Improve Your Writing with Macros

353183610_2bc8acc9be_mBy C.K. MacLeod

There is a lot you can do to improve your writing. Some improvement tasks will take you hours to accomplish, but some of them can be quick and easy with the help of macros.

What are macros?

Macros are tiny programs that can handle repetitive and finicky fix-up tasks that would otherwise take loads of time. Word processing programs like Microsoft Word have the ability to run macros.

Where do you find macros?

You can write your own macros, but it's often easiest to find and tweak existing ones. Paul Beverley's free book, Macros for Editors contains hundreds of macros for writing and editing tasks.

At the beginning of his book, Beverley offers detailed instructions for understanding and using macros in various versions of Word. He also explains what each macro does. You can copy the macro scripts from the file that accompanies the book of instructions and add them to Microsoft Word.

Free macros for writers

I combed through Paul Beverley's free macro book and selected a few macros that writers can use to improve common writing bugbears:

LongSentenceHighlighter—highlights sentences that are too long
CountPhrase—select a phrase in the text and Countphrase will count the number of occurrences—this can tell you if a phrase has been overused
HighlightSame—selected a word or phrase, and HighlightSame will highlight all instances of it—also great for identifying those overused words and phrases

Because two of the macros above highlight text, once you've addressed those highlights, you'll want to remove them from your file in one fell swoop. HighlightAllOff does the trick. You can use his UnHighlight to remove highlights selectively.

Karen Woodward also shares two macros that may be useful to writers:

highlight_ly—highlights adverbs ending in "ly"; writing with strong nouns and verbs is always preferable
highlight_targets—highlights words that can clutter your writing, like the weak words "very" and "that"; you can customize the macro by adding other lists of words, too.

These two macros are my current favourites:

NeedlessWords—removes words that clutter your writing (my version of Karen Woodward's highlight_targets)

TellingWords—highlights potential instances of telling, so you can change them to showing

The macros above allow you to consider why you've used certain words in your writing. Addressing needless words and telling words can help you tighten your prose and keep your reader engaged in your story.

And finally, author and editor Ryan Macklin has designed a macro to detect the passive voice in your writing. While a bit of passive voice is alright, too much can make your text more challenging to read.

Macros can help you to see and catch potential problems that you'd otherwise miss in your writing.

Do you have a favourite writing macro?

Image by Matt Scott

Hemingway Editor: A Proofreading Tool for Writers

Ernest Hemingwayby C.K. MacLeod

Updated September 28, 2016

Proofreading tools are an easy way to help you see and fix potential problem areas in your writing. Recently, I discovered the Hemingway Editor created by Adam and Ben Long. It’s a standalone program that costs $20 US, and you can download it to a PC or a Mac computer. You can also try the free online version. It’s most helpful if your aim is to make your writing clear.

How it Works

The Hemingway Editor highlights common problems that can get in the way of clear writing:

  • Complex words or phrases
  • Extra-long sentences
  • Long sentences
  • Too many adverbs
  • Too many instances of passive voice

It colour codes each potential error type, so you can address them one at a time. You can see an explanation of each error type here.

The app won’t tell you

  • how to fix long sentences (shorten them),
  • what to do with adverbs (delete most of them), or
  • how to handle too many instances of passive voice (rewrite the sentence in the active voice—sometimes), but...

...it will suggest simple words for complex ones.

The Hemingway Editor (and other revision tools like it), will give you something to correct in your first draft, just minutes after you’ve written it. This makes it a terrific tool for on-demand writing with tight deadlines.

Hemingway2SimpleWord

Quick Steps

To use the Hemingway Editor, copy your text from your word processor and paste it into the text editor. Click on the Edit view to see areas that may need your attention.

Alternatively, you can write right in the app, in the Write view.

HemingwayWord

You can make corrections in the Hemingway Editor, and copy and paste your corrected text back into your word processor. Or, you can go back to your original text in your word processor and make changes there.

The newest version of Hemingway (2.0) will now allow you to  add heading and paragraph styles, and if you decide to save the file as a Word doc, the heading and paragraph styles will show up in Word. You can also export your file in markdown.

Note: I use the PC version of the Hemingway Editor, and I’ve found that it works well for articles, newsletters, and blog posts. The design team is working on some improvements, which means it may soon handle longer texts, such as book chapters.

Keep in mind, the Hemingway Editor is a simple text editor with proofreading features. Hyperlinks, bulleted lists, and images will not transfer as-is. You will lose some of the formatting.

The Hemingway Editor is an excellent tool, especially for the price. If you don’t want to use a separate program to revise your writing, and you already use Microsoft Word for editing and proofreading, try some of the revision macros on this blog. They’re free, and so is the 20-Minute macro course that will teach you how to use them.

Image by Thor

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

8 Proofreading Tools for Beta Readers

8 Proofreading Tools for Beta ReadersBy C.K. MacLeod

Updated. Originally posted on April 4, 2014.

Many self-publishing authors use beta readers to get feedback on a book before publication. You don't have to work on paper; you can use a computer or a tablet to "mark up" or make notes on an author's manuscript.

Below is a list of tools for beta readers. An author may send you a manuscript in a variety of formats, so I've included options for several file formats.

File Formats

Sometimes it will make sense to convert the author's file to another format. Many of the proofreading tools below will read PDFs. You can save an .rtf, .doc, or .docx file as a PDF with Microsoft Word or WPS Writer (free). If you have a stylus for your tablet, you may be able to mark up text like you would on paper.

This table will tell you which tool will read which file format. I summarize the features of the tools below.

Tablet Apps

Adobe Reader (free)

  • Reads PDF files
  • Available for Android and iOS
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs, and comments
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Works well with a stylus
  • Search function, so you can search all instances of an error

iAnnotate

  • Reads PDF files
  • Available for Android (free) and iOS ($9.99)
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Works well with a stylus

WPS Writer (free)

  • Part of the WPS Office suite
  • Available for Android and iOS tablets and phones
  • Reads .doc and .docx files
  • Track changes
  • Comments
  • Find and replace
  • Voice search
  • Syncs with desktop version so you can alternately work on a computer and a tablet

Computer Apps

WPS Writer (free and paid)

  • Part of the WPS Office suite
  • Reads .doc, .docx and .rtf files
  • Track changes
  • Comments
  • Robust find and replace
  • Wildcards
  • Pro version can run proofreading macros
  • Syncs with the tablet app version so you can alternately work on a computer and a tablet

Adobe Reader XI (free)

  • Reads PDFs
  • Used by professional proofreaders
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Allows you to load PDF stamps into the software (see below), so you can mark a variety of proofreading errors with symbols instead of with comments
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Robust search function
  • Read-aloud feature so you can listen for mistakes that your eyes might miss

PDF XChange Editor (free)

  • Reads PDFs
  • Used by professional proofreaders
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Allows you to load PDF stamps into the software
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Robust search function

Adobe Digital Editions

  • Reads epubs
  • Use ADE if the book has already been professionally formatted for e-readers
  • It's not possible to mark up in ADE, but you can copy sections of text into a word processor and mark up the changes there—procedure explained by Rob at 52 Novels

Kindle E-ink Readers and Apps

App or Desktop Version?

Computer software tends to have more robust search functions than tablet apps, but it can take a while to figure out how to use the drawing tools to mark up the text with a mouse.

Proofreading stamps are a shorthand for proofreading errors, and tend to make the proofreading process faster. Use them if the author knows what they mean (or provide the author with a glossary of symbols, if you like).

Note: As far as I know, stamps tend to only work in the desktop versions of proofreading software.

8 Proofreading Tools for Beta Readers
Wiley Publishing stamps in PDF XChange Editor

If you want to imitate the pros, you can import* proofreading stamps into your proofreading software or design your own. Louise Harnby of the Proofreading Parlour offers a collection of British proofreading stamps for free, and you can find American proofreading stamps on the Wiley Publishing website.

Do you have a favourite proofreading tool not listed here? Tell us about it in the comments below.

*To learn how to import proofreading stamps into Adobe Reader XI or design your own, see this video by Adrienne Montgomerie.

Image by Alan Levine

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

Using Split Screen for Editing

4260085353_5c0efc3f39_oby C. K. MacLeod

Word and Scrivener's split-screen functions are handy for editing long documents. At some point in the editing process, you may need to compare facts or details in one section of your book with facts and details in another section. Scrolling back and forth through pages and pages of writing can be frustrating, but with the split-screen function, you don't have to.

Here's how it works in Word and in Scrivener:

Split Screen in Word 2010

  1. In the Home tab, go to View and in the Window area, click on the Split button.
Word split screen button
Access Word's split screen in the View tab

A horizontal rule, or line, will show up across your document. Click anywhere in your document to anchor the rule. You can move the rule up or down at any time.

Note the horizontal rule in Word's split-screen view
Note the horizontal rule in Word's split-screen view
  1. In the split-screen view, the Split button has changed to the Remove Split button.To return to a single pane, go to View, Window area, Remove Split.

Split Screen in Scrivener

  1. Click on the Horizontal Split button in the top right of Scrivener's middle pane.
Horizontal split button
Scrivener split-screen view

The button will immediately change to the No Split button and Scrivener's horizontal split- screen view looks like this:

Scrivener's split-screen view
Scrivener's split-screen view

If you prefer to see your split screens side-by-side instead of stacked on top of one another, you can click on the Vertical Split button to the left of the Horizontal Split button.

  1. Click on the No Split button to return to single-pane view.

The next time you're working with a long document, and you're having to check facts, cross-references, or even write a concluding paragraph, consider using the split-screen function in Word or Scrivener to make the job easier.

Image by Nina Matthews

 

Consistency Checker—A Free Proofreading Tool

ConsistencyCheckerAdd-on

by C. K. MacLeod

@CKmacleodwriter

Have you discovered the Google Docs library of Add-ons?  They work like plug-ins and they can perform a variety of useful tasks.

Consistency Checker, by PerfectIt, is a lite version of one of my favourite proofreading tools. It will scan your document for:

  • abbreviations in two forms (US vs. U.S.)
  • common typos (teh vs. the)
  • contractions (contractions aren’t used in all kinds of writing)
  • hyphenation of words (in-line vs. in line)
  • numbers in sentences (spelled out or numerals?)
  • spelling variations (colour or color)

These are some of the items a copyeditor or proofreader will typically check in a manuscript.

Where to Get Consistency Checker

If you have a gmail account, you can get Consistency Checker through Google Docs:

  1. Click on the Add-ons tab in Google Docs, click on Get add-ons and search for the Consistency Checker by PerfectIt. Download the add-on.
  2. Open the Consistency Checker by once again clicking on the Add-ons tab in Google Docs. The Consistency Checker should now be listed.
  3. Click Open and then click Scan.

Interpreting Consistency Checker's results takes a bit of practice and may require you to look up a few things in a style guide, but once you have the hang of it, you can use this proofreading tool before you share your writing with the world.

For more information about Consistency Checker and other useful editing tools, see this post at the Beyond Paper blog.

2 Tools for Improving Your Writing

by C.K. MacLeod

Updated. Originally posted at Beyond Paper Editing.

Learning to write well is a process, and there is so much to consider—from story structure to the words you choose.

In self-publishing circles, there is a lot of discussion about perfecting plot, characters, and dialogue—the elements of story—but comparatively little airtime is given to the building blocks of stories: words.

Sometimes, the words we use can clutter our writing and jolt the reader out of the story. Strunk & White calls these words "needless words." That's good news. If these words are needless, we don't need them, and if your writing will be better without them, the solution is simple!

Needless Words

So, what are needless words? In a nutshell, any word that can be deleted without altering the meaning of a sentence or threatening correct grammatical construction is a needless word.

Strunk and White list some examples in the Omit Needless Words section of their famous style guide. Janice Hardy's Words to Avoid list is another terrific resource for learning which words you can do without.

Hunting down needless words is an easy way to clean up your writing because it often requires nothing more from you than to find the offending words and press the delete button. Excise these words from your writing and you're well on your way to communicating clearly.

Finding Needless Words

I know what you're thinking... Do I have to pick through every word in my 300-page book? You can, but I'm not suggesting that you find needless words manually in a word-by-word manner. Oh, no. There are tools for that. Nowadays, simple tech tools can help you root out those words that muddy your writing.

Below, I've listed two tools that authors can use to polish their prose: one for Word users and the other for Scrivener users.

Word Tool

In Microsoft Word, you can use a simple highlighting macro that will hunt down and highlight all of the needless words in your book in a matter of minutes. I call it the Needless Words macro, in honour of Strunk & White. You can then decide how to address those highlighted words (delete them!).

NeedlessWords macro in action

You can find the Needless Words macro here.

Scrivener Tool

Scrivener's Word Frequency tool is less sophisticated, but still worth a mention. It doesn't highlight needless words, but it indicates words you may have overused. You can then use Scrivener's Find and Replace function to find and scrutinize those words you've used most. In Scrivener, you can find the Word Frequency tool by going to Project, Text Statistics, Word Frequency.

Scrivener's Text Statistics tool

Scrutinizing words is best left for the revision stage of writing, after the the big-picture elements and paragraph-level elements have been addressed. Taking the time to give your writing attention at the word level will ensure a smoother read for your readers.

Image by Matt Scott

3 Essential Tools for Publishing

By C. K. MacLeod Number three

Self-publishing authors are doing everything that traditional publishers once did: writing, editing, and designing and formatting books. These tasks require authors to be more tech aware than ever before.

Tech tools can help with tasks once handled by traditional publishers. Below, I'll share with you the three tech tools that I use for my self-publishing workflow.

Criteria for Choosing Tools

These are my criteria for choosing the tools I'll use...

A tool must

  • have the right features for the task
  • make a task more efficient
  • be inexpensive, from a cost-per-use standpoint
  • not take too much time to learn (there is only so much time for steep learning curves when you're a jack-of-all-trades)
  • have adequate support in the way of tutorials, videos, guides, forums, or someone to answer questions, if necessary

The tools I describe below meet all of these criteria.

Sure, it'd be wonderful if one tool could do it all, but I haven't found that tool (let me know if you have). No tool is designed to do everything, and using some tools for editing, for example, is akin to using a spoon to dig a hole to plant a tree. The smartest thing you can do is choose the best tool for the job.

These three tools are the best tools for the jobs I do...

Scrivener

For writing book-length works, I haven't found a tool that beats Scrivener. Scrivener shines in the way it allows writers to arrange and manipulate sections of a book. If you're a plotter, panster or tweener, you can begin writing your book from the beginning or middle because you can arrange your book's sections with ease later.

Scrivener will let you store your book alongside research notes and pictures, and it has nifty colour coded labels that can help you to indicate your progress on a section of writing. You can also set word count targets, which can help you reach your daily or weekly writing goals.

Scrivener Labels
Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener

This handy Scrivener cheat sheet will get you started.

While Scrivener has track changes and comments features, it isn't my favourite tool for editing my writing. As a professional editor, I know that there are ways to automate editing tasks, which helps with efficiency, but more importantly, helps me to catch errors I'd otherwise miss.

Microsoft Word / WPS Writer

My tool of choice for automated editing tasks is Microsoft Word. Most professional editors use Word for editing, and with good reason. If Word isn't in your budget, try WPS Writer(part of the WPS Office suite). The free version mirrors many of Word's powerful features. Upgrading to the Pro version ($60) will allow you to run macros—tiny programs that automate hours-long editing tasks with a few clicks. If you can cut and paste, you can learn to use a macro. This free 20-Minute Macro Course will teach you how.

For the record: while I do everything to make my writing as polished as it can be, I know that I'm not the best person to copyedit my own writing. I have my editor do that. If you hire a copyeditor, your copyeditor will most likely work in Word (and if she doesn't, and she charges by the hour, you may pay more for editing than you should).

Jutoh

After the editing stage, you'll likely format your book for e-reading devices. Word is notoriously finicky for formatting ebooks, and Scrivener creates ebook files with unsightly gaps between words. So, while you can format ebooks with Scrivener or Word, they aren't the best tools for the job.

To format ebooks, I prefer Jutoh for a more reliable outcome. You can export an edited Word document into Jutoh easily, and if you've had the foresight to style your paragraphs and headings in Word, those styles will transfer, too. Jutoh will then create an epub or a mobi.

Having the right tools for the right tasks will help you produce better books, faster. While the tools I recommend aren't the only tools to get the job done, they are the best tools I've found to date.

Image by Hubert Figuière

Using Labels in Scrivener

3749662498_7c29433b82_z by C.K. MacLeod

@CKmacleodwriter

A book in progress can be an unwieldy beast, and sometimes it's difficult to keep track of all the parts and the status of each part.

Scrivener's labels can help you to get your head around your writing project.

You can colour code each chapter of your book to determine where you are with that chapter. For example, here are the colours I used for a book I'm writing:

  • Yellow—Notes
  • Blue—First draft
  • Turquoise—Revised draft
  • Pink—Final draft

After I work on a chapter, I assign it a label so that the next time I open Scrivener, I can tell, at a glance, which chapters need attention and what kind of attention they need.

Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener
Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener

Here's how you can apply labels to your writing project in Scrivener:

Labels in Scrivener Quick Steps

  1. Adjust your settings in Scrivener. Go to View, Use Label Color In, and select Binder. This will ensure that colour is applied not just to your cue cards, but in your Binder as well.
  2. Click on a file in Scrivener's Binder. That's the file the label will be added to.
  3. Open the Inspector Pane by clicking on the i button in the top right.
  4. Click on the triangle in the General Meta-Data area.
  5. Click on the down arrow in the Label area.
  6. Add an existing label to your Scrivener file, or create a new label by clicking on Edit, Label tab+button. To change a label's colour, click on the coloured box next to the label and choose a new colour.

Add colour to your book's chapters, so you can quickly tell what kind of attention those chapters need.

Image by albastrica mititica