How to Automate Writing and Editing Tasks

Robot Painting

by C.K. MacLeod

Writing takes a great deal of energy, focus, and time. Add to that the necessary revising and editing tasks required to polish your writing and writing is now a part-time job. Or a full-time job.

What if I told you that you could automate some writing and editing tasks?

Recently, my editing colleague Paul Beverley created a macro that accomplished in five minutes what would take me half a day to do manually.

In fact, Paul Beverley has created over 500 macros, many of which have made editing tasks, in particular, easier to manage. You can download his free book of macros — Macros for Editors — at Archive Publications. And, if you’ve never used a macro before, you can learn how in this free 20-minute macro course.

Automating Editing Tasks

So, what kinds of writing and editing tasks can you automate with the use of macros and other tools? Here is my current list of favourite tasks to automate:

  • Reach readability targets and make writing easier to understand (PlainLanguage macro or Hemingway Editor)
  • Remove most instances of passive voice for livelier writing (Hemingway Editor or PassiveWords macro)
  • Clean up formatting to get a book ready for ebook conversion, or a content ready to upload to a website (FRedit — Archive Publications)
  • Build in better use of Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs for how-to books, teaching articles, and online courses (FRedit— Archive Publications)
  • Pull out citations from your chapters and list them on a separate page so you can build a reference list or bibliography (CiteCheck — Macros for Editors)

And for my fiction writing friends...

  • Identify instances of telling, where showing might work better (TellingWords macro).

In Making Word 2010 Work for You, Hillary Powers points out that if you repeat an editing action three times, you might want to find a way to automate it. Wise advice.

What writing or editing tasks would you like to automate? What tools are you using?

Image by weasel.jem

Dictating a Book? Tips for Editing the First Draft

Megaphone with words "speak up"

Originally published at The Book Designer.

Written by Corina Koch MacLeod

Edited by Carla Douglas

Dictation has become a popular method for laying down a first draft. Barbara Cartland and Voltaire did it, James Patterson and Dan Brown are doing it, and popular self-publishing author Joanna Penn is determined to try it. In fact, Cindy Grigg (The Productive Author’s Guide to Dictation) and Monica Leonelle (Dictate Your Book) have written books on the subject so you can try it, too.

Reasons to Try Dictation

There are many reasons to try dictation:

  • dictation software has improved
  • it eases the strain on your wrists
  • you can get words down faster than with typing
  • it can separate writing from editing, which can do wonders for procrastination and writer’s block
  • it gets you away from your desk, and out for a walk if you have a dictation set-up to support that
  • it’s not hard, and it doesn’t have to cost you a cent

Not convinced? That’s okay. I've been there, and on some days I am there. If you change your mind and give dictation a try, come back to this post to figure out what to do with that dictated first draft.

Needs Must

I'll admit it. I’ve come to the idea of dictation with a lot of skepticism. I've learned to think and write through my fingers, first with a pen, then with a keyboard. Could I learn to use talking as a vehicle for thinking? I remember the awkwardness I felt when I was first learning how to type. I survived those first fumbling attempts, and my typing-to-thinking pathway is now firmly established.

Fast forward several gazillion words and 11 books later. My brain seems to be holding up, but my wrists, sadly, are not. It’s time to build another writing pathway.

Writing Differences

It's not difficult to get words onto a page with dictation. What's difficult is figuring out which ones to keep. Or how to manage that sea of words. If you’ve tried dictation, you may discover that your first draft reads differently than a typed first draft. It may be looser, less organized, and wordy. As a result, your approach to editing may need to be different. Or you may find that you’ll need to spend more time at the editing stage of the writing process. A lot more.


Pre-Editing Tips Before and During Dictation

If you’ve decided to give voice dictation a try, you’ll need a pre-editing strategy so that the process is less unwieldy. Below are a few suggestions for managing dictation so the editing stage is easier:

Know What You Want to Write

Monica Leonelle recommends creating an outline before you begin dictation. Similarly, though she doesn’t use dictation to increase writing productivity, in 2k to 10k Rachel Aaron recommends taking five minutes to sketch out notes for each scene in a notebook before you write it. This is excellent advice.

Because words can come so quickly when you’re dictating, it’s possible to create volumes of text that go off topic or off plot. Having an outline or notes to speak by can help you stay on task and prevent plot holes. You can, of course, dictate an outline or scene notes, but it’s okay to use a pen or a keyboard to outline your writing, too.

Factor in Error Rates

Most dictation software is now 95–98 percent accurate. Off the top, you can count on fixing two to five words in every hundred you speak. What words will you have to fix? Those that your dictation software didn’t understand.

Depending on your spoken dialect and your skill as a typist, this may or may not be equal to the number of typos you make in every hundred words. Keep in mind, though, that dictation software can make creative (and sometimes hilarious) “typos” that you may not be able to decipher later. Be sure to read over your words often to correct any errors while what you intended to say is fresh in your mind.

Pause for Effect

Your mother was right: think before you speak. Monica Leonelle recommends pausing to gather your thoughts before you speak a sentence. This is the single best piece of advice when learning to dictate your writing. There’s no need to hurry. Hurrying can encourage muddled thinking, which can result in bloated and disorganized writing. Bloated writing requires more attention at the editing stage, which is fine if you’ve budgeted lots of time for editing. Lots.

Editing Tips for after Dictation

Once you’ve completed your first-draft dictation, you’ll need a plan for revising and editing it.

Take it in Layers

As with typewritten text, it’s best to approach revisions and edits in layers. Go through the four levels of editing, beginning with a big-picture edit and ending with word-level details.

For example, you’ll need to make sure

  • your writing has an overall flow
  • your plot lines are well-paced
  • scenes or sections are evenly weighted
  • paragraphs are shortened if you forgot to instruct the dictation software to create a new paragraph (ahem)
  • paragraphs and sentences proceed in a logical way (especially if you had trouble sticking to your outline)
  • sentences are trimmed of wordiness
  • your sentences are correctly punctuated (you need to speak out punctuation, and this takes getting used to)

I’ve noticed that my current abilities with dictation cause me to produce 40-word sentences. Twenty-word sentences are better for comprehension. I need more than the usual work at the paragraph level. You may find that, too.

Use Revision Tools

Revision and editing tools can help you address each layer of editing. Below are a few of my favourite problem-solvers, as they pertain to the pitfalls of dictation:

For Structural Issues

If you’ve gotten off track with the structure of your book, consider using Scrivener to help you analyze and reorganize your writing. Scrivener’s Binder and Split Screen can help you to rearrange sections of your book. The Word Count column in the Outliner can help you discover potential pacing problems at a glance. Labels will allow you to visually separate plot lines to see if they flow and intersect where they need to.

Scrivener’s Word Count feature in the Outliner

For Filler Words

A spoken first draft can be different from a written first draft. You may use filler words, such as “really,” “just,” and “even” in dictation — words that are often used in spoken language for emphasis. These words work fine in spoken language, but depending on what you’re writing, filler words can muddy the meaning of a sentence.  The NeedlessWords macro can help you spot filler words so you can remove them. The Overused Words check in ProWriting Aid will help you see where you need to add variety to your writing.

For Long Sentences

Your sentences may be longer and more complex when you dictate your writing. That’s okay when you’re speaking, because your intonation can help listeners group words into meaningful chunks. There’s no intonation in writing, so be sure to shorten sentences or punctuate them so that they’re easier for readers to navigate. The long sentence highlighter in the Hemingway Editor can help you shorten long sentences. So can the Sticky Sentences check and the Long Sentences check in ProWriting Aid.

For Readability

Sometimes it’s okay to strut your vocabulary. In some kinds of nonfiction, it’s more important to remove every possible barrier to understanding — including ten-dollar words. To help you choose simpler words and improve readability, use the Hemingway Editor, the PlainLanguage macro, Paul Beverley’s Find and Replace macro with a supporting plain language words list, or the Diction check in ProWriting Aid.

Conclusion

Did I dictate this article? Some of it. And that’s my final tip: you don’t have to use dictation exclusivelyespecially when you’re learning this new skill. If you’re a visual learner whose thinking is guided by the words you see or a kinesthetic learner who works out your thoughts by penning or keyboarding them, it might not make sense to dictate all your writing. (Hat tip to Russell Blake for this observation in an interview with Joanna Penn). Besides, Rachel Aaron, who has written over 20 books, has proven that it’s possible to be productive without voice dictation.

Don’t be afraid to dictate part of an article or book, or begin with dictating text and email messages. If you build your capacity for dictation slowly, you’ll be less likely to abandon it and more likely to find a place for it in your writing process. Instead of an all-or-nothing proposition, think of dictation as one of many tools in your writing toolkit.

Editor’s note: Corina and I have been editing each other’s writing for 14 years. After a first read-through of this piece, I noticed that something was different. Was it voice? Tone? Organization? Yes to all of these and more, and I wondered what was up. This didn’t sound like Corina — it was looser and less precise than what I’ve come to expect. Then it dawned on me: she’d been dictating!

This is a topic I find fascinating, and recent research supports my hunch that “written and spoken language can exist separately in the brain.” This doesn’t mean that dication isn’t a drafting method worth exploring. I’m curious to learn whether a dictated first draft is much different from one that’s been brain-dumped into a word processor.  

I also have a hunch that dictating will be easier for some than for others, and that if you persist, you’ll get better with practice. You might even find your voice where you least expect it. 🙂

Image by Howard Lake

4 Tips and 4 Tools for Tightening Your Prose

by C.K. MacLeod

Tighten by hand only

Want to tighten your prose and make your writing easier to understand? Here are four ways and four tools to help you do that — all for free!

1. Omit needless phrases.

Authors sometimes use phrases such as "owing to the fact that" or "in order to" like condiments. Often, your meaning won't change if you trim these phrases. For example, “owing to the fact that” can become “because,” and "in order to" can become "to."

Refer to this list of offenders and some solutions for fixing them. Use the search and replace function in your word processing software to find these phrases in your writing.

2. Omit needless words.

Authors tend to pepper their prose with filler words. If you use Microsoft Word, you can run the NeedlessWords macro, and the macro will highlight potentially unnecessary words. In this macros for beginners post, Carla Douglas offers suggestions for what to do with those highlighted words.

Never used a macro before? This 20-Minute Macro Course will have you up and running with Macros in no time.

If macros scare you, or you don’t have Microsoft Word, try the Hemingway Editor. It’ll help you to hunt down adverbs, another kind of needless word.

3. Shorten your sentences.

Long sentences make sentences harder to read. The solution? Create two short sentences from the long one, when it makes sense to do so.
The Hemingway Editor will spot long sentences by identifying them as “hard to read” and “very hard to read.” It also provides you with readability statistics on your writing. You can buy the downloadable version of the Hemingway Editor for under $10 USD. Try the online version for free.

Very hard-to-read sentences are highlighted in red
Very hard-to-read sentences are highlighted in red

4. Use easy-to-understand words.

You can use the PlainLanguage macro to identify hard-to-understand words so you can swap them out with a reader-friendly word. The Hemingway Editor will also highlight words that are difficult for many readers to understand, and it will suggest a replacement!

There are many ways to make your writing more readable. A handful of tools will help you to accomplish this task quickly.

Adapted from a post from Beyond Paper Editing.

Image by Joshua Crauswell

Most Popular Writing Tech Posts of 2015

Top 10by C.K. MacLeod

Here are the top 10 Posts on Tech Tools for Writers in 2015.

  1. Hemingway Editor: A Proofreading Tool for Writers
  2. Self-Editing Tools
  3. Retrieving a Back-Up File in Scrivener
  4. How to Create a Keyboard Shortcut for the Snipping Tool
  5. 20-Minute Macro Course
  6. Improve Your Writing with Macros
  7. A 5-Minute Guide to Evernote
  8. 5 Ways to Create an Em Dash
  9. Proofreading Tool: PerfectIt Pro
  10. Consistency Checker: A Free Proofreading Tool

Which tool will you try in 2016? Which tool would you like me to write about?

Stay posted for more exciting writing and editing tools in 2016.

Image by Sam Churchill.

5 Best Tools for Self-Editing in a Hurry

by C.K. MacLeod

Person in a hurry

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.

NeedlessWords macro in action
NeedlessWords macro in action

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
  • adverbs

... and suggests

  • simple words in place of difficult ones.

Hemingway2.0

 

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

ProWritingAidGdocs

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

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.

Abbreviation List

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

Revise Your Writing With Self-Editing Macros

Hide your eyes

by C.K. MacLeod

Macros—tiny programs that run in Microsoft Word— have changed the way I revise my writing. They highlight potential problems, so I can fix them:

NeedlessWords macro in action
NeedlessWords macro in action

Below is a list of my favourite self-editing macros, designed to work with Microsoft Word:

  • Confusables — words that are often used inncorrectly
  • lyWords — adverbs, which will likely need to be deleted
  • NeedlessWords — words that clutter your writing
  • PassiveWords — words that can obscure meaning; change passive words to active words
  • PlainLanguage — high falutin’ words that can just as easily be replaced with simpler words
  • TellingWords — words that suggest instances of telling, where showing might work better

Editor Paul Beverley has created a 600-page book of free macros. You'll need to download his book to get these helpful macro scripts:

  • CountThisWord—tells you how many times you've used a word to determine if you've overused it
  • HighlightSame—highlights all instances of a word you've selected; use it with CountThisWord
  • LongSentenceHighlighter—highlights long sentences so you can shorten them

If you're not sure how macros can help, or how to use them, this free 20-minute macro course will have you up and running in no time!

You can't always see where your writing needs fixing. Revision macros can help you to see what you're missing.

Image by Linda Åslund

Why Editors Use Word—Writers can Harness Word’s Powers, too!

by C.K. MacLeod

Why Editors Use Word

Revised and updated on Sept 12, 2015. Originally posted at Beyond Paper Editing.

Authors can use a variety of tools for the writing and publishing process. In Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast, I describe over 30 tools that authors can use, and some of them can even make the writing and publishing process more efficient.

Be sure to choose the best tool for the job, though. Take editing, for example. Microsoft Word is the professional editor’s tool of choice because it helps editors do their work better and faster.

Word’s Built-in Functions

Word has some pretty powerful built-in functions that can help editors hunt down errors efficiently:

Learning to use any of Word’s built-in functions can save an editor loads of time.

Add-ins and Macros

Word also works well with powerful add-ins and macros–tiny software programs that automate a variety of specific editing tasks. But it’s not just about automation; its about accuracy, too. These tools can help editors catch things they’d otherwise miss.

Here is a sample of editing tools and macros that have been designed to be used with Word:

  • CrossEyes: A “reveal codes” tool that helps you see the formatting that lurks in a document’s background. This is particularly helpful for ebook formatting (Word 2010 and earlier; PC only).
  • FileCleaner: For quick document clean-up
  • Computer Tools for Writers and Editors (free): A variety of  macros designed to handle all sorts of editing challenges. FRedit is one worth trying.
  • PerfectIt: A consistency checker
  • Reference Checker: Checks in-text citations against references (for specific style guides)

Writers can use Word’s built-in functions, macros, and add-ins, too. There’s a learning curve involved with each tool, but if you have the time and interest to learn something new, these tools can help you save on editing costs later.

Note: if you ask your editor to edit your manuscript in software that doesn’t have or allow for the use of these tools, your editor will take longer to complete the job. Keep that in mind if you’re paying your editor by the hour!

Editors use Word because it helps them to do their best job for you, the author. I suspect that editors will continue to use Word until other tools can rival Word’s capabilities.


Note: Many of the macros listed in this post are designed for Word for PC and are not available for Mac users. Mac users can write their own macros, though, and run Parallels Desktop so that they can make use of commercially available macros.

Image by leigh49137

How Not to Miss Your Editor’s Suggestions

by C.K. MacLeod

How Not to Miss Your Editor's Suggestions

I recently got back my book manuscript from my copyeditor. She uses track changes and comments in Microsoft Word to suggest improvements. In fact, many editors use Microsoft Word for editing. This article will tell you why.

In a book-length document, it’s possible to miss a suggestion from your editor, especially tiny punctuation insertions:

Word comma

Here’s how to avoid missing your editor’s suggestions:

In Word 2010, go to Review tab, Changes area. Click on the Next button to move your cursor from change to change.

Track next change

Or, a faster way is to assign a keyboard shortcut for the Next function. You’ll only need to do this once.

In Word 2010, go to File, Options, Customize Ribbon, Keyboard Shortcuts: Customize.

Select Review Tab in the Categories area.

Select NextChangeOrComment in the Commands area. That’s essentially the Next button in the ribbon. Assign a keyboard shortcut in the Press New Shortcut Key area. I use Ctrl+N,C (NC means Next Change).

Click Assign.

If you’re using other versions of Word, see this article for specific instructions for assigning a shortcut key to functions in ribbons and menus.

You can now use Ctrl+N,C to move from change to change in your manuscript in Word. You’ll never miss a suggestion from your editor again!

Image by sethoscope

A Macro for Commonly Confused Words

 

A Macro For Commonly Confused Words

By C.K. MacLeod

Updated July 30, 2015

Thanks to Eliza Dee for suggesting a tweak that makes this macro even better (see the comments below for details)! The macro script has been updated.

Adverse or averse? Assent or ascent? English contains many words that are easily confused—words that sound the same, but have different meanings and spellings.

Tackle potential confusables when it's time to edit your writing. The macro below will highlight commonly confused words in just minutes. After you run the macro, check the highlighted words to see if you've used them correctly. Refer to this list to look up any words you're unsure of.

Tip for editors: use this macro to make potential confusables stand out during a first pass.

Quick Steps

  1. Copy and paste the macro into Word's VBA.
  2. Run the macro on your writing.
  3. Remove highlighting from words as you check them.

Sub Confusables()
' Highlights confusables
'
' Written by Roger Mortis, revised Subcortical, Jami Gold, C.K. MacLeod and Eliza Dee; word list, Commonly Confused Words by Oxford Dictionaries http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/commonly-confused-words
'
Dim range As range
Dim i As Long
Dim TargetList
TargetList = Array("accept", "except", "adverse", "averse", "advice", "advise", "affect", "effect", "aisle", "isle", "altogether", "all together", "along", "a long", "aloud", "allowed", "altar", "alter", "amoral", "immoral", "appraise", "apprise", "assent", "ascent", "aural", "oral", "awhile", "a while", "balmy", "barmy", "bare", "bear", "bated", "baited", "bazaar", "bizarre", "birth", "berth", "born", "borne", "bow", "bough", "break", "brake", "broach", "brooch", "canvas", "canvass", "censure", "censor", "cereal", "serial", "chord", "cord", "climactic", "climatic", "coarse", "course")
For i = 0 To UBound(TargetList)
Set range = ActiveDocument.range
With range.Find
.Text = TargetList(i)
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = True
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = True
Do While .Execute(Forward:=True) = True
range.HighlightColorIndex = wdViolet
Loop
End With
Next

Dim TargetList1
TargetList1 = Array("complacent", "complaisant", "complement", "compliment", "council", "counsel", "cue", "queue", "curb", "kerb", "currant", "current", "defuse", "diffuse", "desert", "dessert", "discreet", "discrete", "disinterested", "uninterested", "draught", "draft", "draw", "drawer", "duel", "dual", "elicit", "illicit", "ensure", "insure", "envelop", "envelope", "exercise", "exorcise", "fawn", "faun", "flair", "flare", "flaunt", "flout", "flounder", "founder", "forbear", "forebear", "forward", "foreword", "freeze", "frieze", "grisly", "grizzly", "hoard", "horde", "imply", "infer", "loathe", "loath")
For i = 0 To UBound(TargetList1)
Set range = ActiveDocument.range
With range.Find
.Text = TargetList1(i)
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = True
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = True
Do While .Execute(Forward:=True) = True
range.HighlightColorIndex = wdViolet
Loop
End With
Next

Dim TargetList2
TargetList2 = Array("lose", "loose", "meter", "metre", "militate", "mitigate", "palate", "palette", "pedal", "peddle", "poll", "pole", "pour", "pore", "practice", "practise", "prescribe", "proscribe", "principle", "principal", "sceptic", "septic", "sight", "site", "stationary", "stationery", "story", "storey", "titillate", "titivate", "tortuous", "torturous", "wreath", "wreathe")
For i = 0 To UBound(TargetList2)
Set range = ActiveDocument.range
With range.Find
.Text = TargetList2(i)
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = True
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = True
Do While .Execute(Forward:=True) = True
range.HighlightColorIndex = wdViolet
Loop
End With
Next
End Sub


After you've addressed each highlighted word, use Paul Beverley's free UnHighlight macro to remove highlights, one instance at a time.

Not sure what a macro is? See this post for an explanation.

Learn how to use macros with this free 20-minute macro course. You can run macros in Microsoft Word or WPS Writer (pro version).

*The lists of words in this macro are from the Oxford Dictionaries website.

Image by Dvortygirl

Can Using Editing Tools Improve Your Writing?

Can Using Editing Tools Improve Your Writing?

By C.K. MacLeod and Carla Douglas

This post first appeared on June 17, 2015 at The Book Designer and on July 15, 2015 at Beyond Paper Editing.

In the tongue-in-cheek post How to Write a Book Even Faster, the author suggests that writers are not editing their writing. That can’t be true! (Right?) How do you edit your writing? Perhaps you use one of these self-editing approaches...

Approaches to Self-Editing

There are many ways to improve your writing. You can

  • set your writing aside for a month or two and tackle it again from a renewed perspective
  • get structured feedback from beta readers
  • hire an editor to assess your first draft and suggest improvements
  • run editing tools on your writing

Let’s look at each of these self-editing approaches.

DIY Feedback

You may be exhausted from your first-draft efforts. Setting your writing aside for a spell may give you the time you need to recharge and become excited about your book project again. It may also afford you the perspective you need to see where your writing needs fixing. This approach to self-editing is most effective if there aren’t time constraints, and if you’re able to see what needs improving.

External Feedback

The remaining items on the list above are different from the first item in one important way: they offer feedback on your writing from an external source — from someone, or something, other than you. Because it’s difficult to be objective about your own writing, external feedback can alert you to your writing blind spots.

Not everyone responds well to feedback from beta readers and editors. Writers need to be able to develop resilience for receiving feedback, but this takes time and practice. If you’re still working on developing your resilience, we have another “external” self-editing option for you: editing tools.

Editing Tools

Many editors use automated editing tools to efficiently find problems in a piece of writing. If writers want to learn how these tools work, they can use them to diagnose their own writing!

Below is a list of some our favourite editing tools, linked to articles that describe how to use them. We’ve organized them into the four levels of editing that every manuscript should go through.

Not all tools are diagnostic and automated.* Some of them, such as the paragraph-level and big-picture tools, will help you when it’s time to fix your writing. We’ve selected tools that we think will be most helpful to writers, but there are many more tools that you can explore and try.

Self-Editing Tools for Writers

Tool Word-level Sentence-level Paragraph-level Big-picture level
Consistency Checker* x x
Hemingway app* x x
PerfectIt Pro* x
Self-Editing macros* x
Scrivener’s Binder+ x x
Word’s Navigation Pane+ x x
Split-screen feature in Scrivener+ x x
Split-screen feature in Word+ x x

 

*Diagnostic tools: these tools will check for one or more potential writing problems with the click of a button.

+Fixing tools: these tools will help you fix writing problems, once they are identified.

As far as we know, there aren’t automated diagnostic tools that will point out paragraph-level and big-picture problems. At least not yet. For now, you’ll need to educate yourself about common paragraph-level and big-picture problems, or get some direction from beta readers and editors. You can use the paragraph-level and big-picture tools in the table above to efficiently fix problems, once you know what they are.

Advantages of Editing Tools

Editing tools have a few distinct advantages over the other self-editing methods mentioned at the beginning of this article:

  • They aren’t people, which means that writers probably won’t respond to feedback emotionally, or take feedback personally. A tool also won’t roll its eyes because you’ve forgotten to close quotations and parentheses 54 times in a 300-page book. It’ll point out these errors, without judgment. And we could all use a little less judgement.
  • If you consider what these tools are telling you about your writing, you will sharpen your self-editing skills.
  • You can use diagnostic editing tools five minutes after you’ve typed the period on the last sentence of your first draft. This makes editing tools brilliant for on-demand writing.
  • These tools are widely available, and some of them are cheap or free. (Editors are widely available, but they’re not cheap or free.)
  • If you plan to use tools for self-editing, and later decide to hire an editor, your editor may have less to do, and that can save on editing costs.

Can these tools help you to become a better writer? We’re still gathering data on that. From what we’ve seen — with authors who’ve been willing to act on the information suggested by diagnostic editing tools — it does seem possible.

For example, if a tool suggests that you’ve included needless words in your writing, after deleting 103 needless words in the first 50 pages of your manuscript, there’s a good chance that you’ll include fewer of them in your writing in future!

Limitations of Editing Tools

Editing tools will not do it all. They have limitations that are important to understand. They will not write your book, cook your breakfast, or collect your kids from school. And they also won’t do these three things:

Won’t Think for You

An editing tool can alert you to potential problems with your writing. You need to decide when to address a highlighted instance and when to ignore it.

For example, the Hemingway app will highlight adverbs in blue, so you can, presumably, obliterate them. Why? Adverbs can clutter your writing and indicate instances of telling instead of showing. (Show, don’t tell!)

But does that mean you need to excise every adverb in sight? No. Depending on what you’re writing, you may choose to sprinkle adverbs as you would expensive fleur de sel.

Won’t Fix It for You

Editing tools are not designed to fix your writing for you. They identify problems, or help you fix problems efficiently. You have to do the heavy lifting.

For example, if your tool has highlighted a sentence that’s too long, you will need to divide that unwieldy beast into two shorter sentences. Your tool won’t do that for you.

Won’t Do the Footwork for You

If a solution to a writing problem isn’t obvious to you, you may need to dig around in writing craft books or style guides for help with interpreting what a tool is telling you.

Consider the example below. PerfectIt Pro 3 is asking the author to check the use of a hyphen in this instance. Has the author used the hyphen correctly?

Looking things up isn’t a waste of your time. The more you know why something might need fixing, the better your writing will be. If you let them, editing tools will show you where you quirks are, teach you what to pay attention to, and inspire (or provoke) you to make adjustments.

How to Use Editing Tools

As with any kind of learning, you need to go slowly or you could become overwhelmed. Here are some tips for keeping things manageable:

  1. Remember to begin with big-picture editing fixes and work your way down to word-level fixes. Editing order matters.
  2. Run diagnostic tools, one chapter at a time, until you become familiar with how these tools work. Exceptions: Run Consistency Checker and PerfectIt Pro on your entire book. Why? They’re designed to check for consistency across an entire manuscript.
  3. Run one tool at a time. Don’t run several tools at once. You’ll have too many things to pay attention to. The key is to remain focused and to improve your writing by degrees.
  4. Be strategic. You don’t need to run every tool on your writing, every time. Once you’re familiar with the tools we recommend, you’ll know which ones best address your most persistent writing quirks.
  5. Consult self-editing books for solutions to the writing problems your tools uncover.

Editing tools can help you to become aware of your writing blind spots and sharpen your self-editing skills. They may even help you become better at writing.

If, however, you’ve decided that learning how to use these tools is not for you, and you prefer to have writing problems fixed for you, we have yet another solution. Hire an editor! (You had to know we were going to say that.)

Note: We used the Hemingway app and PerfectIt Pro 3 to edit this article.

Image by Steve Snodgrass