by Louise Harnby
This month I’d like to share my experiences with StyleWriter4 Professional, a piece of software I purchased some months ago. I use this as a proofreading tool, though that’s not solely what the developers designed it for.
It complements the work I do with my eyes, increasing (1) the efficiency with which I work and (2) the quality of my output. Efficiency increases keep me happy because I can do certain tasks more quickly, thus improving my hourly rate; improvements in output quality keep my clients happy because they want as high a “hit” rate as possible.
What is StyleWriter4?
Essentially, StyleWriter4 is software that aims to help users with proofreading, editing, and plain-English writing. It comes in three versions:
- Starter: the “cut-down” edition for those on a budget. It concentrates on plain-English proofreading and editing, searching the text, line by line, for long sentences, passive voice, and potential spelling errors. Style categories can be selected that enable the writer or editor to amend complex words, overwriting, abstract phrases or foreign words.
- Standard: All the features of the Starter edition with additional functions to aid written communication, including identification of “high glue” and “high bog” sentences. (“High glue” sentences contain words that hold a sentence together, for example, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns. “High bog” sentences contain words that detract from a comfortable reading experience.) There are options for customization such as the ability to create categories for words or phrases that you want to ban or suggest.
- Professional: All the features from Starter and Standard, plus the Editor’s List. This includes lists of all full words (alphabetically sorted), word frequency, spelling (unknown, questionable, or unusual words), bog (specialist words or words that may detract from readability), wordy (including passive verbs and word phrases), jargon (including abbreviations and jargon words), and pep (unusual or interesting words, and names).
A caveat on this proofreader’s usage
I bought StyleWriter4 because I wanted quick and easy access to the information in the Editor’s List – that, and nothing more. It’s important that I emphasize this straight away.
I’m not an editor, so I’m not in the business of worrying about passive voice, sentence length, overwriting, or overall style. Even though the Professional Edition enables me to use the tools to make amendments in relation to these issues, I’m not interested in them (because that’s not what my clients are paying me for) and I haven’t used the functions. I therefore can’t comment on the degree to which the software is effective in its claims to address these issues effectively.
So, what’s so great about the Editor’s List?
Why I use the Editor’s List
Sometimes we see what we want to see rather than what’s actually on the page. Being an experienced and professionally trained proofreader doesn’t make me immune to this problem. Rather, my experience and my professional training have made me alert to it. That’s why I always generate a word list to flag up potential inconsistencies that my weary eyes might have passed over. Such a list allows me to make sure I check spelling errors (e.g., poofreader), consistency issues (e.g., Francois and François), context-dependent errors (e.g., behaviour and behavior). Not every issue will need to be attended to, but it will need to be checked. This is where the Editor’s List comes to the fore.
Running StyleWriter4 Professional on a Word document quickly and cleanly generates lists of words that I can use to spot potential problems I want to check, prior to reading the text line by line with my eyes. Generating word lists is all about spotting possible serious snags (e.g., inconsistent spelling of character or cited-author names) before the in-context proofreading starts. Looking through such lists gives me piece of mind and allows me, later, to focus my attention on context and layout.
The following is a step-by-step summary of how I generate the information I need from the Editor’s List:
- Create a Word document. If I’ve been contracted to work directly in Word by my client, I’m good to go. If I have a PDF, I copy the text from the PDF proof and paste it into a Word file. (I choose not to use Acrobat’s built-in conversion tool because I’ve found it leads to problems with text flow, and I have to devote even more time to fixing these before I run any Word-based tools, such as macros. However, this is a personal choice.) I remove unnecessary word breaks from the document by using Word’s Find and Replace tool (find “-^p” then “- ^p” then “ -^p”); always leave the replace box blank. You may have a macro that does this for you more efficiently.
- Go to the Add-Ins tab and click on the StyleWriter icon. (Click on images to enlarge them.)
- Click on the arrow next to the Editor’s List icon: that’s the little picture of the chap wearing Men-in-Black shades!
- Select the list you want to look at. The lists I usually focus on are “All” (which includes the following separate lists of interest to me: “All words” and “Odds and ends”); and “Spelling” (which includes the following separate lists of interest to me: “Unknown words,” “Questionable words,” and “Unusual words”).
In the image below, I’ve highlighted the tabs of interest as they appear in the Editor’s List window, and the option at the bottom of the window to order the chosen word lists alphabetically or by frequency.
I then scroll through the lists at my leisure, checking any problems I detect. In the image above, I’ve highlighted an inconsistent spelling issue that I’d need to check (behaviour/behaviour) in order to identify whether there is an error in the text. If I was working for a client directly in Word, I could use the “Trace in Text View” button highlighted at the bottom of the window. If I was working on hardcopy or PDF, I’d search for the problem in the PDF and then mark up on paper or on screen, as per the client’s wishes.
Why not use TextSTAT?
I used to use TextSTAT for creation of word lists for my proofreading work. I loved this software. I still love it! See “Revisiting an old favorite: TextSTAT, word lists, and the proofreader,” for more information about how I’ve used this tool in an almost identical way.
And TextSTAT is free, whereas StyleWriter4 Professional costs US$190 (or £123).
So, before buying, I decided to do a cost-to-benefit analysis. If I was going to spend over a hundred quid on software, I needed to know how quickly I would get a return on my investment. I compared how long it took me to work through all the little bits and necessary to generate full-word and spelling lists using TextSTAT and StyleWriter4 Professional.
With StyleWriter, the process is a one-stop shop. I open and run the software in the Word file. I then click on Editor’s List and choose what I want to look at.
With TextSTAT, things are more fiddly. I have to upload the Word document, create full-word list, export the list into Excel, copy the Excel version into Word, alphabetize and check. Then I run a separate macro to generate possible list of potential spelling errors.
Using StyleWriter4 Professional saved me only five minutes for a 150,000-word file. However, when it comes to productivity in editorial work, marginal gains always count.
- Cost: £123 (US$190)
- Value of five minutes of my time based on my average hourly rate 2014/15 financial year = £3.34 (US$5.19) per job
- On average, I do five large proofreading jobs a month = 5 × £3.34 (US$5.19) = £16.70 (US$25.95)
- £123 (US$190)/£16.70 (US$25.95) = just over 7 months to pay for itself
- I decided to buy StyleWriter4 Professional purely for the Editor’s List and haven’t regretted it. The choice for me was about the speed of the functionality, and its fit with my particular business model.
Considerations before you buy
Use the trial version before you buy. The website currently doesn’t indicate which version is available for download. It’s therefore worth emailing the developers to check which edition you’ll be experimenting with. If you’re a proofreader like me, and are considering the software primarily to access the Editor’s List, you’ll need to trial the Professional version.
View the video demos on the StyleWriter4 website, so you can see how the various features work.
Cost – it’s not free. If you are using alternative free software (such as TextSTAT) to generate checkable full-word and spelling lists, do your own cost-to-benefit analysis so that you can work out whether and when you will earn a return on your investment. You’ll need to know the value you place on X minutes of your time in order to do this. You may recoup your investment in a shorter or longer period of time than me because there are differences in our hourly rates, our fee structures, the services we offer, the speed at which we use alternative software, how many separate jobs we do per month, the word count in the files, and so on.
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.