The Pros and Cons of Using Editing Software #amwriting

When you complete NaNoWriMo and get that winner’s certificate, you unlock many special deals on various software created for writers. I have tried Scrivener and didn’t find it useful for my writing style, but many people swear by it. My head doesn’t work that way.

Three of the many offers NaNoWriMo winners can get and which I am familiar with are:

All of these are good, reputable programs. Many people ask if I use them in my own work. I use editing software, but I don’t follow their suggestions blindly.

No software can replace knowledge of grammar. An author must have confidence in what they intend to convey and how they wish to say it.

For this reason, editing software is not as useful as we want it to be.

A person with no knowledge of grammar will not benefit from relying on an editing program for advice. There is no way to bypass learning the craft of writing.

I use Grammarly, an editing program for checking my own work. I also use ProWriting Aid. I pay a monthly fee for the professional versions of these two programs. Each one has strengths and weaknesses.

These programs operate on algorithms defined by finite rules.

Not every recommendation is right. However, when the editing program highlights something, I look at the problem sentence carefully. Just knowing that the way I phrased a sentence tripped the program’s algorithms encourages me to look at that passage with a critical eye.

I may not use the program’s suggestion, but something triggered the algorithm. That means my phrasing might need work. I may need to find a better way to get my idea across.

Editing programs will only confuse and mislead you if you don’t understand grammar, sentence construction, paragraph construction, or how to punctuate dialogue.

New writers should invest in the Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation and learn how grammar works.

You may have found that your word processing program has spellcheck and some minor editing assists. Spellcheck is notorious for both helping and hindering you.

Spellcheck doesn’t understand context, so if a word is misused but spelled correctly, it might not alert you to an obvious error.

  • There, their, they’re.
  • To, too, two.
  • Its, it’s

For me, especially in my first draft, some words are like tics. They fall out of my fingers and into my keyboard randomly and out of my voluntary control. I don’t self-edit as I go because I’m just trying to get the story down. The second and third drafts are where I shape my grammar and phrasing.

With each revision, I locate adverbs, descriptors, qualifiers, and “weed words.” I look at the context of the sentence and decide if they will stay or go. Many will go, but some must stay.

An excellent program to help point out when specific passages are passive and need to be “made active” is ProWriting Aid. I use the professional version for my own work. However, they have a free version that will alert you to a few of the most common problems.

These are expensive purchases and for that reason I would recommend trying the free versions first. The main reason for those who don’t understand the basics of grammar to NOT invest in them is this: these programs are unable to see the context of the work they are analyzing.

“The tea was cool and sweet, quenching her thirst.”

Grammarly suggested replacing quenching with quenched.

ProWriting Aid made the same suggestion.

I have no idea why they make that suggestion. You can see how a person blindly following mechanical advice could go wildly astray.

Context is defined as the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect.

Currently, at this stage in our technology, understanding context is solely a human function.

Because context is so important, I am wary of relying on these editing programs for anything other than alerting you to possible comma and spelling malfunctions.

You might disagree with the program’s suggestions. You, the author, have control and can disregard suggested changes if, as illustrated above, they make no sense. I regularly reject weird recommendations.

Good editing software is not cheap, but for my specific needs it has been a worthwhile investment.

If you do choose to invest in some, use your common sense. Remember, you have the final say when it comes to your work.


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17 responses to “The Pros and Cons of Using Editing Software #amwriting

  1. I have knowledge of grammar
    So don’t toss me in the slammer
    My fault is my fingers
    That too long lingers
    Over keys that stick – Damner!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks so much for this blog post. It’s always tricky seeing these programs and not knowing if they are any good. Would you do a post about formatting software? Is there one?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so onboard with this post! Software will never beat personal learning and can be so misleading. I’m trying scrivener at the moment because it’s so recommended, and I’ve not made up my mind on whether is works for me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


    • Many of my friends love it, but it fried my brain, lol! I was a bookkeeper for much of my working life, so my old Excel Workbook system is more my style. We all have different ways of working, but we get there in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. lmadden42

    I love ProWritingAid. My grammar education took place in the 40’s and 50’s when we still diagramed sentences. We had to know the when to use “shall” and when to use “will.” We used possessive pronouns with participles rather than objective pronouns. As retired attorney I wrote professionally for over 30 years. So I have no problem hitting ignore when i know ProWritingAid is wrong. You didn’t mention the many other aspects of writing the program spots, for example: vocabulary reading level; sentence length; over-use of words. Periodically, ProWritingAid coupons and discounts become available. I have added to my original premium purchase and I’m now good for 2 more years. If I’m around when its time to renew again, I plan to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are correct in all you say – my overview might be a bit skimpy as it is just an overview, not a review. And thank you for adding that about the sentence length and overuse of words. I rely more on Grammarly for some things and ProWriting Aid for others. The reading level assessment is not as useful to me, although for those who write YA and Middle Grade books I think it might be invaluable.


  5. ProWritingAid picks up typos and errors I’ve missed, and there are always those.But it often doesn’t understand the context (as you point out) or the effect I am trying to create, so I don’t follow it blindly. I find it most useful for consistency and those words I tend to overuse. It’s always worth checking out other suggestions though, in case there’s something you could have phrased better that you missed in your last edit.


  6. 😀 Thank you for the reblog, Chris ❤


  7. Good post. These programs have their strengths and their weaknesses. I use a program called Ginger, it is like the others in strengths and weaknesses. But it has one feature that I love, it displays one sentence at a time as it works through the manuscript. This is a great aid to my proofreading.