5 Things an Editing Tool Taught Me That Might Help You

Today’s guest post is by Kathy Edens.

I spent four years in college working hard to achieve my bachelor’s in professional writing. I say this humbly because it’s certainly no great feat. In fact, using an editing tool for the past year has taught me things about my writing I didn’t learn in four years of college.

If you haven’t tried one out yet, an editing tool like ProWritingAid uses computer algorithms to compare your writing to hundreds of thousands of examples of published writing by great writers and authors. It then suggests ways you can make your writing more readable, and points out technical edits for stronger, more concise writing.

Its strength isn’t in finding grammar errors (though it does that too); rather, it’s in picking out those sentence structures or word choices that make your writing sound awkward or clunky.

These are the top five things that using an editing tool has taught me:

  1. Ditch the glue words

Analysis of published writing has shown a very low occurrence of sentences that contain more than 45% glue words (the two hundred or so most common words in English, including of, in, that, for, to, by, an, if, etc).

This means that most published authors use fewer than 45% glue words in their sentences. So, if the editing tool highlights a sentence with more than 45% glue words, this is a “sticky sentence” and its meaning should be stated more directly.

Whenever I run my first draft through the sticky sentence report, I invariably find two or three sentences that have excess glue words, and they are almost always improved with a rewrite.

For example, as I’m drafting, I may write, “he ran an inspection of the plates on the car.” The editing tool will flag this as sticky, and so I change it to “he inspected the car’s plates.” Much more concise and strong, wouldn’t you say?

One year after first using the editing tool, I still struggle with sticky sentences, but I’m happy to say there is marked improvement.

  1. Adverbs in conversation are fine, not so much in writing

The further away from college I get, the more my writing becomes conversational rather than academic, which brings a host of problems. How I word something in real-life conversation doesn’t always translate well to the page. I find I use more adverbs in conversations than I ever should in writing.

My editing tool showed me that I favor adverbs like “actually” and “completely.” I tend to overuse them to prove a point rather than find stronger verbs and phrases to convey my message. When I’m writing blog posts in a conversational tone, they somehow slip out.

It’s easy to fix once it’s pointed out though, and it makes a big difference to the strength of my writing.

  1. Watch out for redundant phrases

Another weakness I noticed is my tendency to modify a noun or verb with a word that means the same thing. I’ve written descriptions about “frozen ice.” But isn’t ice always frozen?

I like to write about families “gathered together” around the table to share a meal. It feels nice and homey, right? But “gathered” means “to come together.” You can’t gather apart.

The editing tool flagged these redundancies as I typed them, so over time I’ve learned to eliminate them from my content. Another point scored for technology.

  1. I’m much less vague and abstract

My favorite editing tool report is the one that points out vague and abstract words in my writing. Words like “some” or “interesting” or “almost” are open to interpretation (or misinterpretation!), and you want to be specific.

If you say that your book sales have almost reached their target, one person might understand that as 60% and another might expect you to be 90% reached. Use exact language to make your points sharp; don’t dull them with vague language.

Now, when I write, my fingers stop on the keyboard when the urge to type vague or abstract terms hits, and I think of precise words to use instead.

  1. I don’t repeat myself (as much!)

My last go-to report is the repeats report. I tend to repeat myself. And this is a particular problem when I go back and edit. If I’m dissatisfied with a sentence, I’ll reword it, often not realizing that I used the exact same language a sentence or two before, or in the following paragraph.

This is another key area where technology has superiority over the human ability to spot things. When you are editing, you lose that sense of “didn’t I just read that?” because you are reading everything over and over.

The repeats check creates a list of words and phrases that have been repeated in your document. It’s amazing how often I’ll find that I’ve accidentally repeated even a five- or six-word phrase within the same paragraph. The great thing is, unlike the human brain, my editing tool finds these repetitions 100% of the time, so I can reword them and keep my writing fresh.

Final thoughts

Using the ProWritingAid editing tool has taught me more than these five lessons. It’s taught me to be cognizant of every word choice, to write lean, and to reach for unique turns of phrase.

I’ve learned to use pacing to consistently move readers through my content. And the editing tool has a visual report showing how I space out shorter, longer, and medium-length sentences for a rhythmic flow.

In fact, it’s taught me to self-edit better than I learned in my four expensive years of college. Bang for my buck, the editing tool is a clear winner.

Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghostwriter, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. She is a regular contributor to the ProWritingAid Blog. Check out her book The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to get your ideas in shape for the marathon of writing or contact her at her website here.

22 Responses to “5 Things an Editing Tool Taught Me That Might Help You”

  1. Karen Tomsovic March 9, 2017 at 1:05 am #

    I love to revise and ProWritingAid is a great tool. It opened my eyes to weaknesses in my own work, as well as what constitutes weak writing in general. Great post on a worthwhile investment for the self-editing author.

    • Kathy Edens March 10, 2017 at 4:52 am #

      Hi, Karen.

      Thanks for the comment. I agree…ProWritingAid is an eye-opener to technical mistakes. It really helps me polish my work before I send it out.

  2. D. D. Syrdal March 9, 2017 at 9:03 am #

    I love this program! I found it so useful I bought the subscription (they tend to give very discounted deals, I think I paid $20 for a year). It has been worth every penny.

    The free version is terrific, too, but I wanted to chip in since I could. If someone can’t afford it even the free version is fantastic.

    • Kathy Edens March 13, 2017 at 7:24 am #

      Hi, D.D.

      I absolutely agree. I used the free version, which is awesome, but wanted to support such a great tool, so I bought a subscription. I’ve been using it for all writing ever since.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Kathy

  3. Diana H Friesenhahn March 9, 2017 at 9:42 am #

    Thank You! Using this tool helps me feel confident about the quality of my writing! I don’t have an English degree so this tool will be a big help.

    • Kathy Edens March 13, 2017 at 7:31 am #

      Hi, Diana.

      Sometimes I think not having an English degree is better because you’re not so hung up on the way others write. You just write your own, natural way.

      I agree. I use tools to help me make sure the quality of my writing stands up against others. There’s so much content out there that it’s hard to shine. ProWritingAid helps me do just that.

      All best,

      Kathy

  4. Morgyn Star March 9, 2017 at 10:00 am #

    Kathy (and C.S.) awesome tool. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Kathy Edens March 13, 2017 at 7:25 am #

      Hi, Morgyn.

      Thanks for the comment! Us writers have to stick together 🙂

      All best,

      Kathy

  5. Susannah MacDonald March 9, 2017 at 2:06 pm #

    Excellent advice – especially the ‘glue words’!

    • Kathy Edens March 10, 2017 at 4:55 am #

      Hi, Susannah.

      Thanks for the comment. Check out some of the other technical edits ProWritingAid can catch. The ones I listed in the post are but a few.

  6. Pam Hage March 10, 2017 at 4:07 am #

    ProWritingAid is absolutely awesome and I can’t write without it anymore, but I wonder how strict the 45% glue word rule is. For the sake of fun, I put chapter snippets of some famous authors (Tolkien, Rowling, King, Sanderson) in ProWritingAid to see what happened. Most of them had a score higher than 45%. None went above 50% though, which makes me feel that should be the upper limit. Of course, my ‘research’ is too small to draw proper conclusions, but it’s enough to make me frown when ProWritingAid shouts at me that my sentences are too sticky. Also, I mainly checked fantasy stories, so maybe the stickiness differs per genre? I don’t see why that would be though.

    Stephen King’s results are actually quite funny: chapters from Carrie had a stickiness score lower than 45%, but chapters from the Dark Tower series had 49-50%.

    • Lisa Lepki March 10, 2017 at 7:35 am #

      Hi Pam,

      I’m the Editor of the blog over at ProWritingAid. Thank you for your kind words!

      None of ProWritingAid’s style suggestions are ever strict. Rather, you should think of the software as someone just gently tapping you on the shoulder and whispering “Hey, based on the number of glue words, it’s possible that you could write this sentence more clearly. Just give it another look and see what you think.”

      There are many instances where sentences with a higher percentage of glue words are perfectly fine. It’s up to you as the author to decide if it works or if it should be revised.

      Happy editing!

  7. Keith Towers March 11, 2017 at 5:10 am #

    Hi, having just put together my first eBook I have to say it was harder to construct than my usual blog speak. I have never had a problem with getting my thoughts down on paper, that’s the easy part, what I did find hard was editing. Fortunately,I was taught to keep sentences simple and to the point using ordinary language, leaving the academic language to those who write academic books or papers. And vary the lengths as well.

    Where I slip up, is with grammar. Not that I’m an uneducated man but some of the rules I learnt at school have been long forgotten.Take the little old comma for instance. It’s a great tool for pacing but it can be both over and under used and is often used when it should’t be used at all – not forgetting the Oxford comma, which I avoid like the plague of course. My biggest problem is with American English vs British English. As a Brit and a cockney to boot, I write using British English and to hell with it. I set up my Microsoft Word spell and grammar checker properly and double check with a free online grammar checker here: http://www.grammarcheckforsentence.com/?gclid=CIGz7fP3j9ACFcO4GwodT1IMKg#.WMP0YW-LSot

    It works for me and if the sentence doesn’t sound right I reconstruct it until it does. If you are writing for academics, write in the academic style. If you are writing for the man and woman on the street, write in way that they will understand.

    • Kathy Edens March 13, 2017 at 7:28 am #

      Yes, Keith, exactly!

      You’ve hit the nail on the head with writing and editing for the person on the street. That’s what makes ProWritingAid so powerful. So glad you find using a checker helps you do just that.

      All best,

      Kathy

  8. Kendall Hanson March 11, 2017 at 7:35 am #

    I spent six years learning to be a professional writer in college, and 40 years unlearning all the foolish rules and constraints that were taught. Pro Writing Aid is certainly very helpful, but you are the final arbiter of what works and what doesn’t. Own that.

    • Lisa Lepki March 13, 2017 at 4:47 am #

      Hi Kendall,

      We couldn’t agree more!

      Lisa Lepki
      ProWritingAid

  9. Toi Thomas March 11, 2017 at 11:49 am #

    I agree; this is the best editing software I’ve come across.

    • Lisa Lepki March 13, 2017 at 4:47 am #

      Thanks Toi!

      Happy editing to you,

      Lisa Lepki
      ProWritingAid

  10. Jeanne Lombardo March 13, 2017 at 9:08 am #

    Great tool. I/ve learned most of what you mentioned the hard way, but will take a look at this now and see what I’ve missed!

    • Kathy Edens March 14, 2017 at 7:44 am #

      Thanks, Jeanne.

      One way I learned to use an editing tool to speed up self-editing time is to use a combo report. You can create one that looks for your top 5 weaknesses (like too many adverbs, sticky sentences, etc.). The editing tool will locate the places in your work that may need strengthening, cutting down on the time it takes to pinpoint those areas yourself.

      Something to think about.

      All best,

      Kathy

      • Jeanne Lombardo March 14, 2017 at 8:37 am #

        Very helpful suggestion about the report, Kathy. I am going to try that and also recommend this to other writers I know!

        • Kathy Edens March 15, 2017 at 3:48 am #

          Thanks so much, Jeanne!

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