First off, I have to correct something from my last blog post. Apparently, you can hire a beta reader.
Darling Beta Readers has since followed me on Twitter. If you’re looking, give them a gander.
Also, since a friend of mine wanted to offer this as a service and, in fact, can do a good job, please check out
RDG Books. Rod Gilley is a great beta reader, can do an in-depth critique, and also knows a thing or two about bookkeeping.
Now, to today’s topic: The burning question of what editing tool to use. That’s the one thing you, constant writer, have in common with your editors. Even if you depend on the squiggly lines in Word, you’re using an editing tool. That does not eliminate the need for an editor, proofreader, or even a beta (free, barter, or pro.) It just makes
your job and theirs a lot simpler.
So what’s out there? I’ll give you the ones I know about personally.
People knock Microsoft for a lot of reasons. They’re still overcoming their early Windows phase when the software earned a reputation as buggy. Windows XP was a leaky and insecure, which brought an annoyed Bill Gates out of retirement. So did the disaster that was Windows Vista. And the 90s? When Excel for Windows was a ripoff of the late, somewhat lamented Lotus 123? Word a wholesale copy and paste of the old Word Perfect Suite? Yeah, that and a loyal Apple base has left a bad taste in people’s mouths, some too young to remember why.
s moved on from the bad ol’ days. Windows 7 was a great OS. Windows 8 was a well-intentioned misfire, but Windows 10/11 are pretty solid. So, too, is Microsoft 365, the latest incarnation of the once-maligned, now venerated Office beloved by corporate America. Office has matured to become an almost Apple-like ecosystem, best used in the cloud. And Word has gotten much better at its spell-check and grammar functions. It’s dictionaries can be customized to your writing skills. Unlike the big apps, Grammarly and ProWritingAid, it’s more dependent on your language preferences than on strictly UK English. (More on those two in a moment.)
The spellcheck is on par with just about everyone’s. In fact, as a developer, I’ve run into issues with installing Google’s spellcheck on in-house apps.
The Grammar Check still needs work. It flags odd things, has questionable logic around commas, and often contradicts the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). CMOS is, at least for American and Canadian English, is the preferred font of wisdom. But it has become more robust and predictable. If you have a 365 subscription and don’t want to buy a separate tool, Windows utilities can do the trick. More useful is track changes and comments, more of interest if you’re beta reading or doing full edits. A permanent “Ignore” option would make this even better.
Sigh. I want to tell you Grammarly is good. But I used the free version, which locks you into UK English. I have no problem with UK English. In fact, it took me about twenty years to stop writing “litre” instead of “liter.” But it tends to be restrictive and, even factoring in (or using) UK English, it makes a lot of mistakes. I’d like to say this is the result of the free version, but I’ve had writers and pro editors alike say the paid subscription doesn’t really measure up.
That said, the free version is a more robust alternative to Word’s built-in functions. Like ProWritingAid, you have to upload your work in small chunks. For the brief time I used it, it also would put its suggestions in as tracked cha
nges that could be imported back into Word. That’s handy when you have to pick and choose suggestions.
`is the Mack Daddy because I came of age just before the 90s began, and that was Gen X’s phrase. (Pause while I go yell at a cloud.)
ProWritingAid adapts to your language. And it gives you options for how you want it to look at your work. Like Grammarly, it has a free version with the same constraint: Only a few pages at a time. Fifty is about the limit.
If you subscribe, as I do, it also has free plugins for Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and your favorite browser (even Safari, Apple fans. Rejoice!)
ProWritingAid hates passive voice and will try to steer you toward simpler words and phrases. If you think it’s overbearing, tell it to ignore the suggestion. Better still, there’s a Report Incorrect button. Believe it or not, they’re paying attention. A few suggestions I made have made it into the app. (I suspect they got a lot of feedback, so I’m not exactly taking credit here.) Subscribers to the Premium and Lifetime versions can also build their own dictionaries within the tool while using the plugins. I find that very handy.
PWA hates passive voice. Usually that helps me keep it to one page or forces me to write a more active sentence. It will try to steer you toward inclusive language, important for corporate work. However, that doesn’t always work for fiction or other narrative work. Don’t complain. Just hit the ignore button, Francis. It’s one mouse click.
I’m writing this in Hemingway, which doubles as a word processor. .hemingway files can port to Word or other format or even post directly to blogs. It’s only $20 for a one-time install you can transfer to another machine of the same OS.
It is a bit aggressive on long sentences. As of this line, it’s flagged ten as needing a trim. One of the problems I run into while blogging, though, is typos.
Hemingway is very aggressive about adverbs, maybe too agressive. For starters, it’s scolding me right now for using “maybe” and “However.”
But Hemingway only makes suggestions. It doesn’t try to correct you. And it formats and does links. For $20, I’ll take it. Blogging or quick emails are on-the-fly writing. (It just flagged “on-the-fly” as an adverb. Twice. It cares nothing for your puny quotation marks.) Hemingway gives you a quick visual reference. If it flags something, you decide if you want to keep it. It shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all of your editing aresenal, but it can make a single draft look better.
There are other tools. Scrivener, for one, has built-in tools, but it’s more of an interface to give writers the same visual reference as Visual Studio or any number of open-source development tools. (It hates that sentence, too. It’s about software development, Hemingway. Nothing is simple about that!)
These are the tools I’v
e dealt with. Except for Hemingway, they all have free or built-in options. If it’s in your budget, use two as they catch different things. And do your research. I’ll bet you can find something better suited for you if you look. For me, it’s Hemingway for the short work, PWA for the long.
As we used to say in the early days of the WWW, your mileage may vary.