bits on it to give me something to work with. The Surface automatically syncs the revised version back to Skydrive from the tablet when I’m done. So I simply open the same file within Word on my desktop to see the ink annotations.

What we’re going to do now is set up the computer so that you can see a version of the manuscript with the ink on one side of the screen and one with a clean copy, free of annotations, on the other for the actual editing. And to make things even easier I’m going to set these two versions of the same document to keep in visual sync as I work through the manuscript, so scrolling one also scrolls the other at the same time.

First go to View and choose New Window. This will give you a new window with the same document in it. I always edit in Print view but without headers – you can get rid of them and page breaks just by double clicking the gap between pages (don’t try this or anything else here on the Mac because it may not work by the way).

new window

Now choose View Side by Side (if you can’t see this in the ribbon you may need to widen the window). Your two takes on the same document should now appear next to each other. Make sure the lines align and that they both have the same view. Then select Synchronous Scrolling.

side by side sync scroll

Now turn off the markup for the window in which you want to edit.

no markup

All the ink in that window will disappear. It’ll stay in the other one and you can scroll through both documents through a single scroll bar, editing as you go along like this.

Both pages

Before you deliver your manuscript you will want to get rid of all that ink of course. I can’t see a delete all scribbles button. But you can do this through Inspect Document in the File Menu. The first option here will get rid of all comments and annotations leaving you with a clean, finished document.

inspector remove ink

For me this looks better than messing round with a marked-up pdf, which has to be scrolled separately to keep it in in place. It lets me sit on a train or plane and read and scribble on the very document I’m working on without any fuss. Then when I get back to the desk or the laptop the results are there already.

I need to play with inking on the tablet and Word a bit more to find out how useful that will be. I’ve always been of the opinion in the past that you need a proper digitiser pen for mark-up. The Surface RT just has the usual finger-style stylus we know and rarely love from the iPad on. With a fine red line it’s actually quite visible for personal mark-up. The logjam is Word itself which still handles the pen clumsily – and does even with a digitiser tablet. Microsoft have work to do here.

But this is for personal mark-up and I’m less fussy there because most of the time I know what my own scribbles mean. I’ve doubts whether the Surface has the accuracy to manage mark-up for professional revision for other people, say with typeset documents. But I’ll be checking in the days to come.

Expect some more thoughts on the Surface in a little while. For now let me just say… I’m impressed. On eBay, with a type cover from John Lewis, and a micro SD card to take the storage up to 64gb, the whole thing cost me £445. About the same as a 32gb iPad 3 with a keyboard too, and much more usable for work.

The tech press may not be impressed. But I am.

25 thoughts on “Microsoft Word revision – the best solution yet

  1. Malcolm Coad

    Fascinating post – thanks very much. It does look as though the Surface may be the best tablet option for those who want to keep their tool box to an absolute minimum and are able and willing to do stay in the Windows version of Office to achieve it. But for those unhappy with that prospect, it may be useful to point out that Mac and iOS users can easily do most of this, despite the lack of a Word iOS app. There are several options for marking up PDFs on an iPad – Smile Software’s PDFPen is especially good (even with a stylus and on an iPad Mini, I’ve found). And there’s a slew of iPad apps – office suites and others – designed to read, edit or mark up Word docs, with synchronization through Dropbox, iCloud or Skydrive. One at least, Office2 HD, even keeps full Word tracking. If you’re so inclined, you can even go online with the iPad and run Office directly (horrible thought, imo, but an option).

    Anyone wishing to read more about this may find these useful:

    • Yes as I’ve written here before you can mark up PDFs on an iPad (and Android tablets too). I wouldn’t fancy opening a 212K Word file in any of the cut down Office clones for either though, and even if you could you wouldn’t be able to draw annotations in any I’m aware of. The point of the post is that with the Surface you can do this without going the PDF route and accomplish everything inside Word itself. And the synchronised scrolling makes life an awful lot easier too.

      • Malcolm Coad

        Couldn’t agree more about the twin view and synchronised scrolling. I can see why such features make the Office 2013-Surface package appealing. Handwritten annotations on the tablet, however crude at the moment, are another. Good to see Microsoft finally scoring with such things after a very long haul, rather than by default because of its domination of publishers’ offices. In Mellel on the Mac, for example, a somewhat Scrivener-like outline in a side panel has been available for a long time. But no-one seems to provide the twinned views (except Scrivener itself, of course).

        (Maybe MS will get round to doing something about that eternally depressing interface now – that messy ribbon over which your eyes wander glassily and the awful font with its little underlined capitals. Sorry, the Mac user in me couldn’t resist that…)

        Re the iPad apps I mentioned, some are actually rather good. Office2 HD (or Doc2 HD, the word-processing component) in particular is very elegant, and its typed annotation/tracking feature well up to par. It’s more a standalone app that jives well with Word than a simple clone. The more heavily formatted the docs are, the more errors creep in when translated to or from Word, but for manuscript text there’s little to fear. The hardest of these apps to use are those most closely modelled on Word itself, like Docs Unlimited. This, btw, does allow handwritten mark-up and annotation, but it’s sluggish. No word processor seems to do that well yet. But PDFPen is so relatively good at it – beats the proverbial out of Word 2013, from your description – that it’s still worth taking that route, imo, especially given that even in your scheme you still have to translate changes by hand from one window to another.

        Apols, I know you’ve abandoned the Mac ship and your point was to underline how much can now be done in Word alone, which is certainly attractively minimalist and very interesting to hear. I hope you’ll forgive me plugging away at these other points, which may be of interest to the less decided.

  2. CTS

    It seems like you are asymptotically heading towards the Surface Pro, which will combine a capacitive touch screen with the features you like in the RT. Battery life is a question mark, as is price, but given what you’ve dropped on tablets, perhaps the latter will not faze you.

    I enjoy these posts.

    • Actually I’m not. From what I’ve read it’s twice the price and really only adds the digitiser pen which would be nice but not worth £400. Also it’s heavier. If you just use Office this is just fine.

      • CTS

        The imminent Thinkpad Tablet 2 looks to be priced between the RT and the Pro, and will have full Windows 8 & digitizer pen. Anyway, there are lots of good options–thanks for alerting us to them.

  3. Justin Williams

    Malcolm – Office 2HD? You are kidding, right? That app is the biggest pile of crap I have ever had the misfortune to use and was the main reason that I gave up trying to get the iPad to work like a serious device. I lost a 4,000 word document for an important client using that junk – its Dropbox/Skydrive/Google Drive integration is dangerously flaky.
    Don’t take my word for it. Just read the reviews on the App Store – it’s totally unreliable.

    • Malcolm Coad

      Yep, three bad user reviews – and a four-star-out-of-five review by Joe Kissell, one of the savviest Mac writers around (which I suppose makes him not a real person…though as an ex-journo myself, I really must take exception…yadder, yadder…). I read them all, tried several alternatives, stuck with Docs2HD, and it’s been as smooth as silk – including a 100,000-word novel. You call it as you find it.

      Let’s turn this round. Like David, I like to revise and mark up on a tablet, and by hand if possible. Tablets seem made for this, the ideal tool for it. Ideally I’d like to be able to do it in the same programme the text is in, as David describes so well. However, the only option for this is Word, which on the Surface just about allows you to make a scrawl or two. On the iPad, though, there’s PDFPen which is specifically made for hand marking – a beautiful, exquisitely thought-out app which works completely with you, makes a stubby stylus feel like silk, and even has a gallery of proof-reading marks included for easy insertion. It’s a pleasure to use and one of those many apps which makes such utter nonsense of the claim that the iPad is unsuitable for real work.

      So, which do I go for? It depends what is most important to me, the twin view or the ease and comfort of the mark-up. What I don’t do is conclude that the Surface is useless crap because the app I like isn’t available for it, or another one glitches.

      Still intrigued by everything David is saying about the new Word, though… Worth buying a cheapo PC for, or wait until Crossover is ready for it on the Mac? Might the sky fall in…? Just might, I’m thinking…

      • Well I’d take the experience of someone who’s used something over the ‘review’ of a journalist given a free copy and just played with it any day.

        It’s not just those three reviews by the way. All the ones for the word processor alone are equally damning.

        If you look at those you’ll see someone saying they lost data four times through it.

        Not sure but I doubt O2013 will work in Crossover by the way – you will probably need a full copy of Windows in something like Parallels for that.

        • Malcolm Coad

          There are three more reviews there. The user who says he lost data four times admits it was because he didn’t save his changes (the app doesn’t have autosave) and concludes “if you can remember to save then it’s not a bad app.” Another says it synchs “decently well” with Dropbox but that there were issues with formatting changing, and concludes that if you remember to go over the formatting on the computer at the end – which should be normal procedure at the last stage anyway – “this app should work fine.” The other says it crashes when he tracks changes, which might or might not be a local glitch.

          This is “damning” criticism? Not over-the-moon enthusiasm, I admit – but “damning”?

          In general I agree about user and press reviews. But the former need to be taken with caution as well – as shown especially with the first, and longest, of the above. There are many reasons for glitching, and not all are intrinsic to the app. Not to mention the continuing scandal over planted Amazon reviews, positive and negative.

          But I don’t have any special candle to bear for this app. In the end it’s a workround due to the peculiarly dominant position of Word and Microsoft’s not unrelated policy of not making it for iOS. Such solutions are never going to be ideal, and there are others which are more tried and trusted. But personally I’m not about to abandon the platform I’m most comfortable with, and which has so many other advantages, because of one programme. Even if it is the mighty Word.

          You’re right, we’ll have to see about Crossover. The dev told me it’s not ready for Word 2013 yet. But the previous versions work fine with it, apparently, even if not hitting the dev’s highest efficiency rating. Otherwise, yes, a virtual environment…but the great thing about Crossover is that it avoids this.

      • CTS

        PDF Pen may be “made for” hand marking, but it’s limited by the iPad’s touch interface. See David’s discussion of the Galaxy Note 10.

        To summarize David’s excellent posts:
        1. iPad lets you mark up exported pdf’s but is limited by the touch interface.
        2. Galaxy Note 10 allows for much finer hand annotations, also using exported pdf’s. Superior to iPad, therefore.
        3. Surface RT lets you mark up Word files directly, though it has a touch interface like the iPads.

        So far he likes the tradeoffs of option 3 the best.

        • Malcolm Coad

          Sure, it’s all about tradeoffs – horses for courses. If there’s one thing that is overwhelmingly important to you, then it makes the choice easier, but this is rarely the case. Personally, I do so much on a tablet that I can’t reduce the choice to your No. 2 option, for example, however important this is to me. In the same way, I can’t reduce my computer or tablet use, or even my writing workflow, simply to Word and One Note, however attractive this minimalism is – and it is, in principle. Given that overall picture, the Mac and iPad remain way superior for me.

        • Exactly, and I tried to differentiate between pen markup for myself on a manuscript and markup of a professional typeset page for others. There’s more leeway on the former and I’m inclined to think the Surface RT can handle that very well using Word directly. I haven’t had time to try it on a galley yet and I’m going to fiddle with a new stylus first.

          Nothing beats a good digitiser pen. But it needs to be married to good software, which isn’t always the case. For example the built-in Win 8 Reader app is great with a digitiser pen except you can’t change the colour of the pen, which makes it useless for publishing where a red pen is needed.

          I will play with this for a while before coming to any final judgement. But just the fact the Surface runs real Word, not a copy, and works directly with the actual document files makes a huge difference for me. Clearly others will feel differently. Whatever works…

  4. I don’t have an interest right now in marking up my manuscript digitally (I think I still prefer paper) but I am totally intrigued by what David has done here. I don’t use my iPad for serious work and I suspect that will remain true while the word processors for it are underpowered. David, I always appreciate your thoughts on technology, I think your blog is a must-read.

  5. Hugh

    In the last few days I’ve been trying out the Adonit Jot Pro, designed as a more precise stylus for capacitative screens (and therefore perhaps of use for mark-up on the iPad or the MS Surface). It’s quite a lot more accurate than a finger or the more frequently found blunt-headed styluses, but in my experience it’s (not yet) as good as a stylus plus a digitiser (such as a Wacom tablet has – and also, I understand from David’s previous posts, the Samsung Note). According to some reviews, the Adonit is adversely affected by the nature of certain screen protectors, and dirt in its tip; I haven’t found that yet. (There are, apparently, cures for both those problems). Since buying the Adonit, I’ve heard of the Gosmart stylus, which looks quite flimsy, but which one review claims is better still. Contrary to one of the blessed Steve’s commandments, styluses for tablets appear to have a future.

  6. Malcolm Coad

    I’ve read good things about the Adonit Pro, but also that the noise made by the little round transparent tip as it hits and drags across the screen can be annoying, and that it can easily get broken off. Have you found either of these problems?

    If anyone actually prefers the blunt kind (hard to imagine) or needs one for drawing, I’ve found the Just Mobile Alu-Pen to be surprisingly nifty ( It seems a bit counterintuitive to say so, as the whole point of the design is that it’s short and thick, like a crayon, rather than penlike. But it’s very well balanced between the fingers and I’ve found that this shape – which some ergonomists say is more natural for a tablet – actually allows finer control than a mock pen.

    But I’m with David – a digitizer pen with good software is the ideal. You’d have thought the much vaunted design experts at Apple might have been all over this. Now they’ve got half the world tapping way on tablets of one brand or another, hopefully they’ll realise that mere finger touch is not all.

  7. Hugh

    Malcolm, nothing has broken so far – although I’ve only had the stylus a few days. The tip does appear fragile, and so use of the screw cap provided is doubtless important.

    As far as noise is concerned, yes, there is an audible click when stylus connects with screen, although the packaging on mine proclaimed ‘Now with Sound Dampening Tip’. But the click isn’t particularly loud or annoying, and there is no dragging sound as I write (though possibly that’s partly a function of the screen protector I’ve applied, which is a Belkin).

    I’m more concerned that the device will develop the skipping that some have reported, which if sustained would of course render it useless. No sign of that as yet, but as a precaution I also bought (wait for it – intense geekery coming up!) a tube of Arctic Silver Thermal Paste, which apparently if applied in a minute amount inside (not outside) the cup of the tiny transparent plastic disc, restores capacitive efficiency within the tip and stops skipping. As I wrote above, the brand and make of the screen protector is reported also to be important. According to Adonit’s website, I seem to remember, the stylus won’t function with some protectors (but I prefer a screen protector, given the risk of scratching).

    • Thermal Paste??? Blimey. I think I’d have to go back to a pen. :-) The Dagi version with the moving tip doesn’t do any of that. Will report back on the newer version Dagi when it turns up.

    • Malcolm Coad

      Intense indeed, Hugh! All that plus a microscope, no doubt, to apply the stuff… Very useful comments – thanks to both. The Dagi looks a tad more promising, so looking forward to David’s next instalment. Then off to Taiwan for some shopping…

  8. Hugh

    Yes, I’ll be interested in hearing from David about the newer Dagi (the business end of the older one looks very similar to the Adonit’s). If the Adonit fails for me, I may also try the Gosmart. Tickling the screen with something that looks like a tiny metal detector (lubricated of course with Arctic White Thermal Paste) doesn’t have quite the same degree of cool as marking up pages with a Sheaffer or Waterman fuelled with Mr Noodler’s best Apache Sunset red ink – but maybe that’s progress…

  9. Malcolm Coad

    Indeed. And I doubt you’ll get the digital equivalent from the likes of Samsung, Android or even Apple. Never mind. Maybe they’ll let you mix your own…

  10. Quickoffice pro HD for Ipad includes track changes functionality that’s compatible with Word’s track changes. So you can open a document in there, add comments, make changes, and then integrate them in the same document on your computer (I use dropbox for the sync).
    QuickOffice pro HD for android doesn’t seem to support track changes yet.

  11. tu

    Thanks for sharing, interesting post. I use a Word ink / pen and tablet / laptop combination for work and I love it, but have not yet used synchronised scroll before, so will try that. Have also just bought a tablet so that will be my next leap…

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