Friday, 5 September 2014

"OK Google – Edit My Novel." Smart-Edit, a review

Editing your own writing is difficult, especially when it isn't long since you wrote it.  What you need is a computer to search through the text and report back on all the excessive adverbs, the flamboyant speech tags, and the commonly misused words.  The computer has no emotional connection to your work and it doesn't think it knows what you wrote before it reads it.

Smart-Edit is a stand-alone software tool designed for use on a completed draft of a novel or story.  I included it in my list of useful tools for writers and here is a longer review.

You can download both the free version and a ten day trial of the fully featured version of Smart-Edit here.

A table comparing the features of the full and free versions is here.

The most powerful and useful functions are available on the free version:  Adverb Usage List, Repeated Phrases List, Repeated Words List, Dialog Tags List, Clichés List and Monitored Words List.  It is worth downloading a copy of the free version and keeping it somewhere safe.

Smart-Edit lists words and phrases to check during editing.  It does not attempt to provide solutions.  This is a strength.  The adverb list is a good example.  You may end up deleting or changing most of the adverbs it lists but not all of them.  All great writers use adverbs in moderation.  Similar arguments apply to the other functions.  Perhaps you have a character using a cliché in dialogue.  Perhaps you used repetition as a rhetorical device.

The full version costs $57 and can be installed on up to three PCs.  It covers current functionality only, so significant future upgrades would not necessarily be covered.  Having used both the free and full versions, I recommend the full version if you can afford it, especially if you are editing long documents.  If you can't afford the full version, the free version is well worth having, but you'll have to be more organized in working through its results.

There are a few useful additional functions in the full version but its main advantage is that provides a better integration of results with your writing.  For example, you can import your writing from an MS Word document.  The free version only accepts rich text files.

A basic word processor is included with the full version, so you can work through the findings of each function and make any edits in the text.  This will suit some people but for a novel it may cause more problems than it solves because you will likely have set up custom styles and other formatting in your normal word processor.

The full version has a nicer interface and it can generate reports of the findings of your chosen functions.  For a long document, this is the best way to work: generate the reports and then use them with your usual word processor.

Of course, none of this is what you really want.  I use MS Word, for example, and it would be far better if Smart-Edit's functions were integrated into MS Word.  To be fair to the developers, Microsoft have made this practically impossible to do in a robust way across different versions of MS Word.

Another thing you'll notice with the Smart-Edit downloads is that they are chunky.  Both the free and full versions are over 50 MB.  This is because Microsoft's .Net 4.0 is included in their installation files and .Net will be installed if you don't already have it on your machine.

I won't go on about this but I note that LaTeX users have benefited for years from some simple scripts written by a professor who was fed up with the poor writing of his research students.  Life can be a lot simpler in the non-Microsoft world.

Smart-Edit does not offer proximity checking.  In my experience, these are the hardest errors for an author to spot: words repeated across sentences and paragraphs, inoffensive in themselves but jarring because of their proximity.  The authors have described their reluctance to add this feature in a blog post.  Frankly, I was none the wiser after reading it.  I still want a proximity checker.  If this is a show stopper for you, you'll need to look elsewhere.  It would also be nice to have a function to check for repeated words at the beginning of consecutive sentences and paragraphs.

The best way to see the benefits of Smart-Edit is to run it on a substantial complete piece of writing.  You'll soon discover whether it is a tool that you will want to use on all your writing or whether it's not suited to your editing style.

  • Machine algorithms provide an effective first editing tool on a complete draft
  • The tool highlights portions of text to consider for editing but does not present you with ill-advised advice on what to do with them
  • The functions have been carefully chosen and implemented to give the maximum value from a computer tool
  • Functions are customizable so you only see the results that interest you

  • No direct integration with common word processors
  • No proximity checking

I hope you enjoyed this post.  Please share it on if you found it useful.