Editing: Terms and citations in long documents

July 28, 2009

Do you have a long document to edit online? Perhaps an academic thesis, a scientific report, a government document — one with long lists of terms and references, as well as citations throughout the document for those references.

One of the difficulties in checking terms and citations against their respective lists in long documents is the painful process of moving around the document — you’re forever flipping from one end of the document to the other, then trying to get back to where you were up to in the editing process. Yes, there are techniques to minimize this, but they aren’t entirely satisfactory.

One method is to use Word’s ‘highlighter pen’ to mark up all the terms and citations as you’re editing, then come back and check them with another pass (or two) over the document. But this takes quite a bit of time, especially on a large document. And you’re forever grabbing the highlighter tool to add highlighting, then to remove it after you’ve checked the term/citation. (See Add/remove highlighting with the keyboard for a quicker way than the toolbar icon.)

If you use the method I describe below, you can speed up the process and do the checks as you edit the document.

NOTE: This method is most effective if you have two or more monitors or one very wide monitor.

Create your supplementary documents

  1. Open the large Word document.
  2. Find the list of terms and copy it.
  3. Paste the list of terms into a new document (e.g. terms.doc).
  4. Highlight all the terms in the terms.doc document and save the document. Do not close it — move it to the other monitor.
  5. Go back to the main document, find the list of references, copy it, then paste it into another new document (e.g. refs.doc). Again, highlight the entire list of references in the refs.doc document, then move this document to the other monitor too.

You should now have three Word documents open — the main (long) document, and two much shorter documents (terms.doc and refs.doc). The two small documents should be fully highlighted.

What you’re going to do as you’re editing is remove the highlighting for any term or citation you find that matches one in the relevant list.

Check off the found terms and citations

  1. Start editing the document as you normally would.
  2. As you come to a term (abbreviation, acronym etc.) in the main document, check if it’s in the terms.doc list.
  3. If it is, remove the highlight from that term. At this stage you ARE NOT checking the correctness of the definition — just whether the term is listed in the terms list or not. (See below for tips to deal with terms that aren’t in the list.)

    Remove highlight from found terms

    Remove highlight from found terms

  4. Do the same for any citations you come across — check that the item is in the refs.doc and remove the highlight if it is.

    Remove highlight from found terms

    Remove highlight from found references

  5. By the end of editing the main document, you should have few, if any, highlighted terms or references left in their respective documents.
  6. If you have no highlights, you’re now ready to check the two smaller documents for their accuracy (i.e. check all definitions are correct, check all references are formatted according to house style, etc.)
  7. Once you’ve completed step 6, copy and paste the two lists back into the main document, overwriting the existing lists. And you’re done!

Things that can go awry

  • Term in main document is not in the terms list:  Add it to terms.doc and perhaps highlight it in another color if you think you won’t pick it up later (unlikely as you will go through the terms list verifying the definitions later anyway). You may need to add the definition (if you have it), or alert the author that the definition is missing.
  • Citation in main document is not in reference list: Alert author to it; it’s their responsibility to make sure the reference is included, or to delete the citation if it’s no longer applicable.
  • Term is still highlighted in terms.doc:  Do a Find (Ctrl+F) just in case you missed it. If it’s really not there, alert author to it for possible deletion from terms list.
  • Reference is still highlighted in refs.doc:  Do a Find (Ctrl+F) just in case you missed it. If it’s really not there, alert author to it for possible deletion from reference list, or as a reminder that they may have forgotten to add a citation.

[Links last checked October 2009]


  1. […] documents, making sure that all terms used in the document are captured in the Terms list, and that all references cited are listed in the References list. Having two monitors helps enormously with this task. About the author: Rhonda Bracey has been […]

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