Building an Index = Catching Inconsistencies

Something I’ve discovered while working on the index for 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel, is numerous inconsistencies in the way I’ve used some words and phrases. Hyphenating, for example. Some places, I might have written “long term,” others, it might be “long-term.” Or I might have done the internet thing and made two words into one, such as “lifespan” in some places and “life span” in others. Sometimes I capitalized some words, and sometimes not, for example, Master Plan and master plan. I also discovered that I used variations of the same quote three times!

Technically, an editor should have caught these, but they slipped through just the same. So, when I’m using the find function on my PDF copy to make a list of page numbers for my index words and discover these, I stop and check proper spelling. Then I go back to my desktop publisher and correct them.

Style manuals, editors, and readers may disagree with me on some things, but at least I’ll be consistent!

Read-Through Time

Before I’m ready to order a printed proof of my book, I need to read through it several times to catch errors and problems. There are a lot of little details to catch, so each time through it, I read with a particular focus.

My first read-throughs are in the desktop publisher (DTP).

Read-through #1 is for text continuity. The DTP is where I build and format each page the way I want it to appear on a printed page. I’m working with text frames, image frames, caption frames, and page numbering, which means there is a lot of tweaking to get a pleasing balance of images, text, and white space. If it doesn’t fit on the page; cutting and pasting are required. Sometimes I have to reword several sentences to make the paragraph fit on the page. On occasion, something gets omitted or doubled. So the first read-through hopefully catches all that!

Read-through #2 focuses on small text details. Everything must be consistent. For example, sometimes I wrote 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, sometimes I wrote 5 Acres and A Dream The Book. Sometimes I miss italicizing a book title. I check to see if all paragraphs are correctly indented or not. A paragraph continuing on the next page is not indented, so I have to check. Are the temperature symbols all formatted the same?

Read-through #3 examines photo captions. These are written as the images are placed on the page, so I go back to check them for accuracy, spelling, and punctuation.

Read-through #4 checks citations. Is each one notated in the text with a superscript numeral? Are the endnotes and bibliography properly formatted?

Read-through #5 isn’t a technical read-through, but it checks page numbers so it’s a necessary go-through. A mistake means all the following page numbers must be corrected! I also make sure the page numbers in the table of contents are correct; also any pages I reference anywhere else in the text. This is the last read-through in the DTP.

The next read-through is after I export the manuscript as a PDF.

Read-through #6 is to look for key words for the index. It also serves as a double check for all of the above, but my mental focus is on keywords. I make a list of these in a text editor. When I’m done with the list, I go to the tools menu and select “sort” to put the list in alphabetical order.

Read-through #7 isn’t technically a read-through. It’s to go through each of the words on my keyword list, and using “find” on the PDF, make a list of all the page numbers for the index.

After the index is built and I know my exact page count for the book, I can request a cover template. Once the cover is done, it’s time to order my first printed proof copy.

Read-through #8 is with the printed proof. It’s amazing what you miss on a computer screen but catch on a printed page! This is also when I make notes of images that aren’t printing well. Corrections of both text and images are made in the DTP, and another proof is ordered.

Read-through #9 checks everything again!

Hopefully, everything is perfect by that point! But if it isn’t, I continue working the process until it is. Only then will I approve the book for publication.

Another AI Grammar Checker

I recently learned about another online grammar checker, ProWritingAid. I was curious as to how it compared to Grammarly, so I’ve been using the free versions of both for the last several chapters of my upcoming book. They both catch basic punctuation errors, extra spaces, misspelled words, and point out unnecessary wordiness. But there are also differences.

Grammarly dings me a lot on tautologies. In writing, a tautology is a phrase that uses two words which mean the same thing. For example: his own, widow woman, red color. In each example, one of the words in the phrase is redundant: own, woman, and color don’t explain anything and don’t add any new information.

Tautologies are easy to correct, but sometimes I’m using them for added emphasis. Such as when I’m trying to point out an idea or concept that had some significance to us. For example, the idea of Dan purchasing a tractor trailer to become “his own boss.” I think that packs a little more punch than either becoming “his boss” or “his own.” (Which begs the question, his own what?)

ProWritingAid ignores tautologies, but constantly points out my frequent use of passive rather than active verb construction. In active voice, the subject performs the action. In passive voice, the subject receives the action. Here’s an example from my writing: I wrote, “the old chimney was removed” (passive voice). Active voice would be, “he removed the old chimney.”

Apparently, passive voice is extremely annoying to some readers, hence the suggestions to change. I understand that, but since I’ve just picked this up in the last chapters, I think I’ll just have to leave most of it this go-round, especially since I’m not sure how to write active voice in past tense. I’ll have to research that in the future.

The thing that I dislike about both programs is being given a percentage grade and compared to other writers. That does not help me. That does not motivate me. I don’t want my writing to be on par with others, I want it to stand out with unique appeal. Neither program has impressed me on that score. I want my writing to be the best it can be, but I don’t want to sound like everyone else. If everyone accepted all of the recommended changes, then everyone would sound the same. No, thank you.

Another problem with grading my writing is when a chapter contains a quotes from other works. The quotes are from published books and have already been edited by a human. Yet AI wants to correct quotes and count those “errors” toward my writing “score.” The lesson learned here is not to include the quotes when I paste in the text to be proofread.

Actually, working with AI is similar to working with human editors. Each brings their own perspective to the table, and different editors focus on different things. Because I write non-fiction for a niche audience, I understand that the person doing the editing may or may not understand how I’m using particular words. I use the language of homesteaders, although I always take care to define unfamiliar terms for readers without a homesteading background. This has been why having last-say in my writing is important to me. I don’t want the meaning of my writing changed because the phrases and idioms aren’t understood.

Of the two AI grammar programs, I’ve had to learn how to use them. I’ve had to drop the tendency to feel like a scolded school child for low scores and take control for myself. It’s my writing, so I’m free to accept or reject their suggestions, and never mind what everyone else is doing. I am trying to do this with great care because I sincerely want to improve my writing. I just don’t want to lose my own voice, my own style, my own personality.

There. Three tautologies in a row, and I feel pretty good about it.