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

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

Most Popular Tech Posts of 2014

Top 10by C.K. MacLeod

Here are the top 10 Posts on Tech Tools for Writers in 2014.

  1. 20-Minute Macro Course (free)
  2. Retrieving a Backup File in Scrivener
  3. Improve Your Writing with Macros
  4. Scrivener Cheat Sheet (Downloadable)
  5. How to Make Word Behave Like Scrivener
  6. A Self-Editing Toolkit
  7. New Tool for Writing and Editing: WPS Writer
  8. Creating and Checking Your Epub in Sigil
  9. How to Add a Macro to Word
  10. A Macro for Commonly Confused Words

Which tool will you try in 2015?

Image by Sam Churchill.

4 Ways to Customize Word for Writing and Editing

Customized sneakers

by C.K. MacLeod

You can customize Microsoft Word* so that it’s more efficient for writing, editing, and self-publishing. Here’s how:

1. Turn off AutoFormatting.

Out of the box (or with a fresh download), Word attempts to be helpful. Only it isn’t. Unless you change its native settings, it will format your writing in unintended ways. For example, Word may misinterpret a keystroke and insert a bulleted list or table where you don’t want one, or capitalize a word that’s meant to be lowercase.

Word’s AutoFormatting feature is to blame for these shenanigans.

To turn off AutoFormatting, go to File, Options, Proofing, Autocorrection and uncheck most of the options in the AutoFormat and AutoFormatAsYouType tabs. In the AutoCorrect tab, uncheck the box next to Replace text as you type.

Word autoformat window
Word's AutoFormat window

Tip: It’s best to insert symbols, such as a copyright symbol, into your writing manually. You can do that by going to the Insert tab, selecting Symbol, and choosing the symbol you wish to insert.

2. Turn off grammar check.

If you’re a native speaker of English, your knowledge of grammar will be better than Word’s. Guaranteed. Don’t let Word tell you otherwise.

To turn off grammar check, go to File, Options, Proofing, and uncheck both of these items: Mark grammar errors as you type and Check grammar with spelling.

No more squiggly green lines under sections of your text. You’re welcome.

3. Turn on the Navigation Pane.

Word’s Navigation Pane can can help you to move around sections of your book easily. This is especially helpful during the revision stage of writing (Scrivener users who are familiar with Scrivener’s Binder will attest to the value of this function).

Word's Navigation Pane

Ctrl + F opens the Navigation Pane. It isn’t ready-to-use when you first open it, but if you know how to apply heading styles as you write, you’ll be able to harness the power of the Nav pane. This article offers some how-tos.

4. Install editing add-ins.

You can buy add-ins that are designed to work in Microsoft Word. Some add-ins can automate many editing and document clean-up tasks. These add-ins can help you polish your writing and get your manuscript ready for print and ebook formats:

Clean-Up Tools

These tools allow you to remove tabs, spaces, paragraph returns and styles not in use in your document and more—with a few key strokes.

Self-Editing Tools

There are many ways to customize Word. These four tweaks can turn Word into a writer’s tool.

Note: *I use Word 2010. Instructions for your version of Word might be slightly different.

Image by woodleywonderworks

Hunt Down Adverbs with a Macro

by C.K. MacLeod

...the road to hell is paved with adverbs and I will shout it from the rooftops.

~Steven King

Adverb

Do you use -ly words in your writing? Do you use them with the dialogue tags he said and she said?

Example: "Who do you think you are?" she said arrogantly.

According to author Steven King, using adverbs in your writing, particularly with dialogue tags, can be a problem.

You can hunt down -ly adverbs with a macro. Karen Woodward has good multipurpose -ly macro, or you can insert your own list of -ly words in the macro script below (I've gotten you started). The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists, by Edward Bernard Fry et al. has a fabulous list of adverbs commonly used with dialogue tags.

Copy the macro from Sub to End Sub and paste it into Word's Visual Basic Application (VBA). Word will highlight all of the adverbs in bright green.


Sub lyWords()
'
' Highlights -ly words used in tags
'
' Written by Roger Mortis, revised by Subcortical, adapted by Jami Gold and tweaked by C.K. MacLeod
'
Dim range As range
Dim i As Long
Dim TargetList
TargetList = Array( "angrily", "cautiously", "happily", "sadly",  "unhappily")

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 = False
Do While .Execute(Forward:=True) = True
range.HighlightColorIndex = wdBrightGreen
Loop
End With
Next
End Sub


Remember to use judgement with the results of any macro. This macro will highlight -ly words, but only you can decide if each word is helping or hindering your writing.

Not sure what a macro is? See this post for an explanation. See also the videos for adding a macro and running a macro in Microsoft Word 2010.

What do you do with the highlighted words this macro finds? See Carla Douglas' post at the Beyond Paper Editing blog for suggestions.

Image by Quinn Dombrowski