Why Word Is Unreliable as an Editorial Tool

The proofing tools in Microsoft® Word (and other word processing software) can be useful. Like most "quick fixes," however, they should be used with care. A little editing can be a dangerous thing.

It's excellent advice to always spell-check your work. Before sending an email, click that little icon; the automatic feature will catch most typos and make you look more professional. Before publishing your book, you want to do a little more than that. No program's spelling and grammar check should be relied upon for true editorial functionality. The spell checker may be able to check individual words and offer the user occasional grammatical guidance, but you should remember that the computer is not really reliable when it comes to checking something as variable as the English language. A computer program cannot possibly respond to every new variation correctly.

Also, when the book is published, computers aren't the ones reading your book. Real people are reading your book; therefore, a real person-highly educated in the English language-should be editing your book.

When writing your book, the proofing tools in MS Word can help you spot many misspellings, capitalization and hyphenation errors, and certain grammatical errors. The overall functionality of the program can and should be utilized to its fullest extent, but even if the user carefully reviews each suggestion made by the program to ensure the accuracy of information remains intact, a professional editor will add value to the final product.

Word does not catch many types of errors that your copy editor will correct:

  • Homonyms-their and there, foul and fowl-the program may even suggest the wrong one
  • Incorrect spaces within words-how ever, in tact-if the incorrect form is two correctly spelled words, a spell check won't notice
  • Incorrect word usage-ensure and insure, that and which-if it's context-specific, Word can't judge it very well
  • Capitalization-in headings, after colons, in phrases such as East Asia-Word's suggestions may introduce inconsistencies
  • Style consistency issues-serial commas, parallel construction in lists-Word has various optional settings, but even if it's set for your preferences for a particular file, it often misses instances in long sentences or with any of a number of other variations
  • Factual errors-Abraham Lincoln was the sixth American President, listing five things and then referring to them as "seven items"-Word doesn't read the book; an editor does
  • Many more-from the spelling of names to overall readability-a professional editor knows the English language well enough to apply its rules, exceptions, and nuances to new situations

Finally, Word does not make suggestions for more elegant rewrites, overall structural improvements, additional headings to improve readability, or other content improvement. An editor does.

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