Macros: What are they and how do you use them?

Macros: What are they and how do you use them?

July 31, 2018 By Amy Schneider

Professional editors need to become masters of our tools, the most important of which is Microsoft Word. Perhaps the most powerful resource in Word is macros, which are programs you can create using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). You can record your own simple macros or use macros created by others that are available for purchase or shared freely in the editing community.

Why should you use macros? Macros save you time and energy by automatically performing repetitive tasks, leaving your brain free to do actual substantive editing. Rather than reinventing the wheel every time, you can record the steps for a task. Next time, just use the keyboard shortcut you set, or click a button, and the macro runs for you.

Some of my favorite macros are quite simple. One that I use every day converts the next space to a hyphen (and another converts the next hyphen to a space). Why not just do it manually? Let’s look at the steps:

Manually: (1) Navigate to the errant space. (2) Press Delete or Backspace. (3) Type a hyphen.

That doesn’t look too bad, but it requires you to go to a specific place in order to make the change, which takes some precision. You have to remember whether to Delete or Backspace. And imagine doing this for an entire phrase that needs to be hyphenated—for example, a deer-in-the-headlights look, which would require repeating the sequence three times, with multiple keystrokes for step 1. Even if you start with your cursor at the end of the word deer and use Ctrl+Right Arrow to move to the next word, you’re using eight keystrokes and a lot of hand-eye coordination.

I had a manuscript that was missing a lot of hyphens, and I got tired of the repetition. So I created a macro that works like this:

That may seem like the same amount of work, but let’s break it down.

For the deer-in-the-headlights example, I just put my cursor in any of five places (next to or in the word deer), hold down Ctrl with my right thumb, and hit Num0 with my right pinky three times. Hey presto!

Note that the reverse macro, changing the next hyphen to a space, is even easier to use because I can activate it as long as there are no other hyphens between the cursor and the hyphen I want to replace. Even less navigation required!

If you are new to creating macros, plan to spend some time experimenting on dummy text to make sure your macros will work in each situation. The basics of recording and editing macros are more than I can cover in a short blog post, but you can check out the following resources to get started:

Amy J. Schneider (, is a freelance copy editor and proofreader of textbooks, trade nonfiction and best-selling fiction since 1995. She has written articles and presented sessions on copy editing fiction and other freelancing topics for, An American Editor, Communication Central, the Editorial Freelancers Association, and ACES: The Society for Editing. Her clients include major U.S. traditional publishers, book packagers and university presses.

Header photo by Nhu Nguyen on Unsplash

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