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What Technology Can and Can’t Do for the Editing Process

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by Ebonye Gussine Wilkins, Founder, August Rose Press —

Ebonye Gussine Wilkins

Make sure to know all the benefits and disadvantages that technology can offer for the editing process before committing to any software.

Editing is impossible to get around as a publishing professional. Whether you’re a writer or a publisher, getting a book to the editing process is a must. There is a lot of technology, powered by artificial intelligence, that is available for use, but it doesn’t make the choice easy. Considering all the benefits and the caveats are important before committing to any technology used in the editing process. The quality of the resulting book depends on it.

There are a handful of products out there designed to help making writing tighter and help produce a book with significantly fewer errors. But there are things to look out for to make sure that the software is doing what you’d expect. After all, your name is tied to the final product, so it is critical that everything is done right.

There are several types of errors that software is good at catching. While these solutions help make a better book, it is not the only thing to look out for.

Repetition errors: These are errors that involve repeated words. It can be blatantly obvious but hard-to-catch repetition errors like “the the” or “and and.” These kinds of software, depending on the type, may also catch less obvious repetitions like words that are too similar or the same word repeated nonconsecutively within the same sentence. Eliminating these reduces redundancies and allows a writer to add more options or better wording to the discourse.

Missing words: Every once in a while, a writer might miss a word like an article or a preposition. This can make a sentence more awkward or harder to read and understand. The last thing any reader wants is to guess what an author meant to say in a book. A good version of this kind of software will be able to flag sentences where an article might be missing and even better versions of software might suggest what word should go in the placeholder.

Passive voice: Artificial intelligence-based software has gotten very good at identifying passive constructions in writing. Sometimes a writer can avoid passive constructions, but occasionally it can add to a sense of writing style, and it might be better to leave a few sprinkled throughout.

Consistency errors: Have you ever seen writing that has one word spelled two or three different ways? How about words that are sometimes hyphenated and sometimes not? These are all consistency errors, and they can be hard to tell apart to an untrained eye. Some software can identify these and point them out so that the writer can change them as required. Occasionally, a software can learn an in-house style guide to help enforce consistency.

Misspellings: Most software does this quite well, whether it is missing letters within a word or transposed letters. Correcting spelling can sometimes be automatic (e.g., “hte” might be automatically converted to “the”). These obvious errors can be repaired rather quickly and with minimal input from the writer.

However, for every error that technology can solve, there are a handful of errors that software is less adept at handling.

Style guide differences: Does your company prefer to use Chicago or another style manual? This is a matter that depends on the context; a style manual should guide most editorial decisions. Your publishing projects will benefit from adherence to a particular style, and the automated editing helpers have not mastered these. Be careful not to be overly reliant on these to enforce stylistic changes.

Incorrect word usage: While a word may be spelled correctly, is the right word being used? Chances are technology can’t help you do that. The software you’re using will likely not be able to tell the difference between muscles and mussels; effect versus affect; or rein versus reign. Be certain of the words that are being used and don’t rely on technology to inform your decisions.

Biased language: Sometimes it’s tricky to think about how biased language can end up in a book. For example, when referring to teachers, are you being gender neutral, or do you default to the feminine “she?” When referring to professors or scientists, do you automatically write “he” instead of pluralizing it to include all genders? Technology can’t generally recast sentences for you, so that’s something you’ll have to tackle by hand.

There are also other serious editorial decisions that can’t be made by technology. After all, most of the software talked about is in reference to copy editing, and it’s the only kind of editing that is plausible with it. If there is a need for developmental editing or checking for content and substance, technology can’t yet help with that. While these technologies can help reduce the amount of time a copy editor spends on a manuscript, most of the time, your best bet is going with a human editor for the level of editing needed at any particular stage.

IBPA Member Discounts on Editorial Services

Benefits of Human Editors
  • Can offer sensitivity reads for certain topics
  • Can make suggestions for big picture manuscript improvements
  • Can get a variety of opinions on content and substance
  • Can query the author for complicated decisions
  • Can offer suggestions on how to fix some errors

Benefits of Technology for Editing
  • Faster correction of errors
  • Routine errors corrected
  • Awkward phrasing fixed
  • Pop-up alerts for possible problems

Ebonye Gussine Wilkins is a social justice writer, editor, and founder of Inclusive Media Solutions LLC and August Rose Press.

To learn about the editing process, check out this IBPA Independent article, “Editing Essentials.”

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