Terry Erle Clayton Psychology of Workplace Writing
Professionals who write know it’s the little things like hyphens and commas and missing letters that cause the most confusion, embarrassment and sometimes a lawsuit. Sure, everyone reads it through one more time and does a spell check. What else is there? Lots actually.
Here are seven mostly free or inexpensive state-of-the-art software tools professional copy editors use to eradicate errors and polish up your text with next to no effort. Now you can use them too.
When you read your own writing, your eyes tend to see what your brain thinks should be there and you can skim right past what turn out to be glaring mistakes. Listening to someone read out loud what you wrote while you follow along with your eyes is like standing in the shoes of the reader. If there is a word wrong or a spelling or grammatical error, you are going to hear it when you would not see it.
MS Word 10 has an inbuilt text-to-speech reader you can activate with Ctrl+Alt+Space Bar or by clicking the Dictate icon on the Home ribbon. If you are working on an Android device, try @Voice Aloud Reader. There are dozens of other text-to-speech readers on the market. Just do a search for 'text to speech readers' and try them out.
MS Word Spell Check
Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect in it's weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.
MS Word Spell Check will catch most obvious errors and if you turn on the grammar check it will catch a few more. What it will not do is catch contextual errors or flag missing words. Still, it’s worth doing. Just don’t assume it will catch all your spelling errors. You can set your preferred proofing language (US, UK or other language) by going to File/Options/Language.
PerfectIt from Intelligent Editing
PerfectIt is like having your own personal proofreader on call 24/7. It picks up all the little inconsistencies in hyphenation, bullet point and list punctuation, spelling (program here, programme there), flags all your abbreviations, looks for missing quotation marks and brackets, checks for consistent use of capitals in the text and in headings, and 32 other checks it would take you hours to find manually and still miss a few. If the ‘devil is in the details’, PerfectIt is The Exorcist. You can download a free, easy-to-install, full-feature 14-day trial at this link: http://www.intelligentediting.com/ No credit card information required.
WordRake will ‘declutter’ your text in no time flat. It takes only a minute to process 240,000 English words and all their permutations and flags all those ‘unnecessary words’ you hear writing gurus talk about. Then you go through the text and click ‘accept’ or ‘reject’. This is what people mean when they talk about ‘polishing’ your writing. Here is a sample:
There was nothing that [Nothing] occurred during the course of this investigation that gave rise to [caused] any concern about her eligibility.
Try the full-feature 7-day free trial here: https://www.wordrake.com/ No credit card information required.
StyleWriter is a complete manuscript editor that plugs directly into all versions of Microsoft Word and runs on your computer so you don’t need an Internet connection. StyleWriter hunts for common and not-so-common writing errors, jargon, wordy phrases, passive verbs, long sentences and more. It’s not uncommon for users to cut up to 25% of the words from their draft, which is what gives your writing that magic sense of flow. It also has its own readability tool called the Bog Index that measures how likely it is your readers will get 'bogged down' in wordy text.
I find the Bog Index far superior to other readabilty measures for highly technical text. StyleWriter comes in US, UK and Australian versions and you can customize it for writing style and audience. StyleWriter offers a 14-day free trial at http://www.stylewriter-usa.com/stylewriter-free-download.php No credit card information required.
The problem most people have with grammar checkers is you have to be a grammar geek to understand the message. Here is what I do when I get a message I don’t understand:
Ignore the message. You will be OK more than 50 percent of the time.
Ask Google. Everything you need to know about grammar is on the Internet.
Ask a friend or someone at work.
Grammarly is probably the most widely known grammar checker and it has gotten much smarter over the years. The free version offers:
150 critical grammar and spelling checks
100+ additional advanced grammar and spelling checks
Vocabulary enhancement suggestions (Suggesting a better word)
The premium version offers additional features, but you probably don’t need them to start with. I reject many of the ‘errors’ Grammarly flags, but every now and then it catches something I missed so it’s worth the few minutes it takes to check.
Other programs worth a free trial:
‘Readability’ is a measure of how easy or difficult one person finds it to understand a text. This matters when you are writing for that ‘general audience’ you want to read your brochures, blogs and policy briefs. If you are using MS Word, go to File/Options/Proofing and under ‘When correcting grammar and spelling in Word’ click ‘Check grammar with spelling’.
At the end of your spell check, you will get a box showing ‘Readability Statistics’. Look at the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score and the grade level. A score of 1 indicates ‘very difficult’ text and 100 ‘very easy’. For your general audience readers, aim for a score of 60-70 and a grade level of 9.
Some audiences require you to meet specific readability standards. For example, the US Department of the Army Publishing Program guidelines say, “Include reading grade level data based on Kincaid Readability Formula”. Try running your text through some of the tests listed in “How Do I Decide Which Readability Formula or Formulas to Use on My Document?”
Please feel welcome to contact me if you have any questions about these or other programs, tips, tricks and techniques for correcting, cleaning up and polishing your writing.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to know more?
Want to know more? Check out Beyond Spell Check and see how easy it can be to edit your own work.