At Winning Edits, our expertise covers a lot of ground. Design and user experience, publishing strategy, online platform integrations, and much more. We’re also editors. Editors who do everything from developmental editing (helping authors structure and organize their books-in-progress), to line editing and copyediting (tightening up the voice, tone, syntax, and flow of online and offline content).
And, I might add, we’re pretty dang good at it. We’re awesome editors—but that doesn’t mean we go it alone. Right now feels like a kind of golden age for online tools that help you be more productive, efficient, and effective. This is true for editorial tools, as well, and we think it’s smart to take advantage of the bounty out there.
So, stay tuned as I guide you through the list of tools and resources that can come in handy for any editor. The items in this post are equally as useful for writers, too. In fact, some of them could be considered “writing” tools more than “editing” tools.
A style guide(s)
Everybody needs a little style… guide. English is a complex, evolving language, and even the greatest editor can’t keep every nuance, syntactical guideline, and seemingly arbitrary formatting rule in their head. It’s just not possible, and that’s where style guides come in. The two most popular style guides are the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) and the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. The former is commonly used for book editing, while AP is more common in journalism.
Many editors and editorial agencies find it handy to create their own in-house style guide, too. An in-house style guide accounts for that editor or agency’s editorial preferences, especially if those preferences don’t all align strictly with an established style guide like CMOS or AP. An in-house style guide also provides a reference for editorial standards or terminology specific to the editor or agency’s industry or typical client.
Even if you don’t feel the need to have an in-house style guide, pick one of the existing ones. Both CMOS and AP are available in traditional book form, or via online subscription. Whichever option you choose will be well worth the investment.
A word processor
“Word processor.” Sounds so old-fashioned, doesn’t it? But unless you’re still using a typewriter to do your editorial work—I’m not even sure how that would work, but if it does, kudos to you, friend!—chances are you’re using a piece of software.
Google Docs is increasingly the word processing tool of choice for editors, and it’s what we use for our client work. Google Docs makes it easy to share documents, add comments and suggested changes, and track document versions. It falls short in a number of areas—you can’t make a copy of a document that maintains any suggested changes in the original document, for instance—but makes up for its downsides largely through its ubiquity, price (free!) and ease of use.
On the other side of the hedgerow you’ll find Microsoft Word. Word is great if Google Docs doesn’t offer all the features you’re looking for, but it falls short of Google Docs when it comes to easy collaboration and document sharing. Word is still a very handy tool if you’re willing to sacrifice a little sleekness and take full advantage of what it has to offer, especially macros. (More on that later.) I still have a legacy copy of Word 2011 on my Macbook for times when I want access to Word’s enhanced feature set.
Microsoft does offer Office Online, a free, feature-light version of its popular app suite, including Word. It doesn’t seem to have much to recommend it over Google Docs, but if you’ve used it and love it, I’d love to hear why!
A dictionary and thesaurus
Yes, even the best editors need to refer to the dictionary once in a while. Yes, sometimes even we forget how to spell pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, or whether the noun “lineup” is one word, two words, or hyphenated. And a thesaurus can come in handy to freshen up a manuscript by suggesting alternatives to commonly used words you may not have considered.
A time tracking/management tool
Time tracking: just do it. And you don’t even need a stopwatch. A time-tracking tool is helpful if you want to see exactly how you’re spending your work (and non-work) time each day. And it’s especially useful if you bill clients for time spent on their projects. Two great options are Harvest and Toggl, both of which offer free and paid options. You can also look to a tool like FreshBooks. This accounting software has built-in time tracking, allowing you to easily create invoices to send to clients based on time worked on a specific project.
A spelling/grammar checker
Don’t look now, but copyeditors are about to go extinct! Every day, it seems like there’s a new plugin or app that checks your work for spelling, grammar, wordiness, and even cliché.
It’s true—there are tons of tools available to help you perfect your text. It’s tough to know where to start, but Grammarly is our option of choice. Available as a browser plugin, an add-in for MS Word and Outlook, and in an online editor at Grammarly’s website, Grammarly checks your grammar and spelling as you type. The paid version of Grammarly also includes a plagiarism detector (more on those below). If you’re looking for more options, of which there are plenty, TopTenReviews shared an overview of their top ten grammar checking tools back in December.
There are some great niche tools out there, too. One we like is Consistency Checker, a Google Docs add-in that only checks for inconsistencies in your documents—a word that’s hyphenated in some places but not others, for instance. As editors, this is the kind of tool we especially appreciate. Blatant errors typically jump out, but subtle inconsistencies can be harder to spot.
Thankfully for copyeditors, copyediting is about more than just correcting basic mistakes. It’s about fact-checking, ensuring consistency of style and tone, and making sure that what the author is trying to say actually comes across on the page. These aren’t things that algorithms, artificial intelligence, or machine learning have managed to accomplish yet. So we’re safe from being supplanted by the machines… for now.
A plagiarism detector
In an ideal world, plagiarism wouldn’t exist. But we don’t live in an ideal world. So we do our best to keep it at bay. Although authors bear the main burden of responsibility for avoiding plagiarism, it’s a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of a diligent editor, too, especially because it can sometimes happen inadvertently.
Like the explosion in spelling and grammar checking tools, it seems like there’s a new plagiarism checking tool coming out every day. This is great if you like to have options, but potentially frustrating if you have trouble making decisions.
The paid version of Grammarly includes a plagiarism checker, but there are plenty of options if you’re looking for a free solution. Our recommendation? Try out a few and compare the results. It’s probably a good idea to run your client’s manuscript through multiple plagiarism checking tools, anyway, because they may not all catch the same things or work better for certain kinds of content.
A bibliography/reference generator
Your author client has just submitted their book manuscript to you, and it’s very well researched. So well researched, in fact, that it contains hundreds of research references—references you’re on the hook to format correctly in the footnotes and bibliography. Needless to say, this can be a slog.
Thankfully, there are several online tools that will create references in the format you need. Simply give them details like author name, name of publication, publication date, and so on, and they’ll spit out the reference in the right format. Some of them even let you look up existing works and automatically create a reference for them—no need to enter every detail.
Earlier, we talked about your choice of word processing tools, and the tradeoff between ease of use/collaboration and feature richness. One of the great benefits of sticking with a legacy application like MS Word is the ability to automate repetitive, complex, or mundane tasks using macros. A macro is essentially a series of steps that can be set to run or be triggered at a certain time or when a certain condition is met. For example, you can create a macro to replace all the numerals in a document with the text form of each number. Macros can function as kind of an advanced find-and-replace—but that’s really just scratching the surface.
To learn about all the cool, powerful, streamlining things you can do with macros, check out this post on editor Adrienne Montgomerie’s site, as well as the free book Macros for Editors by editor and proofreader Paul Beverley.
A book previewer
Working on a book project and need to learn some things about other successful books in your client’s field or industry? How did that bestselling author your client keeps raving about format their table of contents? Thankfully, you don’t need to put 27 books on hold at the library to find out, thanks to Google Books and Amazon.com. Both sites are super handy reference tools thanks to their previewing features, which offer a partial look into a huge number of published books. You won’t be able to preview an entire book in most cases (although some books are fully previewable in Google Books), but you can usually view a book’s title page and front matter to get a sense of what the competition’s doing right (and wrong). It’s like spying, but a lot less dangerous.
A few more for the road
Looking for some other great tools and resources for editors? If you’ve got an afternoon to kill, these two lists have you more than covered:
I’ll leave you with my favorite tool du jour—CapitalizeMyTitle.com. Enter the title text you’re trying to capitalize, select your style guide (APA, Chicago, AP, or MLA), and it’ll automatically apply the appropriate capitalization. I used this one more than I’d like to admit when my eyes started getting bleary during my latest book copyediting project. 😉
That’s all for now! What are your favorite tools for editing (and writing)? Let me know in the comments.