SmartEdit For Word Help - How Does it Work?

What is SmartEdit for Word?

SmartEdit is a first-pass editing tool designed with novelists and creative writers in mind. While it can be used to great effect by writers of all kinds —bloggers, journalists, academic and business writers—many of its features are specific to creative writers, such as the ability to examine dialog separate from the prose that surrounds it.

SmartEdit for Word is an Add-In (sometimes called a plugin) for Microsoft Word. This means that it installs itself into Word, and can be run and used as if it were another feature of Word. Once installed, a new toolbar/menu will appear in the Word ribbon called "SmartEdit". This toolbar contains a set of buttons that allow you open up the SmartEdit interface, run the various checks, and edit certain configurable options.

SmartEdit for Word runs with all recent editions of Microsoft Word from 2007 onwards. If you do not have a recent version of Word on your PC, you cannot run SmartEdit for Word. SmartEdit sits in the middle of the writing process—after you have finished your first draft, but before you reach the stage of sending your work to an editor or publisher.

How Does it Work?

Open your document in Word as normal. Click on the SmartEdit menu on the ribbon to open the SmartEdit toolbar. Click the "Open SmartEdit" button. This will open a new section in Word to the right of the word processor, containing two tabs: one for SmartEdit Checks, the other for Punctuation.

Depending on the size of your work and the number of checks you choose to run, the results should be ready in anything from a couple of seconds to a couple of minutes. SmartEdit is capable of handling short stories of only a few hundred words, or long, blockbuster novels of 250,000 words. There is no size limit.

The first time you open SmartEdit, all checks will be selected for you, and it's a good idea to run them all just once in order to see what sort of results are delivered. Once you are familiar with the substance of the SmartEdit checks and the sort of results they raise, you may decide to select only those checks that are of interest to you at a given moment, or that suit your writing style.

For example: if you are working on eliminating repeated phrases, choosing only that check to run will speed up the process, especially for longer works. It also focuses your mind on the issue at hand and de-clutters the interface.

The more changes you make to your work within SmartEdit, the more out of synch the results will become. As you make changes to deal with over repeated phrases, you may be inadvertently changing them to another common phrase, improving one situation by worsening another. For this reason, it's advisable to rerun the SmartEdit checks repeatedly over the course of your work, thereby refreshing the results.

Notice: There are many different ways to represent dialog in your work. You may wrap your dialog in double quotes (curly or straight), in single quotes, or using no quotes at all (Cormac McCarthy). The current version of SmartEdit assumes that you are using one of the different types of double quote. If you have decided to use single quotes, or no quotes at all, then many of the dialog specific checks will not return results. Though we may expand SmartEdit to handle single quoted dialog, it will not be expanded to handle dialog without quotes, as this is beyond the scope of a non-human reader (SmartEdit).

The next step is to choose which checks to run, and to click the Run Checks button.

Choosing Which Checks to Run

Click on the "SmartEdit Checks" button of the SmartEdit toolbar. A new section will open to the right or left of the word processor listing all the user controlled checks that can be run, from Compile Adverb Usage List at the top, to Create Sentence Length Graph at the bottom. The section is broken into two parts: the first allows you to specify whether the check is run on Dialog, on Prose, or on both; the second allows you to specify global actions that are run on all of your work, both dialog and prose.

As mentioned earlier, the first time you run SmartEdit you should switch on every check. Though the process takes longer than for individually selected checks, it will give you a good indication of what each check does and of the sorts of results that are returned. You may find that certain checks are not that relevant to you and your writing style, at which point you can deselect them.

A drop down menu exists at the top right of the Checks tab, next to the close button, allowing you to switch all checks on or off.

Here is a list of all the user definable checks in SmartEdit, along with a description of what they do:

  1. Compile Adverb Usage List: Builds a list of every adverb (-ly words) used in your work, along with a sentence fragment.
  2. Compile Repeated Phrases List: Builds a list of phrases that you use over and over in your work. The definition of a repeated phrase is definable by the user to some degree, by opening the Settings tab on the right hand side of SmartEdit. You can specify phrases to exclude by adding to the Ignored Phrases List on the Custom Lists tab—also on the right of SmartEdit.
  3. Compile Repeated Words list: As with repeated phrases, this check is user-definable. You may decide to add character names to the Ignored Words List so that they do not appear as repeated words (more on that later).
  4. Compile Possible Misused Word List: Builds a list of every word or phrase in your work that might need a quick once over, to ensure that you are using the correct word or phrase. This particular check highlights potential problems that are not caught by a traditional spell checker: form instead of from, complement instead of compliment, for example.
  5. Compile Cliché Usage List: Over using clichés is a common problem for new writers, and this check makes tracking them down a simple process.
  6. Compile Redundancies List: Introduced in Version3, this check builds a list of redundancies in yoru work -- words or phrases that may not be required. Examples: "red in color," "joined together."
  7. Compile Monitored Word List: Creates a list of all usages of words or phrases previously defined by you. Your Monitored Word list can be built and edited in the Custom Lists section on the right of SmartEdit. As with every other check, a sentence fragment is displayed next to each monitored word to make checking each instance more convenient.
  8. Compile Proper Nouns List: A very powerful list that shows each proper noun in your work. The definition of a proper noun for the purposes of SmartEdit (it is a robot, after all), is a capitalized word or phrase in the body of a sentence. The results help to highlight errors in capitalization, and on occasion show errors in punctuation.
  9. Compile Acronyms List: Very much a work in progress, this check pulls out every ALLCAPS word or words in your work. Are you correctly and consistently referring to an organization? Examples of problems would be CIA and C.I.A. in the same work.
  10. Compile Foreign Phrase Usage List: Most foreign phrases used in English writing are included in this list, whose purpose is to allow you to quickly eyeball each instance to ensure you are using it correctly. Examples might be: C'est la vie, or haute coutoure.
  11. Compile Profanity / Swear Word List: There was some debate about adding this check in the early stages, but the results have proven extremely positive. It lists every use of words that might prove in any way controversial, even innocent words that may be interpreted differently by different people. The results can be used in many ways: to check for consistency across characters in dialog, to pick up on possible double entendres, to ensure that the language you are using is suitable for the age group and audience of your work, etc.
  12. Compile Dialog Tag List: Monitors the use of dialog tags in your work, counting each occurrence. This check is useful in determining if you are over-using unusual and descriptive tags at the expense of the more common 'said.' The results include a sentence fragment to highlight the actual usage of each occurrence.
  13. Compile Sentence Start List: One of the more powerful checks in SmartEdit, it pulls out a list of every phrase or word that you use to begin a sentence, and presents you with the appropriate sentence fragment. An example from The Wizard of Oz, used as the test book on this website, shows 75 sentences beginning with the word 'So'.
  14. Compile Suspect Punctuation List: Another work in progress, and a check that we expect to expand on considerably as the software matures. This highlights a number of potential punctuation problems, such as double spaces and excessive punctuation.
  15. Create Sentence Length Graph: A very useful check to highlight the sentence length flow of your work.

Punctuation Checks

Clicking on the "Punctuation" tab will open a second page of different checks for you to run. These checks are more concerned with the mechanics of your punctuation usage than with your word or phrase choices, and often throw up anomalies and inconsistencies in your work. As with the regular SmartEdit Checks, clicking on a results link will populate a list beneath the word processor containing sentences or complete paragraphs for you to examine.

Punctuation monitored by SmartEdit for Word is:

  1. Curly Quotes: Builds a list of every use of a curly quote in your document.
  2. Straight Quotes: Builds a list of every use of a straight quote in your document.
  3. Curly Apostrophes: Builds a list of every use of a curly apostrophe in your document.
  4. Straight Apostrophes: Builds a list of every use of a straight apostrophe in your document. These four checks should be used by you to monitor consistency in your document. In a properly formatted document, only two of them should ever have results — either both curly or both straight quotes and apostrophes.
  5. EM Dashes: Builds a list of every em dash used in your document.
  6. EN Dashes: Builds a list of every en dash used in your document.
  7. Hyphens: Builds a list of every hyphen used in your document. Invaluable for quickly spotting and correcting hyphens that should be em dashes.
  8. Exclamation Marks: Lists every sentence that contains an exclamation mark.
  9. Consecutive Marks: Lists every sentence that contains multiple exclamation or other marks, such as "!?!!?" — not something you expect to see in a published manuscript.
  10. Multiple Consecutive Periods: Useful for tracking down inconsistencies regarding ellipsis. Some writers have a habit of using two or four periods instead of three. In some cases a writer will use three periods instead of a single character ellipsis.
  11. Two or More Spaces: Flags every set of two or more spaces in your document.
  12. Space Before Punctuation: Builds a list of every punctuation mark prefixed by a space. This is usually a typo, and in all cases should be looked over.
  13. Space Before a Dash: A matter of consistency rather than a problem outright. Builds a list of every dash that is prefixed by a space. In some cases this is not a problem — as long as the writer is consistent. In others it is a often a problem — hyphens, for example.

An example of how to use these results would be to look for a combination of curly and straight quotes in your document. The results list for each make it easy to track down a stray straight quote and to make an immediate correction.

Another useful example would be to quickly eyeball every use of a hyphen in your work in order to check that none of them should be an em or en dash.

Running the Checks

Once you've selected which checks you'd like to run, click the Run Checks button. After the checks have completed, a results link will appear next to each check that contains results: "Results >>". Clicking the results link for any individual check populates a list beneath the word processor, showing you what SmartEdit has found along with a fragment of the sentence in which it was found for easy reference. From here, double clicking brings you into the word processor where you can make any changes you deem necessary. Alternatively, you can browse through successive results by using the Next and Previous buttons on the toolbar (F6 and F7 shortcut keys).

You only ever see the results of one check at a time. The reason for this is to remove clutter from the interface and to make it easier for you to focus on your work.

Interpreting the Results

Once you open a set of results, what you see should be easy to understand. The lists all look similar and work in a similar way, so rather than repeat myself by explaining each one, I'll take some examples in order to demonstrate how they work. Large screenshots of each results section using The Wonderful Wizard of Oz are in the gallery section of this website.

It's worth mentioning that a published work such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is not the best example to demonstrate how useful SmartEdit can be. This novel has already been heavily edited, and does not contain many of the problems common in unedited work.

Regardless, let's start by looking at the Adverb Usage List shown below:

The list on the left shows the adverb, along with a count of the number of times it was found. Clicking on any single instance in this list populates the adjoining list with each sentence fragment.

The adverb 'carefully' is used quite a lot by the author, as are adverbs such as 'certainly' and 'cowardly'. While the first two of these might need examination to prevent over use, the third probably does not. The Cowardly Lion is a main character of the book, so use of the word 'cowardly' is to be expected.

Double clicking on an entry in the list will jump to that occurrence in the Editor, allowing you to make any changes you consider necessary, or to read the surrounding paragraph for context. The Next and Previous buttons on the toolbar allow for easy browsing of a list of results.

If you make a change to the sentence fragment that contains a result, that result will appear greyed out in the results list, making it easy for you to keep track of how far you've progressed in working through a set of results.

The misused words list, shown below, has two columns: the word found in your work alongside a possible conflict word, as well as a sentence fragment.

This particular check will return a lot of false positives, as it highlights every instance of a word that on occasion can be misused. Examples are "affect, effect" "compliment, complement" as well as less common cases such as "farther, further." In most cases, a quick eyeball of the sentence fragment will be sufficient to determine whether a problem exists or not. That's assuming you know the difference between these words yourself. If you don't, then it's time to reach for your dictionary.

Tip: In work that has had little editing, and amongst writers whose punctuation leaves a little to be desired, the Proper Nouns list can throw up some unusual results. If anything unexpected appears in the list, you should double click on the entry and pay close attention to the punctuation and sentence structure surrounding the result, as it usually means that something is seriously out of place. And example might be:

She was surprised, as she walked along, to see how pretty the country was about her There were neat fences at the sides of the road, painted a dainty blue color...

The problem in this case is a missing period after the word 'her' leading the following word 'There' to be classed as a proper noun.

The Sentence Length Graph should not need much explanation. What is worth noting is that results should vary depending on the potential audience. Children's novels tend to have shorter sentences than adult novels, and a work heavy with snappy dialog may show a disproportionate number of single word sentences, though this is by no means a rule.

Custom Options

There are a number of options customizable by the user in SmartEdit. You can filter or fine-tune many of the results by adding words and phrases to the various exclusion lists. The "Edit Exclusions List" button on the toolbar opens a dialog that allows you to make entries that impact the various checks.

The "Add Result to Exclusion List" button will automatically add the currently selected result to the appropriate exclusion list so that it is never again reported on, as well as remove any references to it in the current results. The first time you run SmartEdit, no filters are applied to the results. This means that many of the results, particularly in the Misused Words list, will not be relevant to you. The "Add" button is a very quick way to eliminate results and checks that you feel you do not need to be reminded of, thereby training SmartEdit to your level of writing and understanding.

In the example above, it would make sense to add "Dorothy" and "Toto" to the Repeated Words exclusion list, and "The Cowardly Lion" and "The Scarecrow" to the Repeated Phrases exclusion list.

The Monitored Words button opens up a simple dialog for editing the Monitored Words list. This list is used to highlight every use of a word or phrase as defined by you. For example: you may wish to check every instance of "Toto" in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Adding Toto to the list will include it in the Monitored Word check. Or you may wish to check all cases of "its and it's" to ensure an embarrassing typo hasn't crept in.

When it comes to repeated words and phrases, you can specify what constitutes a repeat. For example: a phrase that occurs more than four times and contains more than three words. To do this, open the Preferences dialog and select the Word & Phrase Repetition tab.

This dialog also allows you to switch the exclusion lists on or off, allowing you to run all SmartEdit checks in full, unfiltered, without having to edit or remove items that you have previously added to the various exclusion lists. You can also change the location of the SmartEdit Checks tabs from the right to the left of the word processor.

And that's it. SmartEdit is a new product that is still under active development. We expect it to improve over time. The most important thing to remember about SmartEdit is that it is a tool. The results of its checks should be treated as a hint that you might want to look at a sentence, not as anything written in stone. While there are competing products that "Make Suggestions," telling you to delete one or more instances of a particular word or phrase, this is not the direction that SmartEdit is moving in.

You're the author. It's your story. You make the decision as to which words to use and how to best use them.