Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Anonymity in Word Documents

I'm coordinating my local RWA chapter's romance novel contest this year, as I end up doing most years, and I have reached the stage of sending the partials to my volunteer judges. One of the issues cropping up is preserving anonymity in a FaceBook world.

Some basic anonymity can be preserved by checking certain settings in your Microsoft Word program, which so many of us use. (Note: I have Word 2002 and use a PC, so other versions and Mac versions may not be exactly the same.)

Setting one: User Information. Found under Tools > Options > User Information. This is where you can set the name automatically saved with your documents. I have mine set to my initials right now as I have no need to be anonymous as the contest coordinator.

Setting two: Privacy Options. Found under Tools > Options > Security > Privacy Options. You can check the box that directs Word to remove all personal information when you save a file.

Setting three: File Properties. Found under File > Properties. You can alter anything that appears under Summary, such as when you're a coordinator and want to remove the contestant's personal information. Statistics shows the last person who saved the document and other factoids. To alter what's under Statistics, you can save the document yourself or go with setting two.

The use of track changes and Microsoft Comments in particular is something to watch out for. If you change the File Properties but not the other settings, the commenter's personal information can appear over a comment. A commenter's information can also show up under Properties/Statistics as the last person to have saved the document. A coordinator with Word 2002 can remove some of this information by setting her computer to remove personal information upon save, as with setting two.

However, as I have discovered upon researching this, Word 2002 and earlier won't let you remove all traces of commenter identity. All commenters still appear under "Show" in the Reviewing tool bar. Thus, it's best -- if you're coordinating a contest or trying to make commenters anonymous for some reason -- that your judges or commenters handle the anonymity on their end. In later versions of Word, I understand the coordinator has more options.

As we can see here, complete anonymity on the internet or with digital files can be more difficult to achieve than altering a few settings. For example, if a contestant loves to enter contests, especially if he or she posts about her contest journey or her manuscript, Google will provide that information handily. Even if the contestant is more circumspect, if she finals, that's probably going to get posted on the internet by the host chapter.

It's easier to be anonymous as a judge since mega-shame on you if you're sharing anything about the manuscripts you're judging online. That's a big unprofessional no-no, even if you think you're being discreet. I saw Tweets and such during the RWA National contest judging period by RWA members that made me cringe. You might think you're being clever or sociable by sharing the pain your assigned books have inflicted upon you with the world, but please leave that type of behavior to editors, agents and reader/reviewers :).

Here is Microsoft's article about confidential information in Word 2007:

This page and others state that authors of comments cannot be removed in Word 2002: http://www.shaunakelly.com/word/sharing/howtrackchangesworks.html#WorkingWithMoreThanOneAuthor

Here is Microsoft's article about metadata in Word 2002: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;290945

I believe there are other, more complicated ways to see a file's information, but most of your judges and entrants aren't going to be THAT driven to find out. That being said, right now I'm considering spending all my book money for the rest of the year on the newest version of Word!

Any more suggestions besides DOWN WITH MICROSOFT THEY SUK? Tell us in the comments!

Jody Wallace
2010 Melody of Love Coordinator
www.mcrw.com * www.jodywallace.com


  1. Thanks Jody for the food for thought. I'm going to check my settings now.

  2. All of this is so way beyond me. i'm ready to go back to smoke signals or rocks and chisels.

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