SmartEdit Online Help - How Does it Work?

What is SmartEdit?

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.

Though a central component of SmartEdit is the Word Processor, where you can make changes in response to the results of the various checks, it is not set up to handle headers, footnotes or images. This means that it is not suitable for working on a final manuscript that has been carefully formatted in preparation for submission to a publisher. It's designed to be used well before you reach the manuscript preparation stage.

SmartEdit sits in the middle of the writing process—after you have finished your first draft, but before you get to the point of carefully preparing your manuscript for submission. It's an ideal tool to be used in conjunction with software such as Word, Scrivener or PageFour.

Version 3 is fully capable of opening and saving Microsoft Word and Open Office files. The first time you open a document on a particular day, a backup is taken and copied to your "Documents / SmartEdit / Backups" folder. This means that you can work within SmartEdit, fully confident that if you delete work by mistake, you have a backup that you can roll back to. These automated backups are stored for 30 days, and may be expanded upon in future versions.

How Does it Work?

You open your manuscript directly in SmartEdit, or you copy and paste from your word processor into the SmartEdit Editor. Once you have loaded your work, you select which of the various checks you wish to run, then click on the Run Checks button. It's that simple.

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.

Quick links to the results are all displayed for you on the left. Opening the results of any individual check populates a list at the bottom of the Editor, 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 Editor 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).

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 'Select Checks' tab on the left of SmartEdit. This section lists 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.

Alongside these selectable checks, SmartEdit runs a small number of default checks, the results of which are visible on the Properties page when you load a document or run any checks. These include:

  1. Word and character counts
  2. Page Count (assumes 280 words per printed page)
  3. Quote counts, both curly (smart) and straight. This is a useful check as it highlights inconsistencies.
  4. Dash counts: em, en and hyphens.

Running the Checks

Once you've selected which checks you'd like to run, click the Run Checks button. As the process starts, the Properties page will be re-populated, giving you a brief insight into your work: word and page counts, problems with quotes and such. Clicking on any of these results will open the SmartEdit Find dialog and jump to the first instance for you to examine or correct. (EN Dashes, for example.)

On completion of the checks, the results page will open on the left, and the first results will appear at the bottom of the page, beneath the Editor. Clicking on the link that corresponds to the check will re-populate the results section beneath the word processor. 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

And then it's time to get to work. 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 adverb 'badly' 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.

This simple, two-part list format is also used by the Monitored Word, Foreign Word, Profanity, Suspect Punctuation, Redundancies and Clichés Lists. Once you can use one, you can use them all.

The second type of results list is a two part list. The example below is from the Sentence Start List, but it is also used by the Repeated Phrases, Repeated Words, Dialog Tags, Proper Nouns and Acronyms lists.

The list on the left shows the word or phrase used to start the sentences, along with a count of the number of times they are used. Clicking on any single instance in this list populates the adjoining list with each sentence fragment. In the case of the example, this is all 30 sentences that begin with the phrase 'But the' in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Double clicking on any one of these sentence fragments jumps into the Editor at the appropriate location so that you can make any changes you feel are needed.

The misused words list, shown below, has two sections: 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.

Exporting & Printing Reports

What if you don't want to use the SmartEdit word processor for your editing? Maybe you're happy with MS Word. Maybe you've already set up all sorts of styles and formatting in your manuscript that you don't want to lose or have to do over. For whatever reason, not every writer will be willing to move to SmartEdit for the editing stage.

This does not preclude you from using the results of SmartEdit's checks to help you edit. The new Reporting and Printing options allow you to output all reports or a single report on your work in progress. Once you have that output report in a familiar format, you can open the file alongside your favourite word processor, and get to work interpreting the results.

An added bonus of the new SmartEdit reports is that they come in many recognized formats, and can be opened by common software on Windows, Mac, Linux, and even Android devices.

The Five Report Formats

  1. Export to Excel File. Outputs an Excel file in the most recent (xlsx) format. This file can be opened by Microsoft Excel and many other spreadsheet programs.
  2. Export to CSV File. CSV (comma separated values), is a universal file format that is similar to Excel files. It can be opened by all spreadsheet programs, such as Excel and Open Office.
  3. Export to Text File. Outputs a tab delimited text file, which can be opened by spreadsheet programs, as well as simple text editors such as Notepad, or word processors such as Word.
  4. Export to PDF File. Outputs the report to a PDF file in landscape format.
  5. Export to HTML. Outputs the report to a HTML file that can be opened by web browsers or uploaded to a website.

Of the five report options, the first three are the easiest and most beneficial to use, simply because spreadsheet files can be expanded to fill the width of the screen. Many of the sentence fragments that appear in the report are quite long, and Printed Page output formats such as PDF tend not to display them as well.

Each of the five report formats has two buttons on the Reporting and Printing Toolbar, as shown above. The first button outputs the results of every check into a single combined report file. The second outputs the results of only the active check. The active check is the one that is currently open beneath the SmartEdit word processor.

Sorting: The sort order of the various checks in the report file will correspond to the sort order of the visible results lists within SmartEdit. This means that in order to generate an output report sorted in the manner you require, you should first click the various column headers in SmartEdit for that report, ensuring that the visible sort order is correct. For example, you may wish to display the Sentence Start List in alphabetical order in the report rather than in the order of the most frequent phrase or word, which is the default.


As with the output reports, the printing options, which appear to the right of the toolbar, have two buttons: one for printing all reports, the other for printing a single report. Clicking either button will open a Print Preview dialog like the one below, and you must click the small print button on this dialog to begin printing.

The entirety of the SmartEdit results for a full length novel could easily run to 4,000 printed pages. For this reason, we almost didn't add the Print All Results option, as it would not be practical to print a report of that size. But, we decided to add the option for two reasons. Firstly, writers using SmartEdit to help with editing a short story would not be faced with such a long report, in which case, printing the entire report would certainly be feasible. Secondly, many people print to software rather than to physical paper: PDF and XPS being two examples.

But be warned: check the number of pages in the print preview (bottom left of the dialog) before committing to printing.

The default orientation for printed reports is landscape. This is because the sentence fragments that appear in the SmartEdit reports can be quite long, and the printed report only displays one line per report item. If you wish, you can change the orientation to portrait by using the various page setup options on the print preview dialog. Options also exist to add headers, footers and page numbers to the report before you print.

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.

Backups: Backups are made of any document that you open on a particular day, but only once each day. The backup location is "Documents/SmartEdit/Backups", and the file name is the same as the original filename, with the addition of the current date. An example of a backup made on the 7th of December is "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz_20121207.rtf" Backups are automatically flushed after 30 days.

Smart and Straight Quotes and Em dashes: At different stages of the writing process, you may be using curly (smart) quotes or straight quotes, or even a combination of the two in the same document. Tidying this up is part of the manuscript preparation process that comes after you have finished editing. Whether or not Smart Quotes is switched on or off in the Editor is determined by what it finds in the document you open. An abundance of smart quotes will cause them to be switched on, the reverse will lead to straight quotes as you type. To override this setting, open the Preferences dialog and choose a Smart Quote setting.

By default, SmartEdit will convert a double dash into an em dash as you type. If you wish to switch this feature off, an option exists to do so on the same Preferences dialog tab page.

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.