Editing apps: A boon or a burden?

Good writing remains the essential PR skill.

PR pros dedicate substantial time and resources to crafting blog posts, articles, news releases and other types of written communications. Yet for numerous reasons, PR writing often falls short.

Some entrepreneurs say editing apps offer a solution. Often based on advances in artificial intelligence, the editing tools can spot clichés, redundancies, verbose wording, long-winded sentences and other technical problems. They also usually report readability statistics like the reading grade level. Consider them souped-up versions of the standard Microsoft Word spelling and grammar check.

Reviews of editing apps

Others suggest that editing apps produce plain vanilla writing that lacks creativity and flair. While an automated editor provides a good start to the editing process, it can't replace a good human editor, concludes NY Book Editors, which reviewed 11 editing apps. Recommendation: Use an editing app as the first step in self-editing before sending the draft to a professional editor.

Quartz reporter Dan Kopf tested the Hemingway App, one of the most popular editing tools. The app scrutinized his previously published article about academic research on the effects of protesting. It found an abundance of overly long sentences and unnecessary adverbs and recommended simplifying the article from a grade 13 to a grade 9 level. Kopf revised the copy and showed the original and simplified version to his editor.

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She preferred the original. “She found the abundance of short sentences choppy, the app's aversion to colons unreasonable and worried it was taking away my voice,” he said. Still, she said the app might be useful during early reviews of drafts.

Advantages for corporate communications

Besides helping writers create better content, some tools allow managers to measure and benchmark clarity across the organization, says Fergal McGovern, founder and CEO of VisibleThread, a content editing tool. That's especially beneficial in large organizations with numerous agencies, freelancers and internal contributors.

Organizations can set readability goals for both consumer-facing and internal corporate content. One financial organization set a readability goal of grade eight to 10. The Australian federal government aims for a grade five readability level.

For business professionals, the gold standard of readability is grade eight or lower, although audiences differ, McGovern says. Busy professionals, even if well educated, skip content that's too dense. Limit long sentences and passive voice to five percent or less of total content.

The tools also reduce friction between editors and writers by reporting objective, quantifiable , McGovern adds.

Selecting an editing tool

Before selecting an editing tool, establish a publication process and identify what steps will be automated, McGovern urges. “Unfortunately, many organizations rush to roll out tools without an adequate understanding of what the current or future state of their process will look like. This rarely succeeds,” he says.

In addition, be aware of the difference between apps meant for individual writers and tools designed for organizations. Those tools allow editors to control, review and score content. Managers can benchmark quality over time, track the readability of writers and their published work and even test new writers for clarity.

The Hemingway app gave this article a grade 11 readability score. It deemed that acceptable but recommended aiming for grade 9 level. It cited two adverbs, meeting the goal of six or fewer; one use of passive voice meeting the goal of nine or fewer; eight phrases that have simpler alternatives, and four out of 44 sentences that are hard to read. It highlights offending passages requiring attention. Users can easily copy and paste documents into the online tool.

Grammarly assigned this article a 36 Flesch readability score. That means it is likely to be understood by people with at least some college education but may not be easy to read. It cited one possible grammar mistake, two potential punctuation , and 12 “advanced issues” such as word choice, unclear references and inappropriate colloquialisms. Identifying those possible problems requires the premium version.

Bottom line: Besides improving writing, editing apps can help PR and corporate communications teams manage and grade content across the organization. By reporting readability statistics, they can help set goals and benchmarks for communications teams. However, it is important to remember that apps cannot replace professional human editors.

A version of this post first appeared on the Glean.info blog.

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