I'm new here.

In the past, I've written countless articles for newspapers, and I almost never needed to edit more than a page or two. However, I have agreed to edit an entire (existing) novel for its second edition/re-print.

I'm planning to use MS Word for this.

Is it better to re-write/edit each chapter in a separate word document or is it better to save everything to one file?

I plan on editing 1-2 chapters per day, which roughly equals 10-12 pages. There's a total of 502 pages in the book.

Thanks in advance for your help and advice.

PS: The book will be available in both paper and electronic formats.

  • 4
    Have you considered using a more text-based format (such as MarkDown, which you use here) with some version control system? The ability to "roll back" to a previous state is really nice. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 13:11
  • 3
    @MatthieuM. Somewhere, I have some snippets of code that will take a folder full of text files, concatenate them into one, render the Markdown to HTML and pipe the result through Kindlegen. Pretty handy for proofreading and beta readers, and it solves this problem neatly as well. This is what happens when software engineers take up writing... Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 19:00
  • Words is pretty bad in this regards. Scrivener allows you to focus on one single part and working on the full document when needed.
    – gagarine
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 16:31

7 Answers 7


If part of your editing is checking continuity, it becomes difficult to search through 20 separate files for previous mentions of "Allen" to see if his hair (or lack of it) has been mentioned before Chapter 21, or if there was another character called "Allen", or if the receptionist was called "Mary" or "Marcy" the first time we met her.

  • 1
    Been there done that and need to do it again with a character's name. One odd thing I discovered in writing is I seem drawn to names starting with "J". Not sure why, or is it just that a lot of really good names do start with "J"? Either way one of those characters will need a name change just to break up confusion. (preferably a minor character so I have less to edit.)
    – BugFolk
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 7:28
  • 5
    I really, really, recommend maintaining a "bible" for the whole world-building aspect. Descriptions of characters, their relationships, maps of buildings, etc... Otherwise it's very easy to have the stairs move from the left to the right of the corridor, for example. It's also perfectly normal for the bible to contain more details; for example a minor character motivation/angle might never get fully exploited, but having at hand helps having the character's actions be coherent with one another. And I also advise not hesitating in using photos of real persons, places, etc... as seeds. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 13:09
  • @MatthieuM. I don't plan my stories, characters, settings or anything else in detail, I write and invent all that as I go. That said, I do look in a scene (a subset of a chapter) when I feel it is "good enough" and take notes on those things. Even my world map is developed as I go, as I need new locations, I just check my map so far, and decide on a good place for the new location (depending on how far I want it or how difficult it is for the characters to get there or what resources it needs, like a river or ocean or mountain, or proximity to something else like a forest), and I draw it in.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 16:24
  • 2
    @Amadeus: I most often don't plan in details either, however after writing a piece I feed it into the bible which (1) records what I did and (2) highlights inconsistencies. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 16:41
  • 5
    It is not necessarily difficult to search through 20 separate files if they are in a marked-up text format (like Markdown or XML or TeX or whatever); it's difficult only with opaque file formats like MS Word. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 17:41

This may not answer your question, but it is something I have done.

Pros I found:

  • You manage smaller files and are not dealing with the entire story. It is easier to find your place and manage when editing.
  • If the file gets corrupted or something happens, it will only affect that chapter and not the whole thing.

(The 2nd one was what drove me into trying this method, back in the days there were those 3" floppy disks and one of them corrupted my word document and left computer code and formatting inconsistencies scattered throughout the whole thing.)

The cons I ran into:

  • Because you're only looking at a single chapter, you may be tempted to write each as if they are their own separate story or run into continuity problems if you're not looking at the whole thing as a single unit.

(this came to be a huge con for me when reviewing, reading over the whole thing.) Instead of reading what would be a novel I was reading what turned into a series of short stories.

  • At least for me it got to be very long (again dealing with short stories of varying length) and I had like 20+ "chapter" files with no idea how long the total piece is or how to fit it in a cohesive unit. Some chapters I seldom bothered to look at so ended up weaker. (the intros and dreaded "chapter 1's"

(still trying to sort that through and wondering how to change what ended up a series of short stories into an actual novel.)

That said I am rewriting a draft and seeing how having the whole thing in one file goes and if that helps me deal with the cons I ran into.

  • thanks you for your helpful insights. I will take your advice and proceed with one chapter per file for now. Since I have first print/draft of the entire story infront of me, I'm hoping continuity may not be a big issue.
    – kRazzy R
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 2:19
  • An incremental backup App, once per hour, like Mac time machine, takes away a lot of the cons of using one big file. That way when the worst happens, you only lose at most an hour's work. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 5:18
  • Also adding along with continuity issues I also had inconsistencies with my characters, motives, and various aspects related to their history. Because I would gravitate towards my favorite chapter files, it was easy to forget important details, especially since my particular story project has spanned so far for 20 years with about 10+ of those years being breaks (roughly I've been at it since I was in elementary school) and it turned out a huge mess.
    – BugFolk
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 7:36
  • I'm thinking overall it is wiser to have the story all in one file and just keep backing up the whole thing more frequently. Yeah it is a pain to slog through but using the search feature helps. I also do a little thing where I format: Center and type (Chapter Break). That way I can search for "Chapter Break" to jump from chapter to chapter.
    – BugFolk
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 7:40
  • 2
    @BugFolk You can use the outline mode of word to see the structure of the document and jump to specific chapters, subchapters and so on. As long as you format the document correctly this should be the easiest way to do that (ctrl-f then switch to 'Headings' in Word 2016 at least). See e.g. here.
    – Voo
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 9:52

If you are a freelance editor working with a book publisher then the commissioning editor who chose you for the project should be able to provide you with very specific file delivery instructions. These can vary from publisher to publisher. In some cases freelance editors are expected to typeset the manuscript according to the publisher's style manual and deliver a complete InDesign file. In other cases typesetting will be done in house and an MS Word document from the freelance editor is sufficient.

In my experience multiple files should preferably be avoided and, when possible, the entire manuscript should be edited and delivered in one document. This decreases the risk of mixing up different file versions and lessens the administrative burden on the commissioning editor who will be sending the file to print.


I would use one document to re-edit all chapters, all 502 pages.

  • less effort: you don't have to open multiple files, searching and looking back is faster. On the other you may get distracted faster.
  • less messy: only need one file which has all chapters.
  • less risk on file naming mistakes. Be sure to use good file naming. E.g. my-book-edit-20180201.doc or my-book-edit-ch07.doc

Considering you would need about two months to edit everything you should treat it as a project. You could use project management or note taking software (e.g. OneNote or Google Keep). Alternatively, use pen and paper to take notes and log difficulties.

To manage the content:

  • outline: an outline at the left (or right) side helps with navigation and can be clicked to easily switch between chapters and see how the chapters are linearly organized.
  • comments: MS word and Google Docs allow to input comments which can be resolved. Very useful to manage and review edits in one log.
  • version control: Google Docs has version control allowing you to view previous versions.
  • file searching: Ctrl+F quickly brings you to what you want to find. This is more efficient in one file.
  • search & replace: Ctrl+H globally replace all characters you want to change. This is faster done in one file, unless you only want to change characters in only one chapter.
  • headlines parsing: if you need to have chapters in separate files a simple Python or Ruby script can identify headlines and parse the data. Also there may be add-ons available in MS Word and Google Docs to this.

Good luck!


I very recently switched from one file per chapter, to all in a single manuscript when doing a new version of a previously finished work. It made me consider whether that had been the best approach in the longrun.

I think it was.

I used iaWriter, which has plain text embeds, so my main document was basically a list of scenes in a play. I popped each open to edit it, but from the main document I could easily bring up the full text in the preview mode. This made moving scenes around really easy, and removing scenes especially awesome. Because I could 'try' an order, just working with a list, but still work with the scenes individually, which helped me focus on what I was working on right then without getting distracted by scrolling up and down.

screenshot of plain text embeds in iaWriter

It was annoying occasionally.. especially if the boundaries of the scenes wanted to change.. or saving out a copy to get an overall wordcount. But I decided wordcount shouldn't be a big issue and overall it really helped treat the order of things a little flexibly and some of the most exciting discoveries of the process were based on what happened when different scenes ended up next to each other sort of accidentally.

But once it had been finished one time.. working on further edits, it made more sense to be to have it together as a cohesive whole. So I saved out the whole script and started editing that.

Overall I really liked how free I felt writing on a chapter when it wasn't part of the main thing, really. But your mileage may vary!


It might be worth looking into specialized tools. One of them is Scrivener. It sort of allows you to both have it all in one file, and every scene in one separate file. Works best on Macs but is available on Windows and IOS. If you use Word, my experience is that the best way is to do it as one document.

It depends a bit on what type of editing you are doing. Part of editing is "micro" level, changing words or spelling or things like that. There it helps to have it as one document -- quite simple to do a replace on the full document. Another type of editing is more "macro", moving whole parts of the story around. Here, dividing into different scenes may help.

Regardless, design a backup plan and backup often. Copy backups to different media in order to safe against hardware trouble.


In my humble opinion, it's better to have one big file.

(a) As Amadeus notes, if you have to search for something it's easier with one big file. Checking continuity is one example, but I routinely do all sorts of searches in my work-in-progress. "Didn't I mention X before?" "Oh, I just thought of something I need to add to the discussion of X." "My friend who did some proof-reading for me said there's a mistake in the discussion of X." Etc. I MIGHT remember which chapter something is in. But I might not. And why waste brain cells remembering exactly what's in each chapter when the computer will do that for me?

(b) It's easier to move things around. I often say, Oh, wait, I originally planned to explain this in chapter 10 but something in chapter 5 is dependent on that, I'd better move it from chapter 10 to chapter 5.

(c) You say you're using Word. Word can automatically build tables of contents, lists of illustrations, etc. But that requires everything to be in one file.

(d) It's just easier to move back and forth. If you assign a heading style to your chapter titles, Word will give you a list of chapters in the left bar. Then if you're working on chapter 4 and remember something you want to look at or change in chapter 3, you just click on "chapter 3". With separate files. You'd have to open another instance of Word, find the other file, and load it. Okay, that doesn't take hours, and if you do it once a week maybe no big deal. But I often find myself going back and forth constantly.

I'm hard pressed to think of an advantage to having many small files. Twenty years ago when you had to fit a file on a floppy, and when it might take a long time to read a file, I'd break up documents like that. But not today.

  • 1
    All your points are actually invalid if you use something more clever than that Microsoft thing intended for office rats.
    – yo'
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 0:08
  • @yo'yesterday The OP said he's using MS Word, so that's what I was thinking in terms of. But in any case, I guess that depends what tool you're using. If you are using something that manages multiple files elegantly, okay. Like when I'm programming I use Eclipse or Visual Studio or some such, which lets me define what files are part of the "project" and then displays them, lets me search across them, etc. BTW Personally I have lots of complaints about MS Word, but it's still what I use to write books. "What's the best software for writers" is, of course, an entirely different question.
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 0:30
  • @yo' What would you recommend? I find MS Word to be very easy to use and format.
    – kRazzy R
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 22:49
  • @kRazzyR Well, I would recommend LaTeX, but it's not for everyone. The learning curve is steep, but for simple text with just a bit of formatting, it's not that tough. And it has everything at hand: easy file splitting and joining, formatting, table of contents, consistent output, ...
    – yo'
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 23:08
  • However I must add that MS WORD Grammar correction is driving me mad. It makes me correct sentences I know are not wrong, and it fails to identify inadvertent mistakes from my end. I too have begun exploring LaTeX based online editors. Thank you for your suggestion.
    – kRazzy R
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 23:18

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