Manuscript editing software programs do much more than the built-in spelling and grammar checkers in your word processor. Some offer “first-pass” or “last-pass” editing to clean up mistakes in spelling, grammar, and punctuation; others help you improve your writing with detailed reports.
These programs can alert you to overuse of adverbs, clichés, redundancies, overlong sentences, sticky sentences, glue words, vague and abstract words, diction, and the misuse of dialog tags, to name just a few. Some of these tools will even connect you with a human editor with a click of a button. In alphabetical order, here are some of my favorites (this is by no means an exhaustive list)
IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
AutoCrit is well organized and offers a lot of information in a clean interface. In my writing, it revealed an excess of generic descriptions, passive voice, and too many initial pronouns, names, and “ing” words. I also use too many “ly” adverbs. On the plus side, I’m great at showing and not telling, and I don’t repeat words and phrases or use a lot of filler words or clichés.
All these were easy fixes once I was made aware of them. But hey, if you’re feeling depressed about your errors, just click the “compare to fiction” tab to show how your writing stacks up against published works, including mass-market paperbacks and bestsellers. It might make you feel better.
The manuscript analysis provides a lot of constructive criticism in a clean, easy-to-read layout. I like the visual charts representing sentence length and paragraph pace, too.
AutoCrit is $29.97/month.
This free software will find the mistakes your spelling and grammar checkers don’t see, such as inconsistent hyphenation (part time vs. part-time) and spelling (color vs. colour). It also finds things like numerals in the middle of sentences, compound words, and abbreviations that appear in different forms.
It does not check spelling and grammar, just consistency. Note: this is the freemium version of the $99 PerfectIt app for Microsoft Office 2013 and Google Docs.
It targets long nonfiction document like proposals, grants, and how-to manuals. I wish this kind of tool had existed back when I was a Silicon Valley technical writer! I will definitely run it the next time I edit my how-to book, the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors. What the heck, I’ll run it in my narrative nonfiction works, too.
Install Consistency Checker in Word by visiting the Microsoft Office 2013 store. To install it in Google Docs, go to the store listing, log in and click “Free,” then run Google Docs and Consistency Checker will be in the “Add-ons” menu.
Installing Consistency Checker add-on in Google Docs is easy. (Note that I also installed the ProWritingAid add-on.)
Draft is a writing, editing, collaboration, and publishing tool you access online using your browser. Each contributor’s changes show up in different colors, with “accept” and “reject” options. You can mark major revisions, find and revert to previous versions, import docs from Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive, and publish directly to places like WordPress, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and even MailChimp. They’ve provided a handy Chrome extension that lets you turn any text area on the web into something you can write and edit with Draft. You can even hire a human editor via the program.
Draft makes it clear what changes have been made and lets you collaborate with many others in the cloud.
You can email a document to your Draft account and create a simple presentation, then select segments of writing and the “simplify” robot catches common words and duplicate words and attempts to detect and delete unimportant sentences. More features include an audio-video transcription tool, analytics, and a website builder tool. “Hemingway Mode” provides distraction-free writing.
Draft is free, but donations unlock more benefits.
Fictionary is a new, browser-based tool that identifies plot holes and timeline issues, pacing, scenes with no purpose, confusing points of view, or empty stages. It provides you with a word count per scene, rewriting tips, and a visual narrative arc with character evaluation (entry and exit), and more.
This could be a good tool to use before you send your manuscript to an expensive developmental editor.
Integrates with both Grammarly and ProWritingAid via the Chrome browser extension.
$20/mo with a free 14-day trial.
Listen to my podcast interview with Kristina Stanley, best-selling author and co-founder of Fictionary.
I used Grammarly for about a year and really like it. It delivers information both line-by-line and in summary form. I bought an annual subscription in 2015, and I like the way it follows me around the web to check my WordPress blog posts, my Google Docs, Gmail, and comment and feedback forms on others’ blog posts and articles. It also corrects my social media posts and comment fields on others’ posts. Because I am a professional writer, it is embarrassing when I make basic spelling and grammatical errors in quick, social media posts and emails, so I appreciate this feature.
Grammarly costs $139.95 annually. There’s a 7-day money-back guarantee so you can try it out. If you need a human editor, quick, you can reach one through their site for a reasonable price.
Like most robust editing tools, Grammarly offers settings for various kinds of writing: business documents, novels, creative nonfiction, medical, technical, and casual. I set mine to creative nonfiction. And it looks like I have some work to do!
Hemingway is a distraction-free writing tool that displays a row of formatting elements across the top for bold, italics, bulleting, numbering, headings, and links. Slide it from WRITE mode into EDIT and you’ll get a clean, visual take on what might be wrong with your writing. The word and character counters are also very handy.
With the $10 desktop app for Mac and Windows you can import and export your text to Word, and export as HTML or Markdown language for your blogging platform, WordPress, or CMS files.
Some people like to write and edit in Hemingway and then import them into a tool called StackEdit, a browser-based Markdown editor, though you could easily use any of the other tools I’ve already mentioned.
The browser-based version is free. The desktop app for Mac and Windows costs $10.
Masterwriter is a valuable addition to any of the editors described in this chapter. It’s a thesaurus on steroids in the cloud that will improve your vocabulary and your prose. Enrich your writing with its synonym finder, rhyming dictionary, alliterations, word families, phrases, dictionary, and even a set of 11,000 icons of world culture to add imagery to your writing.
Instead of your story’s sun being simply hot you’ll find ideas like blazing, sizzling, fiery, torrid, punishing, merciless, or raging sun. Just put a word in the left side and click the dictionary you want to use and get results on the right side.
Check out the video tour and I think you’ll be impressed. An audio page enables you to collect your thoughts or music. Free trial and then $99.95/annually or $149.95 for two years.
Of all the tools I’ve used and reviewed, ProWritingAid probably offers the most value, especially with their clean, updated interface and detailed reports with the click of a link. I was so impressed that I bought the annual subscription even though I also subscribe to Grammarly. I love their free Google Docs and Chrome browser extension, too. I still use Grammarly because it follows me everywhere on the web, but with its thorough critique, I think ProWritingAid makes me a better writer. As an editor and publisher, the reports also help me communicate better with my authors.
A scaled-down version of ProWritingAid is free online, with Premium editions offered at $40 annually, $60 for a two-year license, $80 for a three-year license, and $140 for lifetime use.
ProWritingAid also offers a couple of advanced features you may be interested in using. As a publisher, I can create my own rules and house style that detects patterns, wildcards, overused words, dialog, and repeated words, plus it lets me create customized advice messages for my authors. Their developer API allows software developers to add writing analysis to applications they are developing.
ProWritingAid also offers a couple of advanced features you may be interested in using. As a publisher, I can create my own rules and house style that detects patterns, wildcards, overused words, dialog, repeats, and lets me create customized advice messages for my authors. Their developer API allows software developers to add writing analysis to applications they are developing.
SmartEdit is a first-pass editing tool for creative writers and novelists working on Windows. Since I’m Mac-based, I couldn’t review it but gleaned a lot of information from the screenshots and user reviews on their site. It costs $57-$67 for a desktop download, and there’s a free 10-day trial period.
Like AutoCrit and Grammarly, SmartEdit runs a series of checks on your work and highlights areas of concern. You can open your manuscript directly in SmartEdit, or copy and paste from your word processor into the SmartEdit Editor.
Unique features include a sentence length graph and detection of curly/straight quotes, hyphen and em-dash counts. A sentence-start list displays your sentences and counts the number of times you begin them with a particular word, which can be shockingly instructive.
SmartEdit’s Sentence Openers feature is shockingly instructive.
SmartEdit, like ProWritingAid, may deserve consideration by professional editors and publishers as it allows you to export lists of problems the program caught to Excel, PDF, HTML, CSV, and text. This kind of feedback helps a lot when communicating with writers and editors.
The WriteMonkey folks describe their Windows desktop app as “zenware” for writers. Like Hemingway and Draft, WriteMonkey offers a stripped-down, distraction-free writing environment. You can customize your background, font, and what you see in the toolbar, such as word count, with a progress bar and the current time.
More advanced features are available as well, such as the ability to manage separate chapter files in a book-length work using a “Jumps” feature.
You write in simple text, formatting using Markdown language or the Textile markup language if you like. You can export to HTML and upload it to the web as a page or a blog post.
Like some of the other tools, WriteMonkey is supported by donations. Your donation gives you access to many plugins that are available separately.