An editor's take on proofreading software
Updated: Oct 22, 2022
There’s no beating around the bush here. Of course, I’m going to tell you that you can’t rely on grammar checking and proofreading software alone for editing your novel. If I didn’t, I’d be out of business! And I’m not going to discuss what I have talked about numerous times before about the importance of having another set of eyes on your manuscript. That’s a given at this point.
Finding the “best” software, however, is a perennial favorite topic in writing groups across the Internet. Even editors use software to help catch some of the most elusive mistakes. Of course, there can’t be any guarantees for a 100% error-free manuscript. Not even traditional publishing is that good. We’re all just human (unless you’re software, and then, you’re also not perfect).
Despite all of the above, I am not vehemently against using grammar checking and proofreading software to support human editing and proofreading. In fact, I use PerfectIt as part of my editing and proofreading workflow - likely, most good editorial professionals use some kind of software as another “line of defense” against typos as well.
Is there a “best” proofreading software out there? The answer, like many experiences within the self-publishing world, is “it depends.”
Not all software is created equally
I’m going to do a quick comparison of three software programs I see used the most amongst self-publishing authors: Grammarly, ProWritingAid, and PerfectIt. These are, by no means, the only options when it comes to choosing a software that will work best for you. They are all easily accessible and the most commonly used software programs I have seen in use.
Grammarly has three different versions available to users: free, premium, and business. The free version offers to “fix” grammar, spelling, punctuation, while including suggestions to improve conciseness and tone (no rewrites).
Premium includes the free offerings plus full-sentence rewrites, word choice and tone suggestions, and citation checking. The business version is geared more toward teams, rather than individuals, who may need to consider branding, brand tones, and a style guide in their written work.
The premium version starts at $12/month. All versions of Grammarly work on desktop or mobile devices, and they are compatible with Word and Google Docs.
While Grammarly offers some robust options beyond just proofreading in its free version, collected anecdotal evidence suggests that its application of grammar rules, tone and clarity suggestions, and full-sentence rewrites may complicate matters more than helping, leaving the author with more work than before.
Grammarly itself doesn’t really promote its own use for professional writers and self-publishing authors. Most of its marketing seems to suggest that it is best used for short-form communication, email, and social media posts.
ProWritingAid bills itself as a grammar and style checker that also offers bigger picture suggestions for improving your writing style. It claims to spot issues similar to what a line or copyeditor might find: repetition, wordiness, vague wording, complicated sentence structure, overuse of adverbs, and passive voice.
Unlike Grammarly, ProWritingAid also includes an educational element prompting writers with in-app suggestions, explanations, videos, and quizzes to improve their writing. PWA is made for professional writers, including those who want to self-publish. It is compatible with Word, Google Docs, and Scrivener, as well as being accessible through desktop, browser extensions, and mobile devices.
PWA offers a limited free online editor, otherwise its Premium version starts at $20/month after a 30-day free trial.
ProWritingAid is a data-driven approach to editing and proofreading bolstered with AI support. While its offerings are more robust than Grammarly, it still suffers from the same kind of risk that comes from relying heavily on algorithms, codes, and input rules to identify and correct problems in writing.
PerfectIt was created for editors, so I don’t necessarily recommend it for author use, but it can be helpful for a final look-over of your manuscript. For individuals, PerfectIt is $70/year ($5.83/mo), and there is no free version other than the 14-day free trial.
Compared to Grammarly and ProWritingAid, PerfectIt can feel a bit limited. PerfectIt can be connected to a Chicago Manual of Style subscription to apply style rules for spelling, capitalization, punctuation, hyphenation, and formatting consistency. It does not give tone suggestions or rewrites.
It is available for desktop and is only compatible with Word Docs. From my experience on a Mac, using PerfectIt Cloud Edition (the only version available for Mac) can be a bit of a buggy experience. I often have to check items in a document (spelling, for example) one at a time in order for PerfectIt to completely check each item. It can be a bit clunky and slow depending on the file size (even after compression).
However, the connection to Chicago Manual of Style is invaluable, and PerfectIt is unrivaled in its ability to check formatting consistency. Despite its flaws, I use it three times in the editing process: once at the beginning to begin to note style choices on the client’s style sheet, once midway through the edit, and once at the end to catch any final errors that may have slipped through.
The final verdict
Proofreading software can be a great help to authors as they self-edit and receive feedback from critique groups and beta readers. I recommend using a software as the final check of your manuscript before you send it to a professional editor. Not only will it help you identify errors better, it will also knock out major errors that could create longer work for a professional editor, which could drive up your overall editing costs.
From an editor’s perspective, I know that I can’t do my job as well without the assistance of a proofreading program by my side no matter how careful and eagle-eyed I might be. I hope you find a software that works for you and supports your writing and revising journey.