Comic genius

I’m currently working on a progress report for a collaboration that spans multiple projects and sub-projects. As usual I copied the final version of my last report to a new folder, then renamed it “DRAFT April 2012 report.doc” and started to update it, starting with the easiest sections. In the past I’ve kept track of which sections I’ve already updated by highlighting the entire copied document and removing the highlighting as I edit; this method is efficient, but somewhat hard on the eyes, as is any change of text colour that is obvious enough to detect immediately.

But today, I was hit by a stroke of genius: I changed the entire document into Comic Sans and am now gradually converting it back into my favoured Georgia 11 font, updated section by updated section.

This tactic not only reduces the eye strain caused by large blocks of highlighted or brightly coloured text, but also strongly motivates me – through the extreme ugliness of Comic Sans – to work as quickly and efficiently as possible. In fact, this motivation is strong enough to overcome the perfectionist “must get it right in the first draft” tendencies that usually slow me down.

Genius, I tells ya!

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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12 Responses to Comic genius

  1. Kate Adamson says:

    I am so going to steal this approach! It is indeed genius!

  2. Comic Sans is, I am reliably informed, The Font Of Champions (TM).

    (according to

    I do something similar when dropping sections of existing documents into a new one. Typically I leave existing as whatever it was (usually Arial), or whatever default font Word likes to put new text in (Calibri or something) and then change to some other font (Times New Roman, typically) as things get modified. I do use the yellow highlighting trick too.

  3. Laurence Cox says:

    If you are using Microsoft Word (almost any vintage) there is the option to track changes. This puts your new text in a different colour to your old text. Where you delete old text you can still see it but it is shown as struck through (just like a proofreader would do). You can also pass it to someone else for editing and their changes will appear in a third colour. There is a similar feature in Open Office (and probably in the newer Libre Office) if you use these.

    There is also the (very useful) Comment feature in Word, which allows you to put in as much text as you want in the form of a comment that does not disturb the normal reading of the text but can be opened up by another reader. This is also in Open Office.

    But you are right about one thing. Comic Sans is really ugly.

  4. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Kate, I hope it works as well for you as it is for me!

    Richard, I’m disappointed to hear that my idea is not original! Although the motivation-due-to-ugly-fonts may be novel.

    No love for Georgia?

    Laurence, I use track changes all the time and find it very useful in many different circumstances, but this is not one of them – too distracting! (The old method of highlighting deletions and additions in the right margin rather than in-lining them was much better IMO). It’s not so bad when I’m the only one editing the document, but a recent grant proposal with multiple contributors ended up with five or six different colours of tracked changes, rendering it almost completely unreadable – I had to edit it in “final” rather than “final showing markup” mode, and so couldn’t tell whose changes I was undoing – sometimes a tricky political issue, believe it or not!

    After a massively collaborative grant is submitted, do the PIs involved always agree to try using Google Docs or something similar next time? Yes, they do. Does this ever actually happen? No, it doesn’t.

  5. bean-mom says:

    Wow, that does sound like a good idea, Cath. I hate Comic Sans.

  6. Silver Fox says:

    I didn’t know there was a way to automatically turn the font red for added sections/words and use strikeout on deleted portions, so once did that by hand for a long draft I was editing. It was impossible to read, but my boss wanted it (sodid it and kept my own clean copy).

    I have red fonted (new verb) changes – or sections I know need to be changed – for some time, and have used blue for things I know I need to look up (or stars and questions marks surrounding everything).

    Highlighting is pretty hard on my eyes, at least if there’s a lot of it.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Wow, it must have taken forever to do that by hand!

      I do highlight very small pieces of text – e.g. if I know I need to look something up / get input from one of the PIs, I’ll put XXX or *** and highlight it. But yes, too much is very hard on the eyes!

  7. Agree 100% on multiple layers of “track changes” – it becomes irritating and unreadable really fast. I also dislike how some small changes are extremely difficult to see (little bit of coloured text inline, teeny little bar in the left margin to indicate it’s there).

    Pagination and section spacing is also impossible to figure out with a lot of inline tracked changes. I do use it, but like you, not for complex, multi-edited documents.

  8. Nico says:

    We very occasionally get asked by author to track all changes in we make in a manuscript. We don’t, not because we’re all high and mighty, but because every single line of the manuscript is covered in changes when we’re done with it! eXtyles does that, it is much simpler to just make the changes and trust us (you can, really, we’re quite careful…).

    You can select which changes to show in Word, it’s the “Show” drop-down menu in the reviewing toolbar on Word 2003, or tab in Word 2007. Still doesn’t help if you have too many authors, but that at least allows you to remove the ones that don’t get offended easily.

    My current favourite is Garamond, although that is tiring to read so better suited to short text, or Estrangelo Edessa. For every day, many pages documents I find Times New Roman and Arial hard to beat, but Calibri isn’t too bad. I can’t stand Comic Sans, but my better half has it (or some similar derivative) as the default font on her phone. I think that’s a ploy so that I don’t touch the thing.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Good call on the “Show” drop-down menu – I vaguely knew it was possible to customise the tracked changes view, but hadn’t quite found the motivation to try it!

  9. Robyn says:

    So nice to read that others have their own tricks for managing edits (and their strong feelings for favourite fonts – I’m a Georgia fan, too, and also like Trebuchet). I will definitely try the font-tracking trick next time I’m updating a report – hmm, that’s today! I agree that the track changes tool can be useful, but as more and more reviewers make changes over top of one another, it can be hard to keep track. And there’s always the one person who suddenly hands me a hand-edited printed copy to keep things interesting. I’ve come to accept that all the tools and tricks are part of the toolbox, and the work and art of editing and assembling a proposal/report/whatever likely never will be replaced by a single solution.

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