6 Automatic Editing Tools That Will Make Your Writing Super Clean

6 Automatic Editing Tools That Will Make Your Writing Super Clean

Have you ever wanted a magical editing wand?

Just imagine: A flick of the wrist would be all that stood between you and the end of editing your writing. No frustration. Minimal time investment. An amazing manuscript or blog post.

Alas, no such magic wand exists.

But we do have automatic editing tools, which are the next-best things.

Just remember that automatic editing tools are designed to make editing easier, not to eliminate the work completely.

Putting automatic editing tools to the test

During self-edits on my latest manuscript, I experimented with six editing tools, both free and paid, to determine which could be most beneficial to The Write Life’s audience. Besides being an author, I’m an editor, so I also weighed each tool against what I’d look for when editing.

Since editing, which is anything that improves your writing, has a broad definition, it’s not surprising that the tools I tried had different functions, from checking grammar and style, to eliminating unnecessary words, to identifying areas for improvement.

What you want your editing tool to do will influence which one(s) you choose. No one tool can do it all — nor can one of these tools wave away the work and critical thinking necessary for a well-edited book.

An automatic editing tool doesn’t replace a human editor. Because language rules and elements of a good story can be so flexible, human eyes will always be superior to the rigidity of automatic tools.

Here are those six tools, broken into three categories based on function.

[Editor’s note: Some companies offered free access to the paid versions of their tools for the purposes of this post, but all opinions are the writer’s.]

Check your grammar and style

Sometimes, you just want to make sure you’re not making any silly spelling or grammar mistakes.

1. Grammarly

What It Does: Grammarly is a grammar checker and proofreader.

Price: $29.95 per month, $59.95 per quarter or $139.95 per year for premium service. A limited version is available for free, and Grammarly also offers a number of other free services such as a plagiarism checker and various plug-ins.

Who It’s For: Anyone, though most useful for corporate business people and academics.

How It Works:  Copy and paste or upload your text into the online dashboard and let Grammarly work its magic. It flags potential errors, gives suggestions and provides an explanation if you need it. There is also a free Grammarly Add-in available for Microsoft Word, along with a plug-in for web browsers.

The Best Part: Grammarly is easy to use and pointed out a vocabulary issue or two that none of the other tools did. It’s superior to Microsoft Word’s grammar checker.

What Would Make It Better: As an editor, I’ve found that many people don’t understand or care to learn the technical explanation for why something’s wrong. Plain language (or as plain as you can get) explanations for mistakes would make it accessible to more writers.

Our Recommendation: Grammarly is best for the final proofreading stage, or for people who want to learn more about the technical aspects grammar. If you’re an editor or strong writer, you might find yourself ignoring more flagged items than you fix.

2. ProWritingAid

What It Does: ProWritingAid analyzes your writing and produces reports on areas such as overused words, writing style, sentence length, grammar and repeated words and phrases.

Price:  Enjoy limited use of the tool for free, or upgrade to the premium membership to edit where you work (i.e., in Google Docs or MS Word), access a desktop app and Chrome add-ins, and — best of all — lose the word-count cap. A year’s membership is $60, but you can get two years for $90, three for $120, or go whole hog and buy a lifetime membership for $210.

Who It’s For: Anyone

How It Works: Click on “Editing Tool,” create a free account, then paste in your text.

The Best Part: ProWritingAid delivers similar results to AutoCrit, and though ProWritingAid has a premium option, most of the areas you’ll want checked are available for free.

What Would Make It Better:  Though ProWritingAid checks grammar, I slipped in a your/you’re mistake without getting flagged. I wasn’t overly fond of the website design, but its overall functionality is hard to argue with.

Our Recommendation: Use ProWritingAid in the self-editing stage to guide your edits. It may not be as comprehensive as AutoCrit, but for a free tool, it’s a decent contender.

3. After the Deadline

What It Does: Like Grammarly, After the Deadline is a grammar checker.

Price: Free for personal use

Who It’s For: Anyone

How It Works: Click “Demonstration,” paste the text you want to check, and click “Check Writing.” After the Deadline underlines any potential issues and explains its reasoning.

The Best Part: It’s free! You can also use it on your self-hosted WordPress site, as an extension or add-on for Chrome or Firefox, or with OpenOffice.org.

What Would Make It Better: A definition of passive voice that explains how you construct it grammatically. After the Deadline rightly explains what passive voice does, but it seems to focus only on the “be” verb, which occasionally leads to falsely labeling non-passive constructions as passive.

Our Recommendation: You get what you pay for with After the Deadline. Use it for a final proofread, but exercise good judgment and don’t make every change it suggests — it’s not as sophisticated as Grammarly.

Improve your writing

If you’re looking for a critique that goes a bit deeper, try one of these options.

Which automatic editing tool is best for writers? We tested six popular options.

4. AutoCrit

What It Does: AutoCrit analyzes your manuscript to identify areas for improvement, including pacing and momentum, dialogue, strong writing, word choice and repetition. Depending on what level you choose, you can also compare your writing to that of popular authors like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.

Price:  Three different levels are available: the “basic” for $10 per month, the “professional” for $30, or the Elite for $80 per month. (Both of the latter offer a 14-day trial for $1.)

Who It’s For: Fiction writers

How It Works: Paste your text into the online dashboard or upload a document and click on AutoCrit’s tabs to see their analysis.

The Best Part: I spent the most time in “Compare to Fiction” tab, which is a comprehensive look at common issues. It highlighted my tendency to start sentences with “and” and “but,” and identified my most repeated words. I felt like I learned something about my writing, and that’s something I don’t think I could say about the other tools.

What Would Make It Better: A more accurate definition of passive voice. It highlights any use of the “be” and “had” verbs, neither of which fully capture passive voice (you need a past participle in addition to a “be” verb), and many active voice constructions were falsely labeled as passive.

Our Recommendation: AutoCrit is great to guide your edits in the self-editing stage. It’s best used for developmental edits, rewrites and avoiding common writing no-nos.

5. Hemingway App

What It Does: Hemingway App provides a readability score — the lowest grade level someone would need to understand the text — and analyzes your writing to identify areas for improvement.

Price:  Free online, $19.99 for the desktop version (available for both Mac and PC)

Who It’s For: Anyone

How It Works: Paste your text into the dashboard and scan for highlighted sections of text. The highlighted text is color coded depending on your area of improvement, whether it’s hard-to-read sentences, the presence of adverbs, or passive voice.

The Best Part: In addition to providing examples on how to fix passive voice or complex phrases, Hemingway App also identifies how many “-ly” adverbs and passive voice constructions you have and suggests a maximum number to use based on your word count.

In my prologue, for example, I had one use of passive voice, and Hemingway App suggested aiming for six uses or fewer — which I nailed. These recommendations reinforce the idea that not all adverbs or passive voice constructions are bad, and that’s something other tools miss.

What Would Make It Better: Hemingway App was the cleanest and easiest to use of the free editing tools, but it’s not a grammar checker or proofreader. Even though it’s not meant to catch grammar and spelling mistakes, any editing application that catches those mistakes is instantly more attractive.

Our Recommendation: Use Hemingway App to increase the readability of your writing and identify problem sentences during the copyediting stage, but supplement your efforts with a grammar and spell checker.

Eliminate word fluff

Those unnecessary words and phrases are getting in your story’s way.

6. WordRake

What It Does: WordRake cuts out the unnecessary words or phrases that creep into your writing. It works with Microsoft Word and Outlook, depending on which license you purchase. I tested the Microsoft Word version.

Price:  The Microsoft Word version is available for Mac or Windows, and you can pay $129 for a year or $259 for three years. The Microsoft Word and Outlook package version is only available for Windows, and it costs $199 for a year or $399 for three.

Who It’s For: Bloggers, authors and editors using Microsoft Word or Outlook

How It Works: WordRake is an add-in for Microsoft products and requires you to install the program before using it, though it’s as easy as following the instructions. Select the text you want to edit, then use the WordRake add-in. It uses track changes to suggest edits, which you can accept or reject.

The Best Part: WordRake is as close as you can get to an automatic editor. It appealed to me more as an editor than writer, but it’s great at eliminating unnecessary phrases and words — and it’s those words that bog down your writing.

What Would Make It Better: I threw a your/you’re mistake in to see if WordRake would catch it. It didn’t, even though Microsoft Word flagged it. If WordRake could catch common writing mistakes like your/you’re or their/they’re/there in addition to unnecessary words, it’d be a hard tool to beat.

Our Recommendation: WordRake is a great tool for the copyediting stage. Verbose writers, authors wanting to cut down on editing costs or editors looking to speed up their editing process will most benefit from WordRake. Watch out if you’re running Word on a slow computer: WordRake increases your load time.

Do you use one of these editing tools or something else? What’s been your experience with automatic editing tools?

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

This post was updated in January 2019 so it’s more useful and relevant for our readers! It was originally written by Amanda Shofner and updated by The Write Life team. 

Filed Under: Craft
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198 comments

  • Patricia Wilson says:

    Thanks for the information. I am looking for scholarly editing software. It’s been helpful.

  • Rishi says:

    So much useful stuff. Personally, ProWritingAid is perhaps the best tool and even the most cost-effective one.
    Found this detailed ProWritingAid review.

    • Taren Randal says:

      The review that you generously gave us the link for is reviewing its functionality as a plagiarism checker, not a grammar checker. While that was an interesting article I think it was a little off topic. We are more interested in Grammar and spelling checkers here. However, I do appreciate the warning about other checkers that store and sell our work. That was the most useful part of that article.

      Thank you.

      • Rishi says:

        True!
        Thanks for sharing your useful opinion on it. Even though I can’t change the comment above, I will improve the review itself.
        But in any way, ProWritingAid is a great solution. I don’t know why it is not much popular as Grammarly.

  • Grammarly: I use for Chrome, Word and Outlook. The one thing I have a hard time with it thinking seriously is all the “comma’ things I seem to be missing. Or doing wrong.
    “Dialogue.” Being a complete sentence, Grammarly wants to put a , after the last letter before the “. It doesn’t look right for me, because I never saw it in other fiction novels before. If the last word in ” is completing the sentence, it should be punctuated correctly with end punctuation: . ? ! not ,

    Or am I wrong in this?

    I used to use Ginger but it was useless on either end. I know that Word 2016 (with Office 365) has new grammar features, so I use them first, then run through with Grammarly.

    • Taren Randal says:

      The rule about quotes and punctuation is something like this. If what comes after the quote is a dialogue tag then you use a coma.
      “Talk to the hand,” she said.
      However, if you have an action beat after the quote you use end of sentence punctuation.
      “Talk to the hand.” She raised her hand an looked away.
      Also, notice the capitalization. Hope that helps.

    • Thomas Lewis says:

      It gets even weirder with “scare quotes”. I just punctuated that the British way. The US way would be “scare quotes.”

      This is totally illogical. A comma or period when part of a sentence makes sense to place inside the quotes in dialog, bc it is part of the sentence spoken. Ending narration with a “scare quotes” term like I just did, the comma or period is still part of the sentence, yet it is NOT part of the scare quote, so logically, it belongs OUTSIDE the quotes.

      And the reason why this is done is also illogical. It was a convention by typesetters. If they set type with the period outside the quotes or parentheses, it might physically break off and skunk the entire printing process. The quote mark or closing parenthesis was physically stronger than the period, would not tend to break off, and so they switched the order of the two AS A COMPROMISE to protect the periods.

      Well, there has not been a lot of type set in this century. It’s 2017, yet we still are USING A COMPROMISE to protect leaded type that no longer exists.

      Convincing British editors/publishers that it is now OK to go back to the logical way (comma/period outside the scare quote) was successful. American editors/publishers? Not so much. Hey, go metric while you’re at it. No.

      So we still cling to a ridiculous conventionality based on a now-useless compromise for absolutely no good reason. Screw it. I’m sticking with British. At least it’s logical.

      • Taren Randal says:

        So if you Brits are so progressive why can’t you get with the program and spell color correctly?

        If you want English to make sense then why can’t we write knowed instead of knew? And what’s with the spelling of neighbor? English hasn’t been making sense for a long time. It’s weird and wacky and has a lot more sources of strangeness then just typesetters. Don’t blame us Americans for the language that we inherited from you.

        • Thomas Lewis says:

          What on God’s green earth would make you think I’m British? I’m in effing Arizona!

          I don’t support many British ideas, but I also don’t see a need to excoriate them for simply being British ideas. Typically, I also don’t support many U.S. ideas or excoriate them for being American. And I consider those who are brainless enough to do that to be people that might want to think about stopping breathing the air that belongs to the rest of us.

          This single idea of punctuation was the subject, and was absolutely not flag waving for anyone. I thought I was crystal clear about that. ‘We’ somewhat implied that.

          The British made a logical decision, and the Americans didn’t. So what. I replied to someone else, and that someone else someone other than you.

          • Taren Randal says:

            So my point was that English doesn’t make sense. I hope you’re not insulted by that. You also implied that I was butting into a conversation that I was not a part of, however, you are posting on a blog.

          • Taren Randal says:

            Wow, you Brits get worked up so easily.

  • Calisa Rhose says:

    Though this is an older article, I wanted to comment if it will allow.

    Another one not mentioned here is http://editminion.com/ which checks word use mainly. Adverbs, prepositions, passive voice, weak words, overused words (which also tells you the overused word, highlights it and tells you how many times it’s used in the edited piece). I pasted the paragraph the gentleman posted above and it suggested I check usage of most of the wrongly used words. It did not pick up on incorrect sentence structure. I have used it in conjunction to Writing Aid Pro for several years, but I think Edit Minion has changed some to what it used to be, a stronger version before.

    I do use editing help programs, as an editor and a writer. Not all writers are strong in proper grammer and structure, and I’m no exception. It’s my worst weakness as a writer. I am going to look into some of the other ones listed both in your comparison and comments. Thank you!

  • Thomas Lewis says:

    BTW, editminion.com does most of what Hemingway App attempts, does it better, does more than Hemingway, and does it for free.

  • Awesome tools. I am using Grammarly for almost 2 years and I am totally happy about it.
    However, ProWritingAid is a better tool when it comes to compatibility with Apple devices.

  • I am using Grammarly for almost 2 years and I am totally happy about it.
    However, ProWritingAid is a better tool when it comes to compatibility with Apple devices.

  • Paul Dalton says:

    I would be really interested in your perspective on PerfectIt, which appears to be designed more for final edit assistance than basic writing skills. I found another writer’s review of it -http://www.tonynoland.com/2013/08/software-review-perfectit.html?m=1 – but you did such as excellent job of explaining these other tools that I hope you’ve seen PerfectIt & can comment on it ,,

  • Chris says:

    I get frustrated with Grammarly for pointing out errors that aren’t errors, but I do need a last run through of my material to catch misplaced punctuation, repetition, etc. This is after many eyes on it, several critiques, etc. Invariably, I introduce more with my rewriting, and this helps me catch them.

  • Tyler says:

    Thank you for the comparison. I use Wordrake in my law practice. Lawyers are notorious for loading up a phrase with extra words and the software cleans it up. It also is great for removing the passive voice which attorneys often use. I just started using Grammarly at home so I’ll be able to compare the two.

  • StrugglingWriter says:

    As a test, I pasted samples of stories into the ProWritingAid and Hemmingway app. All the writings have high ratings in Goodreads. The apps punished the samples for bad grammar, too much verbosity, bad style, etc. Are these apps useful? Could they end up making someone’s writing worse off?

    • Thomas Lewis says:

      Any tool can hurt you.

      Here is how smart ‘Hemingway’ is: it recognizes any word ending in ‘ly’ as an adverb. Including surnames, like ‘Stokely’. How smart is that?

      it also says sentences are hard to read if they have 2 clauses, and very hard to read if they have 3 clauses.

      I like that if flags (most) adverbs correctly, but that’s about it. Save the 20 bucks and get Editminion for free, which is very similar.

  • Peter Parker says:

    I used StyleWriter in the past, unfortunately it does not have Mac Word Plugin and there is no browser based plug in or App either. Could someone please recommend what is best option for academic scientific writing. English is not my first language however I am comfortable writing documents, papers etc. Most frequently I miss adding articles etc but want to make sure when my paper goes out for peer review, it does not have basic style errors and mistakes. Thanks

  • Thomas Lewis says:

    One thing you could consider is Google Docs. It is a pretty good basic WP. But it also has ‘add-ons’ that can address these concerns. They are like extensions you can install.

    The add for Grammarly seems to indicate that it has tools such as this in the paid version.

  • Mohamed Ali says:

    I bought Grammarly yesterday for a month and got disappointed to see that its editor could not catch a simple grammar mistake in my paragraph with 2 sentences. When I sent this to their support with a screenshot, this is what they said:

    “The Grammarly Editor works most effectively when checking naturally written texts that are at least one paragraph long because many of Grammarly’s algorithms work based on context”

    They might be correct, but for me, it sounded like Toyota saying “Our cars are designed to do good on long drives only”

    They were decent enough to immediately process my refund request.

    • Taren Randal says:

      I’ve been frustrated with all editing tools that I’ve tried. I use grammarly to catch several errors quickly. Then I use Serenity Editor to catch a few more errors. (This is the best software I’ve found for catching errors but it’s user interface is awkward.) Then believe it or not I still have to circle all my subjects and underline all my predicates to catch errors that neither program catch. Grammerly’s paid version is not worth the money if you ask me.

    • Thomas Lewis says:

      It’s been my experience that Grammarly can’t seem to see more than seven words forward or seven words back (which might be generous), so I consider that ‘context’ excuse to be either a stretch, or a crock.

      Context and seeing nuance is not it’s strong suit.

  • Karl says:

    Thank you, everybody, for your input, wonderful. I use Autocrit and G corrects by its own parameters (not necessarily right) the text I pasted into Autocrit — as it does this as I am writing. To triple check, I occasionally use LT, also because it works for other languages.

    As to Autocrit, whose earlier version I have never tested, I must say that it is a tool to get rid of those extra pounds, i.e. adverbs, passive voice, unnecessary filler words and all the rest as already pointed out by others. What troubles me, though, and I had not the time to discover it during the trial time, is how the software messes up text in italics.

    Still in beta-phase?

    Given the nature of my novel, thoughts in the heads of the main characters surface a lot and they are written in italics as customary. So far I was told, the developers are now working on the issue so that the system can handle italics without interpolating all the garbage. For myself, it looks like I will have to do quite some work to get all the italics text right again — once I am out of the Autocrit phase.

    Another issue, minor if you want, is the passive voice and the confusion with tenses. The American “Does he/she have?” form is shunned in British English (and, as a consequence, Commonwealth and int’l English). This means that whenever the equivalent, proper English form “Has he/she?” is used Autocrit includes it in the passive voice count. Following the Autocrit logic one also has to substitute the past “He/she has done something” to the past participle “he/she did something,” to improve the writing.

    Other than the above, Autocrit is fun. Hopefully, they will solve the italics issue, that they do not function in Commonwealth English I have understood.

    Will test some of the other systems, most probably ProWriting asap.

    Thank you Amanda Shofner and everyone else.

  • Paul says:

    Grammerly? Do pay attention!

    It’s Grammarly.

  • Mari says:

    Thanks for the tools. I use StyleWriter writing and editing software. It’s an add on to Microsoft Word.

  • I’ve been using ProWritingAid for the last year and a half. I’ve found it quite useful (though I ignore about 2/3 of the suggestions, I appreciate it pointing them out so I can evaluate them). My biggest beef is the bugginess. It often freezes with large chunks. The least buggy platform is the Word Add-in. It does evaluate readability, as well as repeated words and phrases. My editor says my work is some of the cleanest she gets since I started using it – so that’s a plus!

  • Zia Ahmed says:

    This is a very helpful article detailing several electronic proofreading and editing tools. I have been toying with some of them and came across others that I would like to share with the readers.
    Knowing not one app or tool will capture everything, I have been doing the following to clean up clutter in my manuscript, Danyaal’s Room:
    After running the basic spelling and grammar check on MS Word, I take the chapter of the book to Grammarly. Once finished there, I open the document to Google Docs where I run it through Spell Checker and Grammar Checker by Scribens. You will need to get it through Google Docs Add-ons. Then I run the chapter through Text Cleaner, another Add-on, especially to remove multiple spaces. Then I run the document through GradeProof: Proofreading with Al, another Google Add-on, before finally running it through Hemingway desktop application to do some self-editing. At this point, you can convert the document back to MS Word and scan to ensure all changes have been applied accordingly.
    You will be surprised at the number of items Grammarly misses and Scribens picks it up and vice versa.