We all have weaknesses. Some people want to deny their imperfections, but most of us do what we can to overcome them.
Like many writers, one of my weaknesses is my inability to interpret my words the way a reader does. That’s not unusual. We know what we meant to say, so it’s easy to overlook how our word choice or sentence structure might lead to misperceptions or confusion in others.
I try to overcome that issue by using multiple beta readers. Each of my beta readers finds different things in my work, so their group effort gives me more information than I get from looking at their feedback separately. Just as a group of bees can turn nectar into honey, my beta readers’ notes together provide deep insights into the story and characters beyond their surface comments. (Yes, I love my beta readers, can you tell? *smile*)
Overwhelmed by Comments from Beta Readers?
On my latest work-in-progress (WIP), they gave me a total of about 1000 comments. Believe it or not, that didn’t send me off crying in the corner, because I genuinely love getting feedback that will make my work better. However, having multiple beta readers means I have to juggle several MS Word documents to see all their comments at once.
My solution? The MS Word “Combine” function. Cheryl Reif’s recent post about MS Word tips and tricks reminded me that I hadn’t shared this technique on my blog yet.
Where to Find the Combine Function in MS Word
All my beta readers use “Track Changes” and “Comments” within MS Word. These settings can be found under the “Review” menu.
Some of you might be familiar with the “Compare” function within MS Word, which is also under the Review menu. This function is an easy way to compare one version of a document with another. See tip number seven on Cheryl’s post for more about Compare.
The Combine function is related to the Compare function. In fact, Combine is found under Compare in the Review menu.
How the Combine Function Helps Us Dig Deeper
So what can we do with the Combine function? We can collate all the comments and changes from our beta readers into one document.
Now, instead of clicking between multiple feedback documents, I have just one document where I can see every tracked change, every highlight, and every comment from all my beta readers. In addition, I can easily see if one section gets comments from multiple readers.
If two or more readers come back with a note about how they’re confused by a sentence or paragraph, we know we have a problem. If two or more readers make comments about the pacing of a section, we know we have work to do. This organization makes it easier to judge what changes should be made.
How to Use the Combine Function
The trickiest part is that combining all these documents requires several steps. The Combine function lets us combine two documents at once, so we have to go through the process multiple times, once for each beta reader to integrate their changes into a master copy.
1. From the Review menu, go into Compare, and then select Combine. This will bring up the Combine dialog box.
2. Under Original Document, select Browse, and find the original document you sent to your beta readers. (The emails you sent to your beta readers would have this version if you didn’t keep it.)
3. Under Revised Document, select Browse, and find the first beta feedback document.
4. If you want MS Word to pick up highlighting in addition to tracked changes and comments, make sure Formatting is checked (under the More>> button).
5. Under Show Changes, select New Document to specify how to combine them.
6. Then click “OK.”
7. MS Word will create a new document showing all the changes. Use “Save As” to save this new document as something like “Combined Beta Notes.”
8. Select Combine again, this time use “Combined Beta Notes” as your Original Document (i.e., the document you just made that has the changes from the first beta reader).
9. Pick the next beta reader’s document for the Revised Document selection.
10. Make sure Formatting is still checked, and this time, under Show Changes, select Original Document.
11. Click “OK.”
12. Save it under the same name. Now this document is the original plus the changes from the first two beta readers.
Repeat steps 8 through 12 as needed to combine the notes from all beta readers, saving it under the same name each time. Once all beta reader changes and comments have been saved to the “Combined Beta Notes” document, we can easily get through all the necessary editing in one pass. I usually “Reject” each comment or change after I make the edits in my master WIP document so I can see what issues I have left to address.
Multiple Beta Readers Allow Us to See Deeper
Because of this technique, I can see where my beta readers agree, pointing out where I definitely need to address an issue. In the example I inserted above, two of my readers thought the heroine’s emotions swung too quickly in a scene. Since I knew what my heroine was thinking, I might have ignored the comment if just one of my beta readers had said something. However, the presence of two comments tells me not to ignore it.
After digging deeper, I found a few words a couple of paragraphs earlier that probably led my readers to think she was more pissed than she really was. Oops. *blush* I never would have realized the perception I’d accidentally created without this method for combining my readers’ comments.
Other times, we might get comments with opposite feedback. In that case, we have to figure out whether it’s a confusion issue (and we have to make our meaning clearer), a perception issue (and we have to tweak our word choice), or something else. Sometimes our beta readers want a story to go one way and we’ve made it go a different way. When that happens, maybe we need to “sell” our version of the story better to get readers to buy into it more fully.
No matter how we use beta readers, if we have multiple readers with multiple feedback documents, we’ll have a clearer picture of their perceptions if we can see all their comments at once. The Combine function makes this easy.
Do you use multiple beta readers? What benefits do you see in having multiple beta readers? What negatives do you see? Have you ever used the Combine function before? Will this help you organize your editing? Do you have any other tips to share?
P.S. In case you missed it, I posted an April Fool’s Day surprise on Sunday. My Tech Guy made a special appearance as Sméagol from Lord of the Rings reading The Hunger Games. Enjoy!
Photo credit: LurietePin It