Today we released version 5 of SmartEdit for Word. This release includes two major changes, as well as a stylistic change to the UI. We’ve upgraded the software to run within Word 2016, which Microsoft released a couple of months ago, and we’ve made a number of changes to enable SmartEdit to display better on high resolution monitors.
Within the UI, we’ve changed the SmartEdit buttons that appear on the Word ribbon. This was done to bring the software more into line with Word, making it apear as if it were a part of Word rather than an Add In.
Only if you’re running Word 2016, or working on a high res monitor. Otherwise, version 4 (loved by Windows Smart Screen) contains all the same functionality, only without the pretty Office icons.
Note: If you experience any problems installing the latest version, uninstall the previous version using Windows Add / Remove Programs, then re-run the 5.201 installation. Your license details and settings will remain behind when you uninstall.
Big day on Monday. We’re launching a new product — SmartEdit for Word — aimed at writers who use Microsoft Word as their primary word processor and writing tool.
Why the new product?
The current version of SmartEdit is a standalone product. It’s not tied to any other word processor, though it does work with MS Word, Open Office and RTF files. This is not an ideal situation, as it means the writer needs to turn to a secondary tool once editing begins — SmartEdit. Most writers are comfortable writing in only one software package. It may be Word, it may be Scrivener, it may be something obscure such as PageFour or Q10.
A huge proportion of writers who might be interested in giving SmartEdit a try are deterred by this. They don’t want to use another product to edit their document. They want to continue working in Word, editing a document directly that they can then send to their editor or publisher.
SmartEdit for Word is our answer to this problem. It incorporates most of the features of the standalone version of SmartEdit directly into the MS Word interface. Take a look at the screenshot below.
Once installed a new SmartEdit menu bar appears on the ribbon at the top of Word. The extra sections at the bottom and to the right or left only appear when the user runs SmartEdit.
It’s not identical to the standalone SmartEdit product. We’ve left some things out, and we’ve been able to make improvements to other areas due to the accessibility of certain features in Word.
What did we leave out?
The external reports — PDF, Excel, and HTML reports have been excluded. These options were added to SmartEdit a year ago as a first attempt to handle the very problem outlined above. Writers could load their document into SmartEdit, run the various checks, then output a report that they could use when editing their document in Word.
SmartEdit for Word does not incorporate these reports, as there is no requirement to use the results elsewhere. The SmartEdit for Word results are displayed directly inside Word. We’ve also left out the report printing options, for much the same reason. Printed reports were used to interact with other writing tools just like the report files, and are no longer necessary when using the Word Add In.
I mentioned improvements.
There are two areas that make SmartEdit for Word more powerful than the standalone SmartEdit. Firstly, we’ve expanded on the Punctuation checks, opening up full results lists for a range of possible punctuation issues. The screenshots below illustrates the range of checks now available, as well as one of the new results lists.
On top of this, the results lists now update in real time as you edit your work. This means that if you make a change in response to a displayed result, that result will appear greyed out in the user interface, making it easier to identify areas that you have already addressed.
The screenshots above are taken from the SmartEdit for Word Add In for Word 2013. The interface conforms to that version of Word. If you use an earlier version of Word — 2010 or 2007 — the interface will adjust to fit in with the style of that version. Unless you are using a pink or other unusual theme — we couldn’t get pink to work, but then we didn’t try too hard.
What are the system requirements?
As with the standalone SmartEdit, any version of Windows from XP SP3 on up. This includes Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1. As this is a Word Add In, you need to have a version of Microsoft Word installed on your PC. Supported versions are 2013, 2010, and 2007. If your version of Word is older than 2007, you cannot install SmartEdit for Word. And, it’s still Windows only. If you’re running Word on a Mac, the SmartEdit for Word Add In will not work.
What about Open Office and Scrivener?
Sorry, but no. These sorts of Add Ins only work with one product at a time — a little like apps built for iPhones and not for Android or Windows devices. The mechanism to build Add Ins does not exist across products or operating systems.
Despite the popularity of dedicated writing software such as Scrivener, Word is still the dominant tool for professional writers, which is why we built SmartEdit for Word.
When will it be available?
We’ll be releasing it from this website on Monday, September 18th. A 10 day trial will be available. The download and purchase pages will all be updated to show both products side by side. A license for one will not work on the other. Users will have a choice to make over which of the two better suits their writing environment. Word users will no doubt seek out the new SmartEdit for Word. Open Office or Scrivener users will still be able to use the standalone SmartEdit product.
Existing users of the standalone version of SmartEdit will be offered a large discount on the Word version. Details on this are still being worked out.
If anyone is interested in downloading an early beta, drop us an email and we’ll send you a link. Otherwise, come back on Monday and try the real thing.
I’m not going to insult your intelligence by suggesting that you don’t know when to use each of the above words. Of course you do. But your spell checker doesn’t know the difference between them. Regardless of which one appears on the page as you type your 120 words a minute, your word processor will not raise a red flag.
When you’re in the zone, when your creative side is buzzing away at speeds faster than your fingers can type, that’s when the most embarrassing typos put in an appearance. You’re not even looking at what you type, which is why you often end up with three lines in ALL CAPS before you realise you hit the caps lock key. Your fingers know the words, but they occasionally type the wrong one.
Maybe it’s a muscle memory thing, or maybe it’s because your fingers don’t have a brain. The reason doesn’t matter.
It’s the worst amateur mistake a writer can make. Scorn will be heaped upon you. Your fans will desert you. They’ll demand you return the Pulitzer, and the film rights will be back up for sale — with no takers. Yet we’ve all done it, and cringed and wept afterwards.
These words used to form part of the Possibly Misused Words list, but the blowback from writers was so severe that I removed them. (Who, me? Make a childish mistake like that? Never!) Yet you still need to watch out for them. Typos like these, it hardly bears thinking about.
Which is why they were added to the monitored words list by default. This particular check — available in both the free and licensed versions of SmartEdit — allows you to keep track of any word or phrase you wish, and to see each instance alongside the sentence it sits in. The sample below is from a blog post I wrote a few months back.
There were no errors or typos in the post, but running it through SmartEdit allowed me to quickly check for just those high-school type mistakes (which you never make). Reading the sentence fragments only took a minute, and I could post my post reassured that whatever other grammatical or spelling mistakes I might have made, at least I hadn’t made one of those.
I’ll be running this post through the same check in a couple of minutes, so don’t bother trying to catch me out. Seriously though, you might never tell your friends, fans or writing partners that you check for this sort of thing in your work, but you’d be a fool not to.
If you’re running an earlier version of SmartEdit, these words may not appear in the Monitored Words List, but you can add them yourself in a few seconds, along with any other word of phrase you want to keep an eye on.
One of SmartEdit’s checks has been singled out by users as the cause of much frustration and hair pulling. Not because there’s anything wrong with the check itself, or the manner in which it presents its results. More because it makes the writer question their own understanding of the English language, and that can be painful for any writer.
The trouble maker is the List of Possibly Misused Words. The purpose of this check is to pull out every instance of a particular set of words — words that are often misused in place of similar sounding or similarly spelled words by a small portion of writers. That misuse may be unintentional misuse due to a lack of understanding of which of the two words should be used. Or it may be unintentional due to a misspelling or typo that will not be caught be a spell checker.
Here’s an extract from the result set for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz — a terrible choice of book for a demo, as it can hardly be called unedited. You should see what happens when you run a 200,000 word fan-fiction novel through SmartEdit.
The grid presents the writer with a list of words used next to the sentence fragment where they were found, along with a possible alternate word that the writer might have meant to use instead. In 98% of cases, the word will have been used correctly, but in a small number of cases — or a large number, depending on how good your knowledge of the English language — the wrong word will have been used.
And here is where the frustration often sets in. In some cases, the decision is easy to make: a canon shoots balls, a cannon wears black and looks solemn. In others, many of us have to stop and think for a few seconds: should you bare with me or bear with me?
That’s the trouble with software. It can pluck a word or phrase that it’s been told to pluck out of a novel, but it can’t know with any degree of certainty whether there’s an actual problem. That’s for the writer to decide, and if the writer has been neglecting his or her reading over the past few years, that decision can sometimes be difficult to make.
But not for you, of course. I’m sure your knowledge of English is sufficient that 99.9% of your word usage is spot on. But do you really want to run the risk of letting that fraction of one percent loose on an unsuspecting readership? Is your vanity today worth risking your reputation tomorrow?
Because make no mistake, if you write Literature with a capital L, and are publicly proud of doing so, a sew/sow kind of slip up will be even harder to live down.
Below, you’ll find the Misused Words results list for this blog post.
It doesn’t tell you what to do. That’s the biggest difference between SmartEdit and so many of its competitors.
SmartEdit is the tool, you’re the writer. It’s the machine, powered by ones and zeros. You’re the human being, full of thoughts and ideas, and fueled by bursts of creativity.
Would a brush rise up and instruct a painter on his choice of colour? Would a guitar question a musician’s chords? Of course not. Then why do so many software products designed for writers feel the need to instruct the writer and tell him what he’s doing wrong?
You’ve used the word ginormous twelve times. Consider removing four of them.
This paragraph has three adverbs. Remove two.
Every instance of the word gowpen has been highlighted in red, so you can see how close together they are and do something about it.
Endeavour is a poor word choice for your YA novel. Replace it with try. It’s easier for teenagers to understand.
SmartEdit does not instruct the writer in any way. It provides you with sets of information and then steps back while you decide what, if anything, you’re going to do about it. There are no green lines under adverbs, no suggestions to help the faint-hearted writer unable to trim his beloved sentences.
It’s a glorified spell checker, only it comes without a squiggly red underline, making it easier to ignore. It shows you what you’ve written, presents your own work to you in different ways. There’s something about seeing your novel broken down into a less comfortable format that makes spotting areas that might need changing a little easier.
The not-quite-right sentence in the middle of an almost perfect chapter stands out when seen in isolation, removed from the cover of the well crafted paragraphs and dialog that surround it.
Have you used the word beautiful eighteen times? So what? Take a look at all of those sentences, sitting side by side, and maybe you will decide to go with a different word in one or two cases. Or maybe you’ll decide that it’s such a perfect word choice that your short story would benefit from a few more beautiful’s.
But don’t take my word for it. Try out SmartEdit for yourself, and see if it suits your writing and editing style. It’s not for everyone, not even for most writers. I was describing SmartEdit to an Irish poet a few weeks ago in Galway and she did everything but turn up her nose. The upward nasal tilt did arrive towards the end of our conversation, but by that time I’d reached the subject of self-publishing and Hugh Howey, so it wasn’t really SmartEdit’s fault.
The trial version runs for ten working days, so you have plenty of time to take it for a test run before deciding it’s not for you.
I’ve got a cousin who doesn’t understand punctuation. She writes blog posts on marketing and business related stuff and fills her sentences with misused semicolons, ellipsis that are not ellipsis at all, and question marks after exclamation marks as if to say: “This; is a question……. no it’s not, yes it is?!!?”
I’ve got a sister who doesn’t understand what a full stop is for. She’ll use a comma instead of a period, joining two unconnected thoughts together in ways that make me scratch my head. Sometimes she leaves out the end-of-sentence punctuation entirely, leaving a paragraph hanging off a cliff without any kind of protective barrier to keep it from falling.
Overuse and misuse of punctuation is a problem that plagues a certain type of writer. If reading Twilight fan-fiction is your guilty pleasure, you’ll have encountered it on many occasions. Usually, this sort of carelessness is caught and tidied up by an editor, but in the self-publishing world we now live in, where many see editor as an ugly word, it’s creeping into published fiction.
Which brings me to the Suspect Punctuation checker in SmartEdit. This neat little piece of functionality is still in its infancy, and will probably be expanded upon over the coming year. As it stands, it draws your attention to crazy punctuation such as ?!!??. It highlights all use of exclamation marks, and as usual, gives you a quick sentence fragment to eyeball so you can check if you really do need to shout out loud at every turn.
I’m considering expanding the Suspect Punctuation checker to highlight all usage of a host of commonly misused punctuation marks — even the semicolon. If you know how to use a semicolon, it won’t be much use to you. Unless you’re John Irving, in which case seeing all those semicolons in one place might make you reconsider when it comes to penning that next novel. There was a reason I had such difficulty getting through those early chapters of A Widow For One Year.
How often you do things is a question that SmartEdit likes to answer for a host of writing related questions. It’s not easy to spot the forest for the trees when you’re editing your own work, which is why it can be useful to see a detailed analysis of just what you’ve been getting up to on those dark evenings in front of your monitor, tapping away into Word or Scrivener.
The earliest version of SmartEdit, way back in 2011, contained a small set of tools that counted words and phrases in a manuscript. Word repetition counters were not new — they had appeared in one form or another in various tools and utilities, the most common incarnation being the ever popular word cloud that showed up on the sidebars of blogs a few years ago.
The phrase counter was new — or if not completely new, it had not been incorporated into other software packages that I was aware of. Hardly surprising, as unlike the word counter, coming up with a list of unique phrases and the number of times they are used is not an easy task — not if you want it to work on a 150,000 word novel as well as a 500 word blog post.
Writing code to extract useful information from a snippet of prose is easy, which is why web based utilities pop up every few weeks doing just that. Extending that functionality to handle novel length works is not easy. Which is why these same web based offerings fall over at the first hint of an 80,000 word novel.
The word and phrase counters formed the core of SmartEdit, as it first appeared within PageFour and later as standalone, free software. They still exist in SmartEdit Lite, the free version of SmartEdit available to download from this website.
Instead of selling the benefits of the phrase counter to you, I’m gong to show you. As part of the early (and ongoing) testing of SmartEdit, a large number of published novels were run through the various checks, as were a number of fan-fiction novels.
My reasoning behind running the fan-fiction works through SmartEdit was that they were likely to be of less quality than published novels by established authors, and as such, would throw up a lot more issues for SmartEdit to catch. Basically, they would be a better representation of a first-draft of a novel than a work that had already suffered through an editor’s pen and many months of editing by the writer.
This proved to not always be the case. In some instances, published works were delivering shocking results, the kind of results that might mean the book should never have been published. I have little doubt that if the authors of some of these works had been no-name writers submitting a first novel, that that novel would have been rejected.
I won’t name the writer whose work was used when writing this blog post — I wouldn’t like to embarrass them — but will say that they are a New York Times best selling author, with double digit blockbusters under their belt.
The novel runs to about 150,000 words, not untypical for the genre, and the results are a fair representation of this writer’s most recent work. Here are some samples from the phrase counter list in SmartEdit:
for that matter
on the other hand
at the moment
shook his head
shook her head
in the first place
whether or not
after a moment
There’s a lot of head shaking going on in this novel, and probably amongst readers of the novel as well.
Phrase repetition is a tool often used deliberately by writers — Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech being one of the most famous examples. But in the case of the sample data shown above, there is nothing deliberate going on. It’s simple laziness and lack of editing. The handful of phrases I pulled out represent only the tip of the iceberg for this writer — once the number of occurrences get lower, the number of repeated phrases rises dramatically.
The nine phrases shown above would have been problematic if they had occurred even ten times each. The actual figures demonstrate the lack of editing that can happen when a writer becomes so popular that they feel editing is no longer necessary.
If you think your writing is so polished and your editing abilities so strong that you wouldn’t benefit from seeing a list just like this, then I challenge you to send me a copy of that draft. Many writers are afraid of lists like this, feeling it detracts from the creative process, but how creative does that list above look to you? Is a novel full of these sorts of repeated phrases something you would be proud to put your name to?
You don’t need to buy the professional version of SmartEdit to avail of this particular feature. It’s available in the free, Lite version as well, though the user interface is not as powerful.
There’s more to editing than polishing your prose and fine tuning your story. Let’s assume that you’ve got the basic spelling and grammar checking nailed. Let’s also assume that you’re pulling your hair out at every editing session trying to impress the Man Booker  judges in two year’s time. The story is the story, love it or hate it, you’re not changing that.
What does that leave?
The boring stuff. All that dull, grunt work that doesn’t have a creative side, that doesn’t require a spark of anything to complete. The price checking of your novel, the manual lifting that anyone with a pair of shoulders can do, the toilet cleaning that has to get done or someone will lose their job.
Spotting inconsistencies in your novel is one of the hardest things for a writer to do. Every one of those 80,000 words was written by you. You re-read paragraph after paragraph, page after page. Only you don’t, not really. You wrote it, you sweated over it, it sang to you. You remember, on some level, every one of those sentences. You start to read, but more often than not you’re reading from your memory, not from the page.
Did you rename a secondary character half way though? Is there a lingering mention of that first name on page 57 and page 321? If there is, chances are you won’t see it. In your mind’s eye Bill and Jethro are the same person.
What about those minor characters? Rafael the Spanish doorman in chapter one, who resurfaces as Dimitri, holding the door open in chapter eighteen.
Or the Deluded Pyromaniacs Organisation (DPO), who were responsible for a particularly nasty letter way back when your protagonist was getting out of bed for the first time, only to become the Deluded Pyromaniacs Association (DPA) when he notices a placard wielding chain smoker on a street corner as the plot comes to a close.
Spotting these sorts of minor inconsistencies is hard work for a writer. But your editor, and reader, will notice them every time. It’s the sort of carelessness that gets you one star reviews on Amazon, and a head smacking over on Goodreads.
Here’s the sales pitch: SmartEdit helps with this. The dull, boring, shelf stacking side of editing that nobody wants to do but that still has to get done.
There are two checks in SmartEdit that draw attention to just these sorts of inconsistencies — the Proper Nouns List and the Acronyms List. Both work in the same way, pulling out lists of every proper noun and every acronym in your novel, and displaying them alongside a sentence fragment for context.
Running this check will throw up a list that includes DPO and DPA, probably right next to each other, and also D.P.O., if that’s the direction your inconsistency runs. Deluded Pyromaniacs Organisation will be there, as will the Deluded Pyromaniacs Association, sitting side by side.
Bill, Jethro, Rafael and Dimitri will all put in a cameo. A quick eyeball, outside the cushion of your beloved prose really does help to identify phantom character names that were consigned to the trash months ago.
There’s nothing creative about ironing out these sorts of issues, but it has to be done. If you’re a professional writer, you need to produce professional work, and that includes getting rid of the inconsistencies that plague amateur and poorly edited work.
 If you’re American, Man Booker = English Pulitzer.
Most dedicated software for creative writers is aimed at early stage writing. The market for this software is huge. Poll ten people in a room and at least two of them are writing something—that’s assuming they’ll admit to it, as many writers are a bit shy about their work-in-progress.
The sheer number of people who occupy this early-stage writing sphere is so large that writing software cannot be termed niche software. A host of products, both free and paid, have sprung up to feed this market. The common thread that runs through all of this software is that it is aimed at first-draft writing.
When it comes time to edit that finished first draft, and time to share it with another person, none of this early-stage software can be used. Even powerful and widely used and recommended products such as Scrivener fail when it comes time to share and edit.
Why is this?
Two reasons. Firstly, because that’s when things get complicated—from a programming perspective that is. Features such as Microsoft Word’s Track Changes—used by professional editors all the time—are very difficult and time consuming to design and build. Which leads into the second reason that most writing software fails to properly handle the post-first-draft stage.
Most ‘writers’ never finish a first draft.
This is rarely talked about, but it is THE key reason so much writing software stops at the first-draft stage. If 95% of the users of your software never finish a first draft of a novel, that means only 5% will ever have use for the complicated post-first-draft feature set. Track Changes and whatever alternatives might have popped up are never incorporated into the software because it would only benefit 1 in 20 users.
Building polished, commercial software takes time and effort. A business decision has to be made for each feature that is added, and for low priced writing software (under $100), the business case for hard-core editing functionality cannot be made.
What does this mean for editing software in general?
It means that while early-stage writing software is NOT niche software, actual editing software IS. Its target market is the 5%—those writers who have completed a first draft of their 80,000 word novel. A real achievement, not to be sneezed at, but so rare that any software product aimed at this market cannot be called anything but niche.
The downside here: because the market is so small compared to the market for more general writing software, the number of players in this field is also small. Free software for editing does not exist. Small apps can be found at no cost—such as SmartEdit Lite, or the various word cloud utilities that take all of 5 minutes to build—but heavy duty software for editing is invariably going to cost real money and take real months or years of development time, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
If you’re waiting for the arrival of free editing software, don’t hold your breath.
[The prompt for this post: the number of search queries hitting this site with a variation of Free Editing Software for Writers. (that’d be the 5%)]
I do a little work on the side for an eCommerce website owned by my brother and his wife. The most recent work involved a re-design of their website to properly handle display on tablets and smart phones. Six months ago this was a job that I planned to look into in a year or more, but in June of this year I pulled the website stats and saw that over 40% of the site’s commercial traffic was coming from mobile devices of one kind or another.
Tablets are the future of eCommerce. Everyone is using them these days. Hence the re-design.
Most of the software aimed at creative writers runs on full PCs or Macs. It either doesn’t run at all on tablets, or has a dumbed down version that runs on tablets and syncs to larger computers. But the figures for tablet use don’t lie.
What does this mean for writing software? Should all this software be re-engineered to run on tablets?
My own feeling is no. For the most part, tablets are used by consumers of content. By people who want to read the books you write, watch the videos you make and upload to YouTube, listen to the music you create in your garage.
The actual creation of that content is still carried out on regular computers. Sure, there’s always the outlying case, the exception: the writer who thinks that tapping in 10 words on his smart phone while waiting for a bus is a sure fired way to finish that 200,000 word novel, the wannabe movie producer who prefers an iPhone to a more useful and versatile camera, etc.
Serious content creators use serious tools, and these tools do not yet exist on tablets, and probably never will. Can you imagine the cramp that would develop if you typed for 5 hours a day, every day, on the screen of your iPad? Why would any professional writer do this when they can use a larger screen and a real keyboard?
Porting software for content creation to tablets and smart phones is likely to prove a mistake. The technology is moving so fast that the work would be never ending — always playing catch up with different versions of Android. Not so with desktops, which have remained relatively static for years. Old software designed for Windows XP often runs without problems on Windows 8. On top of which, it’s by no means clear if real content creators will ever use tablets or smart phones to do real work. Sure, the amateur enthusiast will get all fired up, but how many published authors are tapping away on their smart phones, eager to be mobile as they work on that new chapter? A tiny fraction of 1%, I’d guess.
And then there’s the question of payment. Users have no problem paying real money for desktop software. Scrivener sells at $45, SmartEdit at $60, etc. What’s the typical price of an Android app? Can you see any app buyer paying that $45 or $60 for a cut down version of the same software?
Mobile devices are great for consuming content, and that’s what most people use them for. That’s what they were designed for. The creation of that content still requires a larger computer, and that’s unlikely to change.
A tablet version of SmartEdit is not even on the long term plan.