How to be a Computer-based Beta Reader

Please excuse another post off the Tuesday/Thursday schedule.

From August 22 to August 31, I’ll be without ready access to the internet and I need guest bloggers! If you would like to be a guest, contact me by Thursday, August 21, with your guest post. Guidelines here. If I don’t use your post that week, don’t worry. I’ll definitely use it later and will notify you the week I use it.

Now that we’re all connected using Crit Partner Match (if you haven’t joined, you should!), it occurred to me that many of us are computer-based beta readers, which can be a monumental task. So today’s tidbit will provide useful tricks in Microsoft Word 2003 to help you become a more efficient and productive beta reader. If you use a different program, comment with your reviewing hints to help your compatriots.

First: What is a beta reader?

I’ll admit to not knowing what this term meant even a year ago. A beta reader is the new term for a critique partner, it seems to me, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Wikipedia states that a beta reader is a reader who looks over a written work with a “critical eye with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general style of a story prior to its release to the general public.”

Some beta readers do more than others. Some refuse to edit your grammar, because that’s basic stuff. Others will get so nitpicky you’ll want to tear your hair out. So make sure to discuss your writing and editing styles with whomever you pair up with (and this can be a one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many relationship).

In comparison, the alpha reader is the writer or author of the written work.

Now onto the editing.

Microsoft Word 2003 is the software I’ll talk about today because it’s the one I have the most expertise in. For the record, Word 2007 has the same features, but the buttons to use them are in different locations (the ribbon).

Track Changes: Deletion

Sometimes when you’re reading through the work, you have to delete a sentence or paragraph. But how do you do this so the alpha reader knows the change you made? There’s this awesome module called Track Changes that will note every change you’ve made to the document by adding a sidenote that you can hide or show at will. See an example screenshot. To use Track Changes, do the following:

  1. Click View » Toolbars » Reviewing in the menu bar. This will give you a new toolbar that gives you the option to make comments, track changes, and highlight.
  2. Click the little icon that looks like a piece of lined paper with a tiny sun in the top left corner and a pencil in the bottom right on top of it. If you hover your mouse a little tooltip should appear saying “Track changes.” This is what you want.
  3. Now, any change you make to the document will be recorded.
  4. If you don’t want to see the tracked changes, you can click the Show button which allows you to select what is visible and what is hidden.
  5. If you hit Track Changes again, it will stop recording all your actions after you hit the icon. It does not get rid of the changes you made previous to hitting the icon, however, so don’t freak out.

Track Changes: Rewording, Reorganizing, Adding text

Follow the same steps as the Track Changes: Deletion section. Tracking the changes will also note any additions you make, and I think will also note if you move something. Maybe. If it doesn’t, then you always have the option to comment.

Commenting on the Work

This is my new favorite toy in Word 2003/2007. Using the same Reviewing toolbar, you can comment whatever text you’ve selected with your mouse. It adds a rounded rectangular bubble to the right of the page with a line to the text that you selected for the comment. See an example screenshot. To comment, do the following:

  1. Click View » Toolbars » Reviewing in the menu bar. This will give you a new toolbar that gives you the option to make comments, track changes, and highlight.
  2. Click the little icon that looks like a yellow/tan-colored Post-it note with a tiny sun in the top left corner. If you hover your mouse over the icon, a little tooltip should appear saying “Insert Comment.” This is what you want.
  3. Now, a bubble should appear to the right of your text, with a blinking cursor.
  4. Type your thought.
  5. When you’re done, click outside of the bubble. Now, if you hover over the text you selected to comment, you should see the bubble highlight itself. You might also see the text from your comment hovering above the text…it depends on how you do it.

The really neat thing about this is that if someone else opens the same document with your comments on their computer, and they start to add comments, Word will tell there is a difference. To account for this difference, the colors of the comment bubbles will change depending on the computer/owner of the Word program.

You can also navigate through the document based on previous/next comment. Pretty cool, huh?

10 thoughts on “How to be a Computer-based Beta Reader

  1. Actually my own understanding is that beta readers and crit partners are different beasts. Some of this may be simply how my own CP and I work together, but a CP is someone who’s there through the entire process. They help you brainstorm, critique your scenes and chapters, often as they come. A beta reader, on the other hand, is someone who reads a completed manuscript–they’re your test subjects who will, as you say, read with a critical eye to improving the work. Certainly in the long run CPs perform beta reader functions, but that’s not all they do. Thanks again for another plug for CPM :D!

    Like

  2. Actually my own understanding is that beta readers and crit partners are different beasts. Some of this may be simply how my own CP and I work together, but a CP is someone who’s there through the entire process. They help you brainstorm, critique your scenes and chapters, often as they come. A beta reader, on the other hand, is someone who reads a completed manuscript–they’re your test subjects who will, as you say, read with a critical eye to improving the work. Certainly in the long run CPs perform beta reader functions, but that’s not all they do. Thanks again for another plug for CPM :D!

    Like

  3. Thanks for pointing out the difference, Kathleen. Both roles are equally important, and it seems to me as though writers tend to want one more than the other. This usually depends on the phase the written work is in…for instance, you’ll need a critique partner as you brainstorm a new work, but as you get to the second and third drafts, you’ll need a beta reader to address overall concerns.

    So would you say a beta reader is a subset of a critique partner?

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  4. Thanks for pointing out the difference, Kathleen. Both roles are equally important, and it seems to me as though writers tend to want one more than the other. This usually depends on the phase the written work is in…for instance, you’ll need a critique partner as you brainstorm a new work, but as you get to the second and third drafts, you’ll need a beta reader to address overall concerns.

    So would you say a beta reader is a subset of a critique partner?

    Like

  5. It was my fanfic-ing friend who told me about beta reading in the first place, so that makes complete sense! Do you know the history behind the term, Zoe?

    Like

  6. It was my fanfic-ing friend who told me about beta reading in the first place, so that makes complete sense! Do you know the history behind the term, Zoe?

    Like

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