As an editor, I’m constantly stressing the importance of professional editing. I honestly believe a human editor can considerably improve everyone’s work. Before that step, I encourage clients to self-edit and seek peer reviews and beta readers. However, nobody will give a manuscript a more thorough review than a specialized contractor whose vested interest in the project comes second only to the author’s.
Internet-savvy writers of all ages rely on self-editing programs found on the internet. Some use them in lieu of human editors and even prefer dealing with a series of simple and advanced algorithms. While I still believe nothing compares to the real thing, as a writer I enjoy the convenience and ease of such programs.
Three of the most popular online editors are Grammarly, ProWritingAid, and Hemingway Editor. Each one has both a free and premium version. The freebie catches writing “errors” such as misused or forgotten punctuation, excessive adverbs, passive voice, and hard-to-read sentences. The premium services delve deeper and attempt to isolate problems with a piece’s rhythm, style, and complexity.
Over the years, I’ve used a combination of all three programs and truly appreciate their timesaving qualities. If used correctly, any one of them can improve early drafts and give writers a leg up in the competitive and crowded field of publishing.
Of course, the writer has to be savvier than the technology; otherwise their writing may suffer.
Mastering the Tech
Human editors are easier to work with because you can have an earnest conversation with them on how to best improve your manuscript. An algorithm will point out issues, but it won’t explain why they’re problematic—at least, not in a clear and concise way.
Self-editing programs—even the premium, advanced options—often make mistakes no human ever would. All an algorithm can do is pinpoint aspects that are supposed to contribute to “bad writing.” The problem is, these artificial quasi-intelligent systems are incapable of detecting nuance.
Since, for example, Hemingway Editor is programmed to flag “LY” words as unnecessary adverbs, it’s going to pick out words that aren’t adverbs, such as melancholy, timely, and fly, yet it’ll miss a handful of adverbs that don’t end in “LY.” Overall, Hemingway is doing its job because it’s highlighting enough adverbs to illustrate how a writer might overuse them. But a writer with an untrained eye risks omitting too much based on the program’s suggestions.
Just like with a professional editor, the notes a writer receives are nothing more than suggestions. The primary difference is human editors do everything in their power to relay their ideas to the client while keeping their style intact. The biggest downfall of relying entirely on online software is accepting too many of the program changes may make the narrative sound robotic and unnatural.
Maintaining a Voice
A writer’s “voice” is often their most powerful asset. Therefore, when using an online editing program, a writer must be mindful of what advice they take to heart. These aids are only beneficial when the operator is present throughout the entire process to weigh each suggestion against the story, style, and structure they wish to create.
ProWritingAid once tried to tell me that “autumn” was a UK expression and I should change it to “fall” to keep consistent with my US writing style. That was an easy algorithm error to detect since we use “autumn” and “fall” interchangeably in the United States. But that’s merely scratching the surface of the small errors online editors will make while scanning your work. However, if you can master the unpredictability of the tech, it can be an invaluable resource.
With that being said, I would still wholeheartedly recommend hiring a professional editor even after going all in with one or more online programs.
Gregory Austin is an editor, writer, and journalist with more than a dozen years in the writing business. He is the co-founder of the Writing Lodge which provides editorial services and writing courses for creatives all over the world. Catch up with him and the lodge on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium.
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