6 Automatic Editing Tools That Will Make Your Writing Super Clean

Have you ever wanted a magical editing wand?

Just imagine: A flick of the wrist would be all that stood between you and the end of editing your writing. No frustration. Minimal time investment. An amazing manuscript or blog post.

Alas, no such magic wand exists.

But we do have automatic editing tools, which are the next-best things.

Just remember that automatic editing tools are designed to make editing easier, not to eliminate the work completely.

Putting automatic editing tools to the test

During self-edits on my latest manuscript, I experimented with six editing tools, both free and paid, to determine which could be most beneficial to The Write Life’s audience. Besides being an author, I’m an editor, so I also weighed each tool against what I’d look for when editing.

Since editing, which is anything that improves your writing, has a broad definition, it’s not surprising that the tools I tried had different functions, from checking grammar and style, to eliminating unnecessary words, to identifying areas for improvement.

What you want your editing tool to do will influence which one(s) you choose. No one tool can do it all — nor can one of these tools wave away the work and critical thinking necessary for a well-edited book.

An automatic editing tool doesn’t replace a human editor. Because language rules and elements of a good story can be so flexible, human eyes will always be superior to the rigidity of automatic tools.

Here are those six tools, broken into three categories based on function.

[Editor’s note: Some companies offered free access to the paid versions of their tools for the purposes of this post, but all opinions are the writer’s.]

Check your grammar and style

Sometimes, you just want to make sure you’re not making any silly spelling or grammar mistakes.

1. Grammarly

What It Does: Grammarly is a grammar checker and proofreader.

Price: $29.95 per month, $59.95 per quarter or $139.95 per year for premium service. A limited version is available for free, and Grammarly also offers a number of other free services such as a plagiarism checker and various plug-ins.

Who It’s For: Anyone, though most useful for corporate business people and academics.

How It Works:  Copy and paste or upload your text into the online dashboard and let Grammarly work its magic. It flags potential errors, gives suggestions and provides an explanation if you need it. There is also a free Grammarly Add-in available for Microsoft Word, along with a plug-in for web browsers.

The Best Part: Grammarly is easy to use and pointed out a vocabulary issue or two that none of the other tools did. It’s superior to Microsoft Word’s grammar checker.

What Would Make It Better: As an editor, I’ve found that many people don’t understand or care to learn the technical explanation for why something’s wrong. Plain language (or as plain as you can get) explanations for mistakes would make it accessible to more writers.

Our Recommendation: Grammarly is best for the final proofreading stage, or for people who want to learn more about the technical aspects grammar. If you’re an editor or strong writer, you might find yourself ignoring more flagged items than you fix.

2. ProWritingAid

What It Does: ProWritingAid analyzes your writing and produces reports on areas such as overused words, writing style, sentence length, grammar and repeated words and phrases.

Price:  Enjoy limited use of the tool for free, or upgrade to the premium membership to edit where you work (i.e., in Google Docs or MS Word), access a desktop app and Chrome add-ins, and — best of all — lose the word-count cap. A year’s membership is $60, but you can get two years for $90, three for $120, or go whole hog and buy a lifetime membership for $210.

Who It’s For: Anyone

How It Works: Click on “Editing Tool,” create a free account, then paste in your text.

The Best Part: ProWritingAid delivers similar results to AutoCrit, and though ProWritingAid has a premium option, most of the areas you’ll want checked are available for free.

What Would Make It Better:  Though ProWritingAid checks grammar, I slipped in a your/you’re mistake without getting flagged. I wasn’t overly fond of the website design, but its overall functionality is hard to argue with.

Our Recommendation: Use ProWritingAid in the self-editing stage to guide your edits. It may not be as comprehensive as AutoCrit, but for a free tool, it’s a decent contender.

3. After the Deadline

What It Does: Like Grammarly, After the Deadline is a grammar checker.

Price: Free for personal use

Who It’s For: Anyone

How It Works: Click “Demonstration,” paste the text you want to check, and click “Check Writing.” After the Deadline underlines any potential issues and explains its reasoning.

The Best Part: It’s free! You can also use it on your self-hosted WordPress site, as an extension or add-on for Chrome or Firefox, or with OpenOffice.org.

What Would Make It Better: A definition of passive voice that explains how you construct it grammatically. After the Deadline rightly explains what passive voice does, but it seems to focus only on the “be” verb, which occasionally leads to falsely labeling non-passive constructions as passive.

Our Recommendation: You get what you pay for with After the Deadline. Use it for a final proofread, but exercise good judgment and don’t make every change it suggests — it’s not as sophisticated as Grammarly.

Improve your writing

If you’re looking for a critique that goes a bit deeper, try one of these options.

Which automatic editing tool is best for writers? We tested six popular options.

4. AutoCrit

What It Does: AutoCrit analyzes your manuscript to identify areas for improvement, including pacing and momentum, dialogue, strong writing, word choice and repetition. Depending on what level you choose, you can also compare your writing to that of popular authors like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.

Price:  Three different levels are available: the “basic” for $10 per month, the “professional” for $30, or the Elite for $80 per month. (Both of the latter offer a 14-day trial for $1.)

Who It’s For: Fiction writers

How It Works: Paste your text into the online dashboard or upload a document and click on AutoCrit’s tabs to see their analysis.

The Best Part: I spent the most time in “Compare to Fiction” tab, which is a comprehensive look at common issues. It highlighted my tendency to start sentences with “and” and “but,” and identified my most repeated words. I felt like I learned something about my writing, and that’s something I don’t think I could say about the other tools.

What Would Make It Better: A more accurate definition of passive voice. It highlights any use of the “be” and “had” verbs, neither of which fully capture passive voice (you need a past participle in addition to a “be” verb), and many active voice constructions were falsely labeled as passive.

Our Recommendation: AutoCrit is great to guide your edits in the self-editing stage. It’s best used for developmental edits, rewrites and avoiding common writing no-nos.

5. Hemingway App

What It Does: Hemingway App provides a readability score — the lowest grade level someone would need to understand the text — and analyzes your writing to identify areas for improvement.

Price:  Free online, $19.99 for the desktop version (available for both Mac and PC)

Who It’s For: Anyone

How It Works: Paste your text into the dashboard and scan for highlighted sections of text. The highlighted text is color coded depending on your area of improvement, whether it’s hard-to-read sentences, the presence of adverbs, or passive voice.

The Best Part: In addition to providing examples on how to fix passive voice or complex phrases, Hemingway App also identifies how many “-ly” adverbs and passive voice constructions you have and suggests a maximum number to use based on your word count.

In my prologue, for example, I had one use of passive voice, and Hemingway App suggested aiming for six uses or fewer — which I nailed. These recommendations reinforce the idea that not all adverbs or passive voice constructions are bad, and that’s something other tools miss.

What Would Make It Better: Hemingway App was the cleanest and easiest to use of the free editing tools, but it’s not a grammar checker or proofreader. Even though it’s not meant to catch grammar and spelling mistakes, any editing application that catches those mistakes is instantly more attractive.

Our Recommendation: Use Hemingway App to increase the readability of your writing and identify problem sentences during the copyediting stage, but supplement your efforts with a grammar and spell checker.

Eliminate word fluff

Those unnecessary words and phrases are getting in your story’s way.

6. WordRake

What It Does: WordRake cuts out the unnecessary words or phrases that creep into your writing. It works with Microsoft Word and Outlook, depending on which license you purchase. I tested the Microsoft Word version.

Price:  The Microsoft Word version is available for Mac or Windows, and you can pay $129 for a year or $259 for three years. The Microsoft Word and Outlook package version is only available for Windows, and it costs $199 for a year or $399 for three.

Who It’s For: Bloggers, authors and editors using Microsoft Word or Outlook

How It Works: WordRake is an add-in for Microsoft products and requires you to install the program before using it, though it’s as easy as following the instructions. Select the text you want to edit, then use the WordRake add-in. It uses track changes to suggest edits, which you can accept or reject.

The Best Part: WordRake is as close as you can get to an automatic editor. It appealed to me more as an editor than writer, but it’s great at eliminating unnecessary phrases and words — and it’s those words that bog down your writing.

What Would Make It Better: I threw a your/you’re mistake in to see if WordRake would catch it. It didn’t, even though Microsoft Word flagged it. If WordRake could catch common writing mistakes like your/you’re or their/they’re/there in addition to unnecessary words, it’d be a hard tool to beat.

Our Recommendation: WordRake is a great tool for the copyediting stage. Verbose writers, authors wanting to cut down on editing costs or editors looking to speed up their editing process will most benefit from WordRake. Watch out if you’re running Word on a slow computer: WordRake increases your load time.

Do you use one of these editing tools or something else? What’s been your experience with automatic editing tools?

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

This post was updated in January 2019 so it’s more useful and relevant for our readers! It was originally written by Amanda Shofner and updated by The Write Life team. 

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How the “Ideal Reader” Myth Hurts Your Writing Process

A lot of writing advice encourages you to market to your audience by defining your ideal reader.

It says to think of your reader as one person, create a profile and write for that person.

You’ll even find templates for defining your ideal reader — fake head shots and all. They’ll ask you to name the reader and list their demographics, interests and job. They’ll ask you to explain why this reader is totally in love with what you write.

The problem? This exercise does nothing to help you understand what actual readers want from you.

The “ideal reader” myth

When you set out to define your “ideal reader,” you’ve probably already decided what you want to write — maybe even written it.

You’re sitting on that romance novel, self-help book or blog about what cats have taught you about love, and now you’re ready to market it. So you dream up a reader who fits the bill. They’re male or female, between ages 18 and 54, probably own cats and are single. So, obviously, they’ll love your blog.

Voila. You’ve got your ideal reader.

Except that’s useless. All you’ve done is reverse engineer an audience for yourself, and you can’t do that with real people.

If you want to attract actual readers, you’re going to have to do it the other way around: Learn what real readers want, and write it for them.

How to write what your audience wants to read

To understand who your audience (actually) is and how to write for them, I’ve come up with a simple exercise.

Borrowing from the way software developers plan projects by first working to understand their end users through a user story, I define readers with what I call a “reader story.”

The reader story is a simple way to understand who you write for, what they need from you and why.

The exercise might feel similar to fantasizing about your ideal reader, but it’s goal is different. Instead of inventing a reader for something you’re determined to write, the reader story helps you plan your writing around helping the audience achieve some goal.

To create your reader story, fill in this statement about the typical person you expect to read your work:

As a [type of person], they want [some goal] so that [some reason].

For example:

As a millennial mother of young kids,

They want advice on raising children, self-care and relationships,

So that they can balance being a parent with a full-time job while still enjoying me-time and a relationship with their partner.

That reader story might drive content for a parenting and lifestyle site like Scary Mommy.

If you don’t know anything about the typical person who might read your work, do your research before creating a reader story. Don’t invent a reader you hope exists.

How to use your reader story to plan writing projects

Once you create a reader story, it should drive all the decisions you make about your writing.

Does that blog topic help the reader achieve some goal? Does that book cover appeal to their some reason? Are those marketing platforms frequented by this type of person?

Write down your reader story, and stick it somewhere you’ll see every time you write.

Keeping your reader’s needs top of mind can help you make decisions about:

  • Which topics to tackle to get your story across.
  • Your goals for what you write.
  • Which products make sense for disseminating your story or ideas.
  • Which platforms are best for distributing your work.
  • The tone and voice you’ll use to speak to your readers.
  • When and how to release your work to have the greatest impact.

Developers rely on the user story to focus on features customers actually want — and leave behind the stuff that’s super cool technologically but totally unnecessary in real life.

Use the reader story the same way in your writing. You might love the anecdote you’ve found to open that article about your grandmother’s butternut squash soup recipe… but does it serve the reader’s goal of, you know, making a good butternut squash soup?

Yeah, the reader story will make you get real honest with yourself about the value of what you’re writing.

For more guidance on using your reader story to plan writing projects and answer those big questions for everything you write, I invite you to download my free guide: “How to Write Anything (Well).”

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