Conquering Imperfection: Ten steps to a (nearly) flawless draft

Editing text using Word 2013 on Windows 8.1

Editing text using Word 2013 on Windows 8.1

As any writer knows, it’s difficult to catch all the errors in your own work. Sometimes it’s not possible or ideal to get another live human to read over a draft for spelling and grammatical errors, so what are you to do? Enlist technology of course. Here’s a workflow to help you avoid some nasty errors.

Step 1: Read it and check it over yourself

This step goes without saying, but read over the piece a few times before doing anything else. Some people prefer to print out their work and read it on paper, because they find it’s the easiest way to catch all their errors.

That’s not the case for me especially since I can’t stand the wasted ink and paper. I prefer to work with a barebones text editor that limits distractions and read it a few times there.

I tend to write drafts in Evernote so I can continue writing where ever inspiration strikes (Shown above: Evernote running on iOS 7.1)

I tend to write drafts in Evernote so I can continue writing where ever inspiration strikes (Shown above: Evernote running on iOS 7.1)

Evernote often works for me particularly because it’s cross-platform and synchronizes my work, so it’s one less hassle to worry about. If inspiration hits and I’m on my iPad but later I’d like to work with the text using a desktop operating system, I don’t have to worry.

I find Microsoft Word works as well. I typically go full screen or simply get rid of the chaotic looking Ribbon. If you prefer, there are dedicated simple text editors out there on Apple’s App Stores, but they usually cost a small fee. Keep in mind, however, Microsoft Word and those other text editors may not have as great of a syncing experience as Evernote though.

When you decide on whether to review your work digitally or on paper, you’re ready to start checking. Chances are when you start reading the piece you’re likely to be surprised at some of the things you’ve caught just by skimming it over. For example, this article’s first step (the section you’re reading now) is something I missed when I initially wrote it. I only realized it was necessary after reading it through. (Perhaps this step is something I often do without thinking so I forgot all about it.) So, it’s a good thing I read it over before I started the process of putting it through spelling/grammar checkers.

Also remember to pay particular attention for incorrect words that autocorrect threw into the piece or missing pluralisation if the piece was originally written on a tablet.

Anyway, this is also a great time to check if everything is factually accurate. Double-check with what was referred to when writing the piece now to make sure everything is precise. If something isn’t correct or clear, and you ran it through these steps before checking it, you’re likely going to want to run it through all these steps again to avoid having any new spelling and/or grammar mistakes creep in due to those changes. The process can be very time-consuming as it is; so don’t look for ways to add to it.

Step 2: Do a complete spelling and grammar check using Microsoft Word

People typically say not to rely on the spelling and grammar check in word processors, that’s true, but I doubt they meant don’t use them period. It’s a great first line of defence against some of the more common errors out there, such as missing commas.

In the desktop version of Microsoft Word, there are ways to supercharge the spelling and grammar check to make it even more powerful.

Make sure to open up the Grammar Settings and select the options you need (Shown above: Word 2013 on Windows 8.1)

Make sure to open up the Grammar Settings and select the options you need (Shown above: Word 2013 on Windows 8.1)

On Windows, open Word Options by selecting Options in the Backstage view. When it’s selected a window should pop-up. Now select Proofing and look for the Grammar Settings. It’s the Settings button next to the Writing Style drop-down menu. Now select what’s necessary for the piece.

On the Mac, look for Word Preferences—it’s the Preferences option under the Word menu. When selected, a window should pop-up. Now select Spelling and Grammar and under Grammar click settings next to the Writing Style drop-down menu.

Both operating systems have options there that cover you from many errors Word doesn’t check for in its default state, including the use of first person or overly long sentences.

The grammar check isn’t available in the iOS, Android or web versions of Word as far as I can tell, so if grammar concerns you, head to a Mac or PC and give the piece a check there.

Step 3: Check it over with 1Checker

1Checker breaks down the errors in your piece into handy charts and rates your writing (Shown above: 1Checker on Windows 8.1)

1Checker breaks down the errors in your piece into handy charts and rates your writing (Shown above: 1Checker on Windows 8.1)

1Checker is a fantastic piece of software available for Windows, OS X and for use over the web. It not only checks for spelling and grammar errors, but also gives suggestions on how to rephrase parts of the text to enhance it.

When first inserting the draft and then selecting review, it generates three charts showing the number of errors made in the piece, and grades for structure and vocabulary, which make it easy to gauge how good the text is. It also allows you to anticipate how much time is necessary to spend in the program to go over the draft.

1Checker isn't perfect but still take a look at what it says (Shown above: 1Checker on Windows 8.1)

1Checker isn’t perfect but still take a look at what it says (Shown above: 1Checker on Windows 8.1)

1Checker’s developers admit the program isn’t perfect, and it isn’t, it gives some crazy suggestions sometimes, but 1Checker also points out the odd error Word’s spelling and grammar checker might miss, and it can be a lifesaver at times. Just don’t expect to use it on iOS or Android yet. 1Checker doesn’t have an app for those platforms, and I found its website doesn’t work correctly on iOS.

Step 4: Have EditMinion look at the piece

EditMinion running on the iOS version of Chrome

EditMinion running on the iOS version of Chrome

EditMinion, that scamp, he catches things the other two checkers typically miss. He’s quite smart and creates a list of the most repeated words throughout the piece. EditMinion also makes note of how regularly they appear in a snap.When he finds words that show up often, do a find search in Word or a text editor of choice for the frequently used words, and try to think of replacements for those appearing too often. “That,” for example, is a word that shows up regularly in my early drafts and I’m usually able to cut it in several places while still managing to keep the sentences coherent.

EditMinion is great at spotting repeated words (Shown above: EditMinion running on the iOS version of Chrome)

EditMinion is great at spotting repeated words (Shown above: EditMinion running on the iOS version of Chrome)

EditMinion also highlights some “weak words.” They’re typically hesitant sounding words or words that might take the power out of the argument. Despite pointing these out as possible problems, I sometimes find I need to rely on some of those “weak words” to cover myself if I’m not 100 percent sure, or if what I’m stating is simply an opinion.

He’s a bit spotty when it comes to finding passive voices in drafts, but it doesn’t hurt to look at what he suggests. There may be ways to rephrase the sentence to make it stronger. EditMinion also puts words often mistaken for one another (homonyms) in a different colour so it’s easier to check if they’re the right ones. He also checks for minor problems such as sentences ending with prepositions as well as adverbs and clichés for particularly fussy folks. EditMinionworks on iOS so he’s a great choice for checking on the go.

Step 5: Run it through GrammarBase or After the Deadline

GrammarBase running on the Windows 8.1 version of Firefox

GrammarBase running on the Windows 8.1 version of Firefox

GrammarBase and After the Deadline are great sites to go to look for ways to simplify your text. It also looks for redundant expressions, passive voice and of course spelling. After The Deadline is a more paired down site compared to GrammarBase but it still generates the same results.

After the Deadline running on the Windows 8.1 version of Firefox

After the Deadline running on the Windows 8.1 version of Firefox

These sites also work on iOS, but with quirks. When selecting a piece of text GrammarBase/After the Deadline catches as a possible error, iOS will bring up the keyboard. (It’s not surprising considering it is a touch-based operating system after all.)

After the Deadline has extensions, add-ons and plugins for Chrome, Firefox and OpenOffice.org too, which are worth a look if you use any of those applications.

Step 6: Give LanguageTool a go

Language Tool running on the Windows 8.1 version of Firefox

Language Tool running on the Windows 8.1 version of Firefox

This site doesn’t catch quite as many errors as the others, but the errors it does catch almost every other spelling/grammar checker misses. It points out things like starting three or more successive sentences with the same word, including an opening bracket but no closing bracket and use of ditto marks instead of quotation marks.

On the downside, LanguageTool often says words are not words when they are. This happens a lot with hyphenated words. If it’s difficult to tell if the word is hyphenated or not, consult a dictionary or just do a quick Google search, to make sure it’s correct in a jiffy.

LanguageTool also has extensions available for Firefox and OpenOffice.org too.

Step 7: Throw it into SpellChecker.net

The Canadian English version of SpellChecker.net running on the Windows 8.1 version of Firefox

The Canadian English version of SpellChecker.net running on the Windows 8.1 version of Firefox

I’m going to admit, I regularly skip this step when I check over my own work. That’s because the other checkers usually catch a lot of what it finds, but it’s still worth a mention.

SpellChecker.net offers a crazy amount of languages and localizations that might be hard to find elsewhere. Of course, Canadian English is there but there’s also Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English—in fact there’s nearly ten South African languages. It’s quite something.

This site’s American spell checker also provides a thesaurus and a grammar checker. I haven’t encountered those two options for the Canadian spellchecker yet.

If you’re concerned about grammar or word repetition, try running the text through the American spellchecker’s grammar and thesaurus options then run it through the Canadian spell checker to make sure no American spelling sneaks its way into the draft.

Keep in mind that this site doesn’t appear to work on iOS.

Step 8: Check your verbs using Aztekera “To Be” Verbs Analyzer

Aztekera “To Be” Verbs Analyzer running in the Windows 8.1 version of Firefox

Aztekera “To Be” Verbs Analyzer running in the Windows 8.1 version of Firefox

Aztekera “To Be” Verbs Analyzer analysis

Aztekera “To Be” Verbs Analyzer analysis

This barebones site checks for one thing: the use of the verb to be. The reason why you’d want to use this site is if you believe using to be verbs too frequently might make the piece weaker. Aztekera suggests trying to keep your use of those verbs below 20 per cent to have an ideal draft. It’s also handy if there’s a change of tenses in the work as it shows you both present tense and past tense to be verbs. Admittedly, I typically skip this step, but if you’re not too sure of the way the piece is using tenses, try it out and see if it might help out with consistency.

Step 9: Have a computer read it back to you with text-to-speech

After inputting the suggestions from those checkers into the draft, have a computer read over the piece aloud. This is probably the best way to find the missed words, commas and awkward sentences spellcheckers can’t catch.

On modern versions of OS X, text-to-speech can be found by highlighting the text and pressing the Option and Esc keys together, or right clicking the text and selecting Start Speaking under the Speech option in some programs.

Put

Put the text-to-speech option in the Quick Access Toolbar for easy access in Word 2013

In Windows, it’s more difficult. I suggest pasting the content into Word if it isn’t there already and using Word’s text-to-speech option, as the one built into Windows isn’t the greatest.

On an iPad, simply highlight the desired text and select the option “speak” to have it read aloud.

The Mac’s is probably the most natural sounding of the bunch. The Windows one isn’t too bad either. It has a British accent but sometimes has its own Adele Dazeem moments.

Step 10: Repeat (if necessary)

If the checkers found many errors in the text, run it through the steps again to make sure the changes didn’t mess something else up in the document. It’s surprising how often it happens. Once the piece has been through the checkers and no more changes need to be made—congratulations, the text is now ready for the world to read. Just double-check if the working title still seems applicable, as the piece might’ve changed dramatically during the editing process.

Additional Steps:

Installing grammar checkers into web browsers gives another line of defence. Beyond the LanguageTool add-on for Firefox and the After the Deadline add-ons I mentioned above, consider installing Grammarly Lite. It’s a great extension available for most major web browsers. Also check out Ginger, which is a popular option available for most major web browsers too.

Final points:

However, of course, despite all these steps mistakes will fall through because nothing is truly flawless. (There may even be a few errors in this article.)

You will still have to keep an eye out for things like Devine and Divine, which I messed up recently. Some spell checkers will not point out Devine as incorrect because it’s a common surname.

Councilor, counselor, councillor, counsellor, is a doozie I mixed up lately. A councillor is a member of a council; the American form of the word is councilor. A counsellor is a person who gives advice; the American form of the word is counselor.

License and Licence is another one I messed up a few times lately as well. The American and Canadian variants of spelling are frequently hard to spot without knowing them beforehand. An American spell checker, for example, will say license is correct at times when licence is the correct spelling in that particular instance. Actually some dictionaries are even incorrect when it comes to license/licence.

The OS X dictionary isn't entirely accurate when it comes to license and licence

The OS X dictionary isn’t entirely accurate when it comes to license and licence

The OS X’s Dictionary says the British use licence as a verb—no, they don’t. The British and subsequently Canadian way to use the spelling licence is as a noun.If the word is used as a verb, it’s license. The dictionary in OS X is based on the New Oxford American Dictionary, so I suppose since it’s an American dictionary it doesn’t know any better.

The best way to avoid trickier errors like these is to pick up a grammar book and study grammar, because some things you simply won’t know or will forget. The Canadian Writers Handbook is probably the one and only book needed for grammar and problem spelling.

The CP Stylebook, and Caps and Spelling book are good references as well. They don’t have quite everything, however. For example, they don’t mention the correct way to spell autocorrect or pluralisation, which are spelt many different ways on the net.

Anyway, adopt these tools to your workflow, add or drop what’s necessary. Also, consider going through these checkers in a different order. At times, it may be necessary. For example, if you’re on an iPad and want to use a site not supported on that platform, use what works there and check the rest on a desktop later.

While nothing is flawless, I hope these tools can help get you at least one step closer to perfection.There probably will never be a perfect spelling/grammar checker or a way to catch everything using a series of checkers, but these steps are a good precaution. They may catch what may have otherwise been missed.

 

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