One of the comments I received during my proposal review was that I have a wordy style and needed to tighten my writing before the dissertation was done.  I committed to hiring an editor, and still intend to do that.  However, I can save money on the hourly rate for an editor by doing some tightening myself in advance.  Or I could, if I realized what I was doing wrong.

In a search for guidelines this afternoon I stumbled across something one step better.  Serenity Software makes a product called Editor.  Editor is a proofreading and copy-editing software product.  It reads your text/word document and makes suggestions about what to fix and what possible alternatives exist.

The tool is labor-intensive for the author.  You go through your document line by line with the programs output either right next to your text or in a pop-up box within word.  The program flags potential homonyms, usage errors, and wordy prose.  It provides suggestions for how to fix the problem, but doesn’t try to make the repairs.  This is important since many times the suggested fix doesn’t actually fit the sentence.  You make the repairs and decide which to skip.

I ran my first pass at this document through Editor.  Here is a sample of the output it produces:

SPELL2: <2>intend   POSSIBLE HOMONYM ERROR: intent?

SPELL1: <8> copy editing     COMPOUND EXPECTED

CONSIDER: <16> since  COMMONLY MISUSED TERM; unless you mean “after”, use “because”

TIGHTEN:<18> that particular   PROBABLE REDUNDANT EXPRESSION; delete “particular”

POLISH: <18> rather   PROBABLE VAGUE DICTION unless expressing a preference

The program found 36 items to be reviewed in a 20 sentence, 319 word blog post.  (Going through it with my dissertation is going to be time consuming but worth the effort.)

My only complaint is that it checks citations in MLA format AND there is no way to turn that feature off.  Since my dissertation is being done in APA, about half the items it flagged are MLA errors.  I would rather have that check as a separate library with a mechanism for disabling it OR, better yet, a choice of the 3 or 4 big formats (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc).

UPDATE:  I got an email from the maker of the software with the following instructions for turning of MLA and many other optional checks:

Here’s a tip: from Editor’s Main Menu, go to File > Preferences > Change USAGE Settings and click on D to disable it.  Presto! no more unwanted remarks about your APA citation style.

As you use the program, you’ll find other categories that you’d just as soon not have the program bother you about.  You can turn any of the nearly 50 analysis categories in Editor off, temporarily or permanently (until further notice).

Other useful ways to modify Editor’s behavior are detailed in the .doc file “Using Editor Efficiently” in the installed Serenity Software folder.  The “exclude” list, easy to create and maintain, can be helpful to scholars using specialized vocabularies.

For $55 (or $75 with the word plug-in) this tool is cheaper than an editor for early drafts and can be reused.  Editor offers a 10 day trial to see how much your writing can be helped, but for me I already know it  is well worth the money and will be purchasing a license.