What Editing Software Can Teach You About Your Writing
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Editing software can’t replace a human editor, but if you present him with a well-edited, highly-polished text, an editor will be able to focus on your content and ideas rather than your syntax and word choice.
As writers, we’re sometimes too close to our prose to pick out areas where we can tighten it up. We all have our writing strengths, and we all have bad habits. Yep, even you!
One thing I have learned over the last couple of years is that editing software can teach you a thing or two about your writing that you might not expect. I like ProWritingAid, but find the tool that works best for you.
Editing tools use complex algorithms to compare your writing with millions of published books and articles, past and present, from around the globe. They can give detailed analysis of your writing based upon what’s already out there. And if you are doing something in your writing that has never, ever been done by any published writer, it’s probably worth checking to make sure it’s correct.
I would never suggest technology can replace your human editor entirely, but if you present him with a well-edited, highly-polished text, an editor will be able to focus on your content and ideas rather than your syntax and word choice.
Here are a few key things you can learn about your writing through the use of editing software.
You want readers to glide through your writing with nothing to slow them down. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this. An editing tool will show you the following gaffes that make your prose hard to read.
- Readability scores. How easily can your audience get through your writing? If a seventh grader can read and understand it, you’re highly readable. If you’re writing commercial fiction at a college level, it’s too hard to read. Editing software analyzes and scores each paragraph. Use this readability score to find passages that should be simplified and replace those words your readers might stumble over.
- Inconsistencies. Nothing breaks your reader’s attention like inconsistencies in your prose. This includes spelling, hyphenation, and capitalization. In particular, British, Canadian, Australian, and American English have differences that are immediately noticeable (e.g. colour vs. color). Your editing software can catch these inconsistencies, allowing your reader to sit back and enjoy your writing.
- Sentence length. Good writing varies in sentence length, allowing your prose to ebb and flow. Short, choppy sentences make for quick reading. Longer, more flowing sentences slow reading down, giving your reader time to consider and ruminate. A good editing software program will graph your sentence length to give you a visual analysis of your sentence length variation.
- Pacing. When your fiction writing contains too much introspection or back story, it can bore your reader. You want to move things forward with action. Editing software will analyze your writing for pacing to ensure you’re spreading out your slow, reflective scenes and maintaining forward momentum.
Technical edits help you tighten and polish your writing. Certain errors can scream “Amateur!” which you want to avoid both in fiction and business writing. Consider the following.
- Adverbs. While the occasional adverb can be important to your meaning, strong verbs make adverbs moot. Readers don’t want to hear how she “talked quickly.” Instead, tell them how she “fired off words.” Use editing software to filter out adverbs so you can decide whether they’re appropriate or if they should be replaced with a stronger verb.
- Glue words. Glue words are those common words that don’t tell your readers much, such as in, is, the, of, on, like, an, etc. When a sentence uses over 45% of these words, it’s a sticky sentence and it needs to be tightened up. Instead of saying “she was of the opinion,” try “she believed.” Replace “I was able to see” with “I saw.”
- Unnecessary or redundant words. These are hard for a writer to see until they are highlighted. We write conversationally, and redundant words slip into our vernacular like foxes into a hen house. The following sentence sounds appropriate, but it’s cluttered with unnecessary words: The string of missteps first began when Serena slipped on the frozen ice. “First” is redundant because “began” means the first occurrence, and “frozen” should be deleted because “ice” is obviously frozen. Using an editing tool will catch these redundancies so you can declutter your prose.
- Repeated words. Again, another difficult problem for writers to detect. We know what we want to say, and sometimes we repeat certain words or phrases to get our meaning across. Sometimes this is acceptable, such as using keywords in your content, but you don’t want readers to notice you’re saying the same word over and over again. Good editing software shines a light on repeats so you can find better alternatives.
Use technology to your advantage
Look for a comprehensive editing tool that provides analysis on the greatest number of commonly made mistakes. There are many more functions editing tools will provide beyond those discussed here. Your basic spell-checker in a word processing program can take you part of the way, but purpose-built editing software will help you assess your writing to ensure you’re saying what you mean in the best way possible.
A tight, highly-polished text will make your human editor’s job easier. And editors love writers who make their jobs easier!