Today I’m starting a new segment here on the blog called Tool Tips, where I’ll feature different tools (books, software, apps, what have you) that I find useful as an author and think other authors (and in some cases non-authors) might find useful too. Technically I suppose you could say my posts about the writing book One Year to a Writing Life were also Tool Tip posts, but… well, I hadn’t thought of the name yet then! My Tool Tips will be posted at irregular intervals. I have quite a few things I want to tell you about but with other things going on in life at the moment I daren’t commit to a fixed schedule for these posts.
But enough of that! Today I want to talk about ProWritingAid, an online editing software that I tried out for the first time during the last rounds of editing of Going Home. Before I go on, I want to point out that I’ve only tried the Free version of this tool and not the Premium one. So how do you use ProWritingAid? Well, you input some text (I believe the maximum length in the Free version is ~3k words), and the program analyzes it and spits out a range of report on everything from overused words and grammar errors to alliteration and dialogue tags. It highlights those reports in which it perceives there to be problems with your text, but you can also look at the data for the non-problematic reports. When you click on a report, it gives you a pretty detailed account of the problems it found, or just of the stats for that aspect of the text if it didn’t find any problems to flag.
For Going Home, the reports that flagged errors or problem areas were more or less the same for all parts of the book: “overused words”, “grammar”, “sticky sentences”, “diction”, “vague and abstract words” and a few others. The ones I found most useful were the grammar report and the consistency report (which among other things flags for mixing straight and curved quotes, and British and US spelling), whereas the one I found least useful was the “cliches and redundancies” one which seemed to flag more or less everything that was a fixed expression (that may be a slight exaggeration, but I didn’t find a single instance in which removing the flagged word or expression was actually a good move). Because I was on a bit of a tight schedule, I didn’t spend any time looking at the reports that didn’t flag any problems so unfortunately I can’t say much about those but I think some of them would’ve been really interesting to look at.
Overall, I found the program very useful (particularly, as said, the two reports mentioned above) and really helped me get my manuscript into shape for publishing, particularly since my budget didn’t allow hiring a professional editor. Even though there were several reports where I ignored most of the flags, I found that simply looking at my text through a bunch of different “filters”, with different sets of words highlighted, was very useful in helping me spot typos, extra words, missing words and similar errors. I guess it has a bit of the same effect as changing the font can have; you see the text through new eyes.
So will I keep using it? Will I get the Premium version? I’d say yes, and maybe. I’d like to try some other editing programs too, but if I don’t find one I might better I’ll probably get ProWritingAid Premium once my personal finances are a bit better. I’m curious about several of the Premium features: you can customize your own search filters to look for things you have a tendency to overuse or get wrong, you can chose from suggestions when correcting spelling and grammar and, most interesting to me, you can chose different text types like “Academic”, “Web copy” and, of course, “Fiction”. I’m very curious about how different my reports would’ve looked if I’d been able to do them with the analysis set to “Fiction”, particularly in terms of the “overused words”. How many times one ought to use a word like “know” or “could” in a technical text might be a bit different from, say, a fiction dialogue.
Have any of you used either version of ProWritingAid? What did you think? Are there any other editing softwares you’d like to recommend to me?