Tools for editing and proofreading

EditingMany months ago I looked into a range of tools to support writing and came up with several recommendations. One that I recommended was ProWriting Aid. Time has moved on and I am considering more extensive use of such tools for reasons I will outline below. Before I discuss the choices some language needs clearing up. I think the following post: Editing vs. Proofreading: What’s the difference? sets out the definitions well. The post is by Amanda Foley from the oDesk Blog. In terms of Amanda’s definitions I want something to do a mix of editing and proofreading.

This post is rather longer than normal – be warned! I also include some updates based on contact with a couple of the vendors.

After discussing the economics of using tools I will give a description of the ideal package (for me), list the packages I have looked at then discuss why each of them falls short in an important regard.

Economic considerations

As an indie author I need to cover every step of production and either do it myself or outsource it. I have no publisher covering all the costs of getting a book to market. Editing my own work is difficult both due to the natural blindness we all have to our own words and various bad habits I have acquired over the years. Hiring an editor is the right way forward except for cost. I single pass through a book of even 15,000 words (and yes that’s a small book) might cost £100 – £250 [$150 – $375] (I have a range of outline quotes). To cover just that cost if I sell on Amazon for £2.50 and get the full 70% on kdp (which doesn’t happen) I would need to sell well in excess of 100 copies to cover my costs. Now it might sell 10 or 1,000 and you can argue I should have faith and invest.

The other choice is magic software. If a good tool is even 25% as good as an editor then it might be worth £50 to invest in and then use over multiple titles. If it is good enough to move your quality to the point where it is acceptable (ie no typos, no inconsistent use of hyphens, sensible range of vocabulary, grammar rules followed) then a budget of £100 isn’t stupid.

It may be that you will need a human editor later but if they quote on a sample you have already worked through a tool they should quote a lower price than if you send a messy first draft.

My perfect tool

My requirements are:

  • Cheap within reason and here annual vs one-off costs are interesting. Budget is not unlimited but there are economic considerations as noted in the previous section
  • Compatible with MS Word (and others would be a big bonus, such as Scrivener)
  • Prefer not to use an online package for performance reasons
  • Must handle large files (my metric is >60k words, others might want much higher)
  • Suitable for fiction and non-fiction
  • Customisable
  • No bugs

Packages examined

Since writing this I also discovered, but didn’t evaluate in any detail the following:

Assessment

These are my notes based on no more than fifteen minutes with each tool / website. I spent much longer on a couple of choices. You would be well advised to try these for yourselves as your needs will be different from mine.

1Checker

Well worth looking at – this is free and integrates with Word. It offers a bit less than other tools which may not be important. My main comment is that I can’t see how to tune it. For free it is definitely worth evaluating.

After the Deadline / Polish my Writing

This is the tool inside WordPress and is available as a webpage in which you can paste text. I use the WordPress option but didn’t look further as it has no Word integration.

Editor

This tool from Serenity Software goes out of its way to blind people with data on its website. The look and feel is a bit old-fashioned and I struggled with the clunky integration with Word. I think there is potential in this software but for me I don’t have the inclination to invest time into working their way.

Update: the authors of the code read this review and got in touch. I tried to repeat the tests but had trouble as their installer didn’t want to re-install a demo. They did point out that their website also includes a detailed comparison of many tools. Even if you discount their offering it makes interesting reading and is here: comparisons.

I do believe there is  lot of knowledge built into this but I found the workflow very trying. Even on a few tests I wasn’t happy with the way the product worked. I do believe that it finds many errors. I also tried on a clean build of Word 2013 on a Windows 8.1 machine and had no better experience. It is a shame as a group of skilled, sincere individuals have produced something they care about but are, possibly, unable to invest the time in modernising.

Grammarly

This is a very widely rated package and works on-line only. It is very expensive which put me off evaluating it further.

PerfectIt

A relative newcomer I liked this and it integrates well with Word. It is aimed for non-fiction and I would suggest worth keeping an eye on to see how it evolves.

ProWriting Aid

I rated this before in the free version and the subscription version isn’t the dearest. I don’t like the fact that it is web-based though the Word integration is pretty good. It does complain at anything over a few thousand words and takes minutes to analyse even 16,000. It does give back a lot of information. Pricing is one year $35, two years $55, three years $70 and lifetime $120. I suspect that if I go this route I will pay for a year then take stock as to how much I have really used it.

On further examination, they also have a premium plug-in for WordPress also provided if you subscribe.

Stylewriter 4

This is expensive compared to a one year rental of ProWriting Aid coming in at $90, $150 or $190 for various flavours. The payment is a one-off and the product runs off-line. It also runs on files of the order of 75k words. It runs offline so is quite fast. My main complaint is that the features you get for the $190 version over the $150 version don’t work consistently and I have had dozens of crashes. I had a response which suggests try to highlight areas of under 10,000 words. I tried a chapter of less than 3,000 words which still crashed!

It integrates well with word and if it didn’t crash I might consider buying the pro version.

Update: the support team at Stylewriter were very keen to help me with my crashing problem and couldn’t reproduce it at their end on the same files. I struggled to clean my installation (too many demo packages in one week) but when I then had the chance to try on a new laptop with Office 2013 and Windows 8.1 I had the same crashes. In a nutshell, I liked their interface and being off-line and had it worked might well have swallowed the relative cost.

Whitesmoke

Last up is WhiteSmoke another web-based package with Word integration. It is very expensive – $119 per year for the premium version with Word integration or $299.95 lifetime subscription. Ouch! The so-called demo is just an irritating graphic sequence as well. The front page has a ‘paste your text here’ box. I gave it a few thousand words and it claimed no critical errors (unlike every other package). It then tried to sell me the package without giving me any more information. This is highly rated if you look for reviews so maybe it is just me that it wound up.

When you get to the actual demo / on-line test it allows 10,000 characters and gives a reasonable report though I can’t see how to customise (it likes Oxford commas for example).

A word of caution

[pullquote]after a few hours you might want to give up writing all together[/pullquote]

The whole experience of testing lots of packages with your own work is dispiriting.  Each finds a range of points to criticise and they don’t completely overlap with their results. The net result is that after a few hours you might want to give up writing all together. I decided to grab some text from my kindle and try that in a couple of options; I cheered up when a best-seller attracted as much comment as my own work!

You also need to realise that these packages despite the claims of artificial intelligence and experience will still complain about any number of things that are either not important or a mis-understanding. There may help you eliminate bad habits but should not be a substitute for your own voice.

I’m very keen to hear of other people’s experience – please get in touch.

9 comments

  1. Thank you for this blog post. I am working towards becoming a professional editor (of creative writing) and have been testing out editing/grammar software trials. I’m obviously not looking for something to do the work for me, but to catch the elements I miss (as I don’t like to miss anything).

    I have so far trialed Prowritingaid, Stylewriter4 and Perfectit (which I didn’t realise was marketed at non-fiction).

    I have found Prowritingaid to be great for a snapshot of potential errors and like the way it highlights errors in an easy to view format. With stylewriter, I like how I can switch between the word document and back to the software again. I have also had a fair amount of crashes with it, although usually upon loading it. It behaves once I have a document loaded into it. I am rather torn over which version to go for though, so I’m undecided on that as yet. On the plus side, I have a learned all about bogs and peps 🙂

    Perfectit is a new trial. I’ve only had that a couple of days, and although you say it’s intended for non-fiction, I have found it useful for hyphenated words and inconsistencies (capitalised words in one place, and not in another), the ‘fix’ is instant. I also like how it will reduce two spaces to one in an instant, as I often flick between final/showmarkup and know I am responsible for many of those.

    As for grammarly, I’m sure it’s an excellent program, but I’m looking for software I can buy as a one time purchase, and haven’t yet looked into the others yet (but will), so thank you for this post.

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  2. Dear Tony, do you have any further experience using any of the software packages? Both whitesmoke and Grammarly are very expensive and I was wondering if you have ended up choosing ProWritingAid.

    Any further updates would be much appreciated

    Best
    Rui

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    • Hi Rui – I went ProWriting Aid in the end but as I suspected my usage is intermittent, mostly around proofing when I get near to a final draft, not while writing.

      Have you used any or are you still researching?

      Thanks for dropping by!

      Tony

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  3. This is some useful information, thanks for this. I found this site when I was looking up the different types of usage for ProWritingAid. I’ve been using it for a while, but wondered what specific differences the “creative” versus “general” writing style setting checks.

    I can add my two cents about this program. I’ve used it for one recently published novel (working on another right now with it), in addition to playing with the “Hemingway App” (http://www.hemingwayapp.com/). Both were affordable options for me, and I enjoy them both.

    The only drawback with ProWritingAid for me is attempting to use the Word plugin with a full length MS. What works is to do my edits chapter by chapter (cut and paste into a new document – lot of work, but in its own way useful) when I’m editing. I never use it for writing, just editing. Too distracting otherwise.

    The Hemingway app is decent in that chapter by chapter mode as well, but doesn’t catch as much as the ProWritingAid. It is fairly new, but still looks like the creator is improving its functions so it may get better with time, and it is only a few dollars ($6.99 at this time) for the desktop app. You can use it for writing, but since it is new, one word of warning is that it can crash easy if pushed too hard.

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