Software

Five proofreading tools to make your work more professional

Mistakes in your writing make you look careless or clueless -- neither of which is good for your professional image. Luckily, plenty of apps are available to help you clean up your work.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/spxChrome

I've written a lot over the years. In fact, between tech articles and fiction, I write more than five thousand words a day. For my fiction, I depend upon beta readers, editors, and proofers to see what I cannot. For everything else, I depend upon proofreading tools. You'd be surprised just how many apps and services exist for that very purpose. But which tools are right for the job?

I'm going to outline my five favorite proofing tools. Out of that list, you should find one or two to integrate into your process. With the help of these tools, your marketing material, correspondence, and business communications will be far more professional.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery.

1: Google Docs

This might sound crazy, but the Google Docs built-in grammar checker is pretty solid. It's not just a spell check, either. It uses a fairly powerful engine to check your text for grammatical correctness. It's not perfect, but it has saved me a lot of work.

Google Docs checks as you type and will underline misspellings and any grammar errors it detects (Figure A). Some would argue that Microsoft Word's grammar checker is more powerful, and in some respects it is. But what I like about Google Docs is that it never bogs down as it checks grammar, like Word can. When you find an underlined word, right-click it and select from the suggested replacements.

Figure A

Figure A

2: Google Docs Consistency Checker

Google Docs Consistency Checker (Figure B) is an add-on for Google Docs. It doesn't focus on spelling or grammar. Instead, it checks longer documents where consistency must be maintained. Consistency Checker looks for inconsistencies in hyphenation, spelling, numerals, abbreviations, and much more.

Figure B

Figure B

Using this tool is one of the fastest ways to ensure a level of consistency throughout your documents. Install Consistency Checker in the same way you install any Google Docs add-on. Once it's installed (and with your document open), go to Add-ons, click Consistency Checker | Open, and then click Scan (when prompted). You can then go through the various checks by clicking Next after each pass is complete.

One nice feature is that you will be informed of how many contractions your document contains. Consistency Checker will then remind you to change those, if you're writing a formal document. Consistency checker is an extension of the Intelligent Editing online service and is free.

3: Text-to-speech

Text-to-speech is fairly generic, but hearing your document read to you is an outstanding way to proof it. Not only will you more easily catch spelling errors, you will hear awkward sentences, phrases, and paragraphs. This is something no other tool can give you, and I highly recommend listening to your text as a proofing technique.

To do this, you have a number of options. You can always read your text out loud. (Of course, that can get annoying to those around you.) Unfortunately, for some odd reason, you can't use the Amazon Kindle app on your Android for reading books out loud. To get this working for your Android, you must install the Ivona Reader app (Figure C) and then enable the Talkback feature. This is far from ideal, so if you have a Kindle Reader, you might want to upload a .mobi version of your document and have it read aloud. (Converting to .mobi is simple using Calibre.)

Figure C

Figure C

4: Grammarly

Grammarly (Figure D) is an online service that isn't exactly cheap, but it does a great job of checking your documents for grammar, spelling, and more. You can sign up for a free account, but if you do, Grammarly will only tell you that your document has errors. To actually see the errors, you must have a paid account. Paid accounts run $29.95 (monthly), $59.95 (quarterly), and $139.95 (yearly).

Figure D

Figure D

Grammarly will find and fix more than 250 types of errors and helps you improve word choice. It also includes a plagiarism checker. You can either cut and paste your document into the Grammarly system or, if your document is longer, upload the file. Like every other automated grammar checker and proofer, Grammarly is not perfect -- especially when it comes to full-length novels. But for professional copy (letters, PR releases, etc.), this online service does an outstanding job.

5: Ginger

Ginger (Figure E) is a great proofing app that offers an easy-to-use desktop tool and a Chrome extension. You must sign up for an account, but it's free. Once signed up, you can type or copy text into either tool and have Ginger check what you've typed for grammar issues. It will also check for possible rephrasing of sentences. Just enter your text and click the quill icon to have Ginger check for suggestions. Ginger has a built-in dictionary, translator, synonyms, phrase of the day, and much more. Ginger is available for Android and IOS as well.

Figure E

Figure E

Outsourced proofing or DIY?

Getting your professional correspondence up to par doesn't have to be a nightmare. With the help of these tools, you'll get much more mileage out of your emails, reports, and other professional documents. I will say, however, there is no substitution for a quality editor. As a full-time writer of fiction and tech articles, I know my limitations -- I am a writer, not an editor. Although I do count on tools like those I've listed, I only use them as cleanup before I send my work to my editor.

Does your company use a professional editorial service to clean up your marketing material or documentation? Or are tools like these good enough for the task?

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

4 comments
stevec
stevec

I'm sure the good people at Grammarly appreciate your mention, but they'd probably appreciate it more if you spelled their name correctly. Unless, of course, you're referring to the thespian Kelsey. Does he check grammar as a sideline?


But otherwise, thanks for the rundown.

Mike Benstead
Mike Benstead

I'm a prolific writer. If I'm not asleep I'll be at my keyboard. Most of my work is technical. Firstly my thoughts go into notepad which I have open at all times. (It doesn't use a lot of RAM). From Notepad appointments and to-do items get copied into my diary and any creative work worth completing gets copied and pasted into Word which allows me to add screen dumps, graphs and other graphics. Word immediately runs spellchecker. Spellchecker, however does not alert you if you use "while" when you meant "whole" as both are spelt correctly. Next I Use Ctrl+A to select all of the document and change the font colour to blue. I use Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C and Ctrl-V to copy the entire contents of the Word file and paste it into a cell in Excel. I then click on a button to run the following macro which reads the document to me (through headphones). Sub Read_Cell() Dim MyText As String MyText = ActiveCell.Value Application.Speech.Speak MyText End Sub As the macro runs I change the font colour of paragraphs requiring no amendment to black and make any alterations that are required. Any blue paragraphs are copied and pasted back into Excel to re-check. When all of my document is in black font the task is done. I'm sure this macro could be activated in Word, by-passing Excel. I have it in Excel because my paragraphs often need to be sorted in Excel before going into Word. Did you notice Ctrl-V should have been Ctrl+V, neither did I, until it was read back to me. I can hear the spelling errors and where a comma or semicolon would improve the punctuation. The beauty of this system is that it reads "as a first-time reader would read" which indicates where a sentence could be restructured to make sense the first time it is read (if that makes sense). Also I'm more likely to use this as it does not inconvenience a second person who would have to read the document to me. I don't recommend this method for reading bedtime stories to your children or to students of English unless they want to end up with a synthesised accent.

Mark A. Stewart
Mark A. Stewart

I have spell checker enabled on Chrome which is a nice feature and I use MS Office 2013 Professional Plus. But the best of all is that I have always been a great speller by heart, that is my secret!!

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