by C.K. MacLeod
It’s difficult to view your own writing objectively. To do so, you need to discipline yourself to put it away so you can look at it again in a new way.
If you write to deadlines, it isn’t always possible to set your writing aside. But there are shortcuts to handle time crunches. Below are my five favourite tools for self-editing in a hurry.
Note: all of these tools will highlight problem words or sentences in your writing. These tools can help you to see potential problems, but it’s up to you to fix them. I’ve listed what each tool checks for, so you can determine which tools are most helpful for you.
Revision Macros (free)
Macros are tiny programs that run in Microsoft Word. These macros will alert you to everything from overusing passive words to using words that may be difficult for your readers to read and understand.
Not sure how to use a macro? This 20-minute macro course will have you up and running with macros in no time.
Hemingway app ($10 US)
The Hemingway app is a standalone program that runs on Windows and Mac computers. It highlights
- long sentences
- passive voice
... and suggests
- simple words in place of difficult ones.
ProWritingAid (free and paid)
The free version of ProWritingAid is available as an online tool, and some of the tests are available for as a Google docs add-on. ProWritingAid will run several tests on your writing. The Hemingway app addresses many of these tests, so I find these ProWritingAid tests to be most useful:
- acronym check
- clichés and redundancies
- corporate wording check
Try the tools that follow after you’ve tried the first three. These last two tools go beyond revising words and sentences and address the finer details of copyediting:
Consistency checker is the light version of PerfectIt, a proofreading tool that many professional editors use. It’s available as a Google docs add-on. See this post for what Consistency Checker can do.
Also by the creator of PerfectIt, the Google Docs add-on, Abbreviation List, checks abbreviations
- not defined
- written two ways
- defined more than once
- defined in different ways
- spelled out after they are defined
How to Use Self-Editing Tools
Don’t run all these tools at once. It’s not possible to focus on more than two or three things at one time, anyway. Be strategic. Pick one or two tools that are most likely to address your writing quirks. Work through your manuscript to address what a tool highlights, and when everything is as you like it, run your manuscript through another tool.
It’s one thing to find sticky spots in your writing. It’s quite another to figure out how to fix them. For guidance on how to fix most of what you’ll find when using these tools, get your hands on a good writer’s style guide.
Image by herlitz_pbs