Critiquing Electronically

I’m not someone who jumps instantly for the latest and greatest thing. I don’t own an e-reader of any sort, my cellphone is a phone and camera, and that’s about it. And it’s taken me a while to really accept electronic editing.

I did a little bit of it when I was freelance editing. And I stick notes to myself into my writing all the time. But I still considered that I couldn’t read as “well” or as deeply on the computer, as I did with a paper manuscript and a pen.

I’m changing my mind. The shift happened when, with the edits for The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, I was on the other end of the feedback. All my edits, both developmental and copyediting, have come to me over email, in the file. Changes were marked with Word’s Track Changes feature, and all the editors have left nice, detailed, helpful comments in the margin, through Word’s Comment tool.

Putting the changes in was great. Not only was everything marked at the place where there was a problem, but I could read everything so easily–no trying to figure out whether a letter was an o or an a, no translating of entire words that I couldn’t read at first glance.

And lately I’ve been critiquing for other writers in the file, using these same tools. So far, it seems to be working great. Maybe it’s just taken me this long to be able to read deeply on a computer, but I don’t seem to be struggling to stay with the manuscript, and I’m not missing the feel of the pages in my hands. Actually, it just makes it a lot easier to be able to open up my laptop whenever I’ve got some work to do, rather than tote the messy, loose stack of 200+ pages around the house. Or to the coffeehouse.

The writers I’ve been doing this for seem happy with the results as well. I check with them first, just in case they hate the idea of not having my handwritten notes to think about. They all seem to prefer the in-file changes, probably because those handwritten notes have never been all that legible! And, really, they can work with the feedback on-screen, with their own computer, or they can get a print-out and read the notes on a hard-copy while they revise.

I think I’ve made the change. It feels good–yes, the trees can still get used up for the print-out (although with my new, two-sided printer, it’s only HALF the trees), but not always. My guess is the more we do this, the less we’ll need the hard copy to work from. And it means we can really critique back & forth with anyone we want–local or distant, without having to make that stop at the post office, with the big, heavy manuscript envelope. It’s widening our writing community at the same time as it tightens the connections we already have.

It’s going to make it easier to find critique partners and groups. And you know I think that’s a good thing.

So maybe an e-reader is a good thing, too? 🙂


  1. How funny that you should write this!

    I was just taking a break from editing “Secret of Undine” and referring to the comments you emailed me in Word. I LOVE working this way for the very reasons you mentioned. I always know exactly where I am and the notes are completely legible. And since I’m working off of electronic comments from two people, it’s SO much easier than negotiating stacks of paper.

    But, I still don’t think I’m ready to read all my books this way. Not yet, anyway.


    • beckylevine says:

      Oh, I’m glad it’s working for you. I just did two this month for one of my local crit partners, and she says it’s good, too. No, really, I’m not ready to read for pleasure electronically, although I’ve promised my sis-in-law to really try out her Kindle when we’re there next. She loves it.


  2. Shawna says:

    I don’t like to edit any other way. I take that back. When I’m proof reading my own copy, I love to print it out and break out the pen (Ok, I use a pencil) but when I’m critiquing, giving and receiving, I love Word’s tracking.

    Can you use word on an E-reader? Yes, I am that tech-slow. : )That would be the push I need to purchase one.


    • beckylevine says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure about revising my own work–I think I’d get too caught up in the words and not enough in the deep changes. It’d work, though, I think for the last couple of read-throughs, maybe?

      I don’t know for sure. Are all these agents/editors who are reading submissions on e-readers converting to PDF first? OR are they putting Word files on? Can you mark it up?


  3. P. J. Hoover says:

    I love the electronic comments, etc, when critiquing. I can read and comment, and email a file to someone so they can see EXACTLY where I lost focus or there the backstory occurred. All that fun stuff!


    • beckylevine says:

      PJ, How do you like working with the electronic comments in your stuff, when they come back to you?


  4. Amy says:

    I’ve been doing electronic edits with friends for years, but always using an informal system of our own. Must give Word’s Track Changes function a try! Thanks for the tip.


  5. Claudine says:

    Oh, no! I’m a dinosaur! I don’t like the computer edits. I had a friend do about 10 pages for me and I couldn’t figure it out. Too many little underlines, commas etc etc. Or maybe I shouldn’t have made so many mistakes! ha!


    • beckylevine says:

      Well, I was a dinosaur just a few months ago. The tracking changes features can be tricky to follow. But have you tried the Comments? 🙂


  6. What an interesting way to edit. I currently use InDesign, which means only someone with that program can read the file unless I make it a .pdf. However, I know there are ways to create a Word document from a .pdf file now, so I may be doing some conversions in the future to try this new way of editing digitally. Thanks for the tip!


    • beckylevine says:


      I haven’t heard of InDesign. I’ve been talking to people in online groups who use Google Doc (Docs?) as well–more to explore! 🙂


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