Posted by on July 18, 2018

Can Editing Software Replace a Flesh and Blood Editor?


Train Platform Signs. Credit: Dan Gold.

As we’ve said before, everyone needs an editor, from high school students to Pulitzer Prize winners. Why? Because very few writers can successfully edit their own work. It doesn’t matter how good they are. If you’re looking at something you wrote, you’re often too close to it, too familiar to see all of its flaws. And the more you read something, the more likely you are to miss mistakes.

Technology is making everything easier, more accessible, and more affordable. So much so, many industries and companies are automating processes and tasks previously performed by human beings. Ask anyone on the street if they’re worried about losing their job to a robot or a computer, and you’ll discover that this fear is fairly common and not unfounded.

Copyediting doesn’t seem safe from this technological revolution as copyediting software is now ubiquitous. There is a cadre of free and paid editing software available to anyone and everyone with a computer and a WiFi connection. But can editing software replace a flesh and blood human editor (if you could call us human)? The short answer is, not really. But that doesn’t mean editing programs don’t have their place.

Pros:

It’s cheaper.

With copyeditors clocking in at anywhere from $30 to $60 an hour, editing software is a good option for those who can’t afford to hire an editor. In fact, most programs offer both free and pro versions, which provides access to helpful tools to those with different financial constraints. Here’s a sample of prices from popular editing programs.

      • ProWritingAid: Free Version or $50/year with discounts for buying more than one year at a time.

Even at the expensive end, copyediting software is more affordable than hiring an editor. This is great if you’re on a budget, if you’re a student, or you just need an edit slightly more hefty than what your text editor can provide but not as hefty as what a human editor would offer.

It can be quicker.

When you hire an editor, you’re likely not their only client. While they will usually work with your schedule, you also have to work with theirs. Like hiring any professional, you give up control during the editing process. This can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re working on an important project or academic paper.

With editing software, you can just pop your text into the program and you’re off to the races.

We use the word can here because it isn’t guaranteed to be quicker. If you agonize over every suggested correction (as some of us have been known to do), then it may actually take longer!

Cons:

These programs are not perfect.

While copyediting programs can certainly catch the lion’s share of spelling and grammar mistakes, they can’t catch everything. It can be easy to assume that computer software would be more accurate than a human, but software is only as good as the people who make it.

I have personally used several editing programs and each of them was helpful overall, but they have never caught or fixed everything. This sometimes has to do with where the program was created. For example, ProWritingAid is headquartered in England. The software itself is great, but if you write in U.S. English, it may surprise you with suggestions for non-standard U.S. English grammar.

They can’t really help with the squishier aspects of writing, like tone, cadence, and style.

Even grammar can fall into this category, as grammar is much more subjective than most high school English teachers let on. Correct spellings and “correct” grammar is just one aspect of good writing. For example, some copyediting programs give suggestions for readability—using tests like Flesch Reading Ease, Coleman-Liau, and Flesch-Kincaid Grade—but readability is incredibly subjective. If you’re writing a PhD-level dissertation, your required readability is going to be much different from someone who’s writing a children’s book.

Tone. Voice. Cadence. Style. Story. Clarity of Ideas. These are all editing areas that are still best tackled by a human editor.

Conclusion:

Copyediting programs can be a real lifesaver. They’re cheap, they’re quick, and most provide a decent spelling and grammar edit. This type of software is useful and definitely has a place in the writing and editing realm. But human editors are the only editors capable of providing expertise and guidance when it comes to story development, clarity of ideas, flow, and other “soft” editing aspects, that is until we reach the singularity. In which case, all bets are off.