Wadded paperEditing is a details game. But when the shortest thing you’ve edited so far clocks in at 53,000 words, there are a lot of details to cover. If it weren’t for the tools out there, it’d take up entire evenings getting through just half a chapter of prose. Fortunately, there are tools that speed this process along. But you can’t just blindly follow them. Many writers consider Word’s spell and grammar checks sufficient.

Not even. And while it’s improved, it misses a lot. And its grammar checking still needs work.

So, what’s out there to help an editor (and a writer) clean up the prose on that last draft? Here are a few tools. Some I use. Some I don’t. 


Grammarly is the best known editing tool out there. Run your manuscript through that, and it flags all sorts of mistakes, such as inconsistent quotation marks and apostrophes, passive voice, and sentence fragments. The best way to use Grammarly (and ProWritingAid, my preferred tool) is to take each suggesting on a case-by-case basis. Blanket deletions or revisions of adverbs, passive voice, etc. can actually make things worse. Grammarly makes suggestions, but you still have to decide if they work or not. An entire block of legalese will have reams of wordy prose and less active voice than usual.

Downside: Last time I used it, I was locked into UK English.


I wanted to like Hemingway. I really did. Instead of Word or Scrivener, word processors with spell and grammar checking built in, Hemingway is an editor with a word processor built in. It tracks how many adverbs, passive voice instances, and long sentences occur as they’re written. Or you can import a file and let it work its magic. Alas, Hemingway is too rigid. Its namesake’s most famous passage, “He went to the river; the river was there,” would not pass muster. Seems Ernest committed the crime of using passive voice in the back half of a compound sentence (which Hemingway doesn’t like.) Recommend this for short business memos but not for long work of any kind. I even soured on it for blog posts.


Like Grammarly, you can pump a manuscript through it. I have a paid subscription, so I also have the Word plugin. That is a major help, especially this month, when I have three manuscripts. However, there are some caveats. The plugin chokes late in long manuscripts. I’ve managed to mitigate this by converting a given manuscript to .docx format (You’d be surprise how often I receive .doc and .rtf.), then switching back to the original with track changes in place. Track changes is what bogs things down, so the conversion to the current format helps. A couple of downsides: it flags entity names, which in fiction is useless, and it has some questionable ideas about US vs. UK English. Unfortunately, there’s no Disable Rule option for either of these. Still, it’s my go-to tool. Like Grammarly, I can ignore what I don’t like. With track changes in Word, I can make comments rather than wholesale changes when the writer should really handle a suggestion.


I don’t own this one. Yet. The money went the other way on my 2022 taxes, or the IRS would have funded this and Atticus nicely with a lot left over for other things. (Like going to jazz shows. I digress.) PerfectIt is your writing buddy. It asks you if you want track changes turned on, what dialect of English you want (Sorry, Dana King and Kate Pavelle, but no Yinzer filter yet.), and how you want abbreviations and spellings kept consistent. Used in tandem with ProWritingAid or Grammarly, it can really cut down your editing time and give you a clearer picture of what your manuscript needs. That frees an author or editor to find things like word choices and name inconsistencies.

My personal choice is to run it through PerfectIt first, then ProWritingAid. Much of what I do is eyeballing it. The tools don’t really find run-ons, though ProWritingAid hates sentence fragments. Put that with a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style and keep Google up to check those brand names (not as easy as you may think, and some of my favorite editors miss things like Jack Daniel’s.), and editing, while not easy, becomes doable, even enjoyable. On my last manuscript for Down & Out, I actually was disappointed to stop to make a comment when I wanted to see what happened next. Because editors, yanno, read.

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