What proofreading software can and can’t do

Oct 30, 2018 | Better Writing

I was lucky to have great editors early in my career. They did what you expect editors to do, they took my copy and made it better, but they did more. They saw their job as coaching me to become a better writer.

The first couple of times that Jon asked me to “come around here,” to his side of the desk, I was angry and saw it as an attack. But I learned that Jon made me a better writer. Eventually, I came to relish those times. There aren’t many editors like that today, but there is software you can use to help improve your writing.

Editing/Proofreading Software

Three commonly-used editing/proofreading packages are Grammarly, Hemingway, and ProWritingAid. I won‘t review their individual features here. Dave Chesson has already done that in his blog post: “Best Proofreading Software of 2018.”

You can use these programs to become a better writer if you understand what they can do and what they can’t.

No Software Will Replace A Professional Editor

Lynette Smith is my business book editor of choice. She’ll clean up your writing, but she’ll do a lot more. Lynette knows which particular style sheet is right for your book.

She also makes suggestions about structure. Lynette suggested that we divide a client’s book into three sections. That made the book better instantly.

Here’s the bottom line. Editors are human beings. That means they have judgement. They can perceive things and interpret what they see No software will do what a good editor can do.

What Software Packages Can Do

Software packages can follow the rules. Period. There’s no judgement, but there is a very thorough view of your writing against some standard rules.

Software doesn’t get tired or have a bad day. You get all the rules applied the same way every time.

Every Software Package is Eccentric

Writing is a uniquely human activity. Software depends on programming.

Programs don’t understand things that humans get naturally. That’s just the way it is. There are too many rules and exceptions for any programmer to cover. Here are two examples from my experience with ProWritingAid.

I prefer a headline style that doesn’t use periods. The software I use insists on treating them as sentence fragments.

I like to use parallel construction in my business writing. I may begin three sentences in the same way, one right after the other. The software doesn’t like that.

If I used Hemingway or Grammarly, they might not have the same issues, they would have different ones. No matter what program you use, it will not understand something you do. Thanks to programmers for getting it as good as they have. Don’t expect perfection.

How to Improve an Individual Piece

If you’re writing a blog post, an article, or a book chapter, you can use proofreading software to make it better. I tell my clients to try the following. I used the process with this post.

Figure out what you want to say and the order you want to say it in. Remember that software can’t make suggestions about structure.

Write a draft or two. When you’ve got it the way you want it, read your piece aloud. Your mouth will find issues that your eyes miss.

You have the important things in the right order. You’ve improved readability by reading your piece aloud. Now it’s time for the proofreading software. The software package you choose will suggest ways to improve your piece.

Bottom Line

Editing/proofreading software is great for helping you improve your writing. Remember that software is rule-based, and it won’t replace a professional editor’s judgement and range.

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