Most editors (or maybe it’s just me) like to delude themselves that they are so eagle-eyed, so perfectionist that no error would dare elude them. According to one study,1 however, human proofreaders—even professional ones—are at best 95% accurate.
Test me, test me! Surely I can beat that. I think.
The Cost of Perfection
But even if I can manage 100% accuracy, there’s no doubt it takes time (read: money) to scrutinize a manuscript and cross-check for consistency. This isn’t so bad for a blog post or three-page essay, but what about an 85,000-word novel?
Take that a step further: Once an editor has thoroughly combed a manuscript, he or she may now be blind to certain kinds of errors. That’s why, when a manuscript absolutely MUST be error-free, the smart project manager has two or more editors go over it.
Imagine what that does to the budget. Most budgets simply won’t allow it. So do we throw up our hands and say, “Nobody’s perfect?”
Recently I’ve seen a number of prominent editors casually mention their use of PerfectIt, a plug-in that will check your document against a pretty detailed style sheet. It won’t catch dangling modifiers or pronouns with vague antecedents, but it will certainly catch the fact that you hyphenated “start-up” in two places and closed it up in one. Check here for more information.2
This sounded promising: an automated way to catch the non-controversial, objective errors so I could focus more attention on style, flow, and tone. So this week I took the plunge.
My First Experience with PerfectIt *
I got a nice discount on PerfectIt because I’m a member of ACES; if you belong to a different editing organization, check to see whether they offer a similar discount.
The purchase and download experience were surprisingly painless. I filled out a few fields on their webpage, got a license key emailed to me, and was playing with the software within minutes.
Before I began, I had a few questions/concerns:
- Would I have to spend a lot of time setting preferences before using PerfectIt to edit a document?
- Would it be difficult to double-check the software’s work, to prevent it from “correcting” something that was actually okay?
- Would there be an easy way to implement my most frequently-used style guide (the Chicago Manual of Style)?
- How user-friendly would it be overall?
Installing and Setting Up
For question #1, I was pleasantly surprised at how little I had to do. Here’s what the ribbon looks like in Word (I’m running Office 365 on a PC, but there’s also a Mac option):
I clicked “Manage Styles” and got this dialogue box:
I clicked around a bit, but all I really did was set it for US spelling. I figured I’d see how it went and modify as needed later. If you click on “Edit Style Sheet,” however, you’ll get this dialogue box:
Those tabs along the top make it easy to navigate. If you click, for example, on “Prefixes,” you’ll get this:
I can see here that I’ll want to do some customizing later, unless I can find a reliable, ready-made import for CMoS (see “Using a Style Manual” below). Notice, for example, that the default style doesn’t test the prefixes “counter-” and “extra-” for hyphenation rules. CMoS generally prefers to close prefixes up, but there are exceptions.
For this first test, however, I was ready to go. When I clicked “Launch PerfectIt,” this sidebar popped up:
It gives you another chance to play with the settings before you get cranking. Once you start, it will run through the manuscript for each of its tests (hyphenation, capitalization, etc.), and you can track its progress with this dialogue box:
Here’s the first error it detected:
Once it detects an error, it stops and prompts you to make a decision. This answered my question #2—yes, I get to retain responsibility for quality control. (I believe there is a setting where you can choose to review all edits at the end instead of as you go.)
In this case, we definitely need to change the word from British spelling to American. I clicked “Fix,” and the software did it for me. Then it politely prompted me to click the “Next” button to resume checking.
This one was a judgment call: use contractions or don’t? Notice the style tip at the bottom of the sidebar. I thought that was a nice touch. In this case, I elected to retain contractions because the piece was appropriately written in a conversational tone. When I clicked “Next” to move on without fixing the issue, the software notified me that I could skip the remaining contractions tests if I wanted. Yep! Clicked “Contractions” and moved on to the next test.
Here’s another judgment call: whether to allow an abbreviation that hasn’t been defined in the document. In this case, the audience is reading a space advocacy magazine, so we can assume they know what an EVA is (extra-vehicular activity). Again, note the helpful style tip at the bottom.
Once all tests were complete, PerfectIt asked if I’d like to perform any additional tasks:
Why yes! Please eliminate those extra spaces for me!
Now, if you wish, you can generate a report of all changes made:
I recommend doing so and saving it in the project folder along with your style sheet. That way, if a problem comes up later, you can scan through the report for clues.
And last thing—yes, you can have “Track Changes” on while PerfectIt runs. You won’t see the redlining during the process, but once you close the plug-in, it’ll show all of PerfectIt’s edits on your screen:
If you prefer not to bother clients with non-controversial changes, then you can leave it off, of course. But some of you will want to track every change so the client can see what’s been done (and justify your paycheck).
Using a Style Manual
When I threw question #3 out there to the Twitterverse, Intelligent Editing (PerfectIt’s manufacturer) almost immediately responded:
Importing it was super easy. In Word, I just clicked “Manage Styles,” then “Import,” then clicked the file I’d downloaded from Facebook.
Being me, I’ll probably wind up scrutinizing the style sheet and modifying it further—a hefty time investment, but one that will pay off in more accurate work.
I did think to ask Tasha what she focused on in compiling the style sheet. After all, one could use CMoS to anchor a ship:
Bless you, Tasha!
How Long Did It Take?
This particular test doesn’t count because I spent time taking notes and screenshots. But another test I ran took about eight minutes for a 22,000-word dissertation—and that will go faster once I’m familiar with the process.
Eight minutes. Editors, think how much time you’d have spent finding and correcting those errors manually.
- If you use a spell/grammar checker, keep using it: PerfectIt is intended to complement, not replace it.
- I like that it allowed me to make each decision individually. Since I didn’t take the time to customize PerfectIt for my chosen style manual, I could check each red flag to make sure I wasn’t introducing a style error. (Remember rule #1 of editing: “Do no harm.”)
- Some of the red flags weren’t fixable automatically: instead, PerfectIt prompted me to make the change myself within the text. Bonus extra-like-like: Ever done a search (ctrl-F) in Word, clicked on a result, and edited the text? Then you had to make a couple of clicks to get back to where you were, and maybe scroll back down the list of results to find the one you were on? Not the case with PerfectIt. The sidebar remains unchanged while you’re editing in the text window.
- Sometimes a red flag turns out to be correct itself, but it looks like an error to PerfectIt because of another error. In my other test document, it flagged a capital “They” in what appeared to be the middle of a sentence. Turns out the author omitted a period at the end of the previous sentence. All I had to do was fix that quickly and click “Next.” Very easy, seamless process.
I like it! It certainly won’t replace a good, competent editor, but it can save time and money and ease the pressure a bit on the purely mechanical details. I look forward to learning how to customize this tool so I can deliver a better, more accurate product to my clients.
Utopian Editing provides editing services from concept through proofreading. Click here to request a free sample edit and quote.
1 Adrienne Montgomerie, “Error Rates in Editing,” Copyediting.com, September 13, 2017, accessed July 19, 2018, https://www.copyediting.com/error-rates-in-editing.
2 “What PerfectIt Does,” Intelligent Editing, accessed July 19, 2018, https://intelligentediting.com/product/what-perfectit-does.
* This is not an affiliate promotion. I wrote this review strictly to share my opinion on this new-to-me product in case anyone else is interested.