I wrote this review for Editors Victoria’s August 2015 newsletter (not available online).
Much as it galls an editor to let a mistake slip through, the general consensus seems to be that catching 95% of proofreading errors is a pretty good effort. But some editors have a secret weapon that I’m convinced helps them reach greater heights than they would otherwise – a software program called PerfectIt.
Nothing can guarantee perfection, but this program is a great help in ensuring consistency of usage, spelling, punctuation and, to some extent, formatting in your document. I’ve been using PerfectIt Pro (version 2) for a year now, but developer Daniel Heuman of Intelligent Editing kindly supplied me with the recently released version 3 so that I could review it for the Editors Victoria newsletter.
What is it?
PerfectIt 3 is an add-on for Microsoft Word, and only available for PCs for now (there are some options available that I’ll mention later). Once installed, it appears as its own tab on your usual Word ribbon.
What does it do?
PerfectIt doesn’t check grammar or spelling. It looks for inconsistencies and words that don’t match the style sheet or are on the list of frequently misspelled words (yes, ‘pubic’ is one such word that you may be grateful is caught).
PerfectIt runs a bunch of tests on your text, checking for internal consistency (and against your chosen style) on various aspects of:
- tables and figures.
For use with version 2, I had downloaded the Australian Government Style sheet (developed by Biotext and based on the Style Manual and the Macquarie Dictionary) at no cost through the PerfectIt user forum. The new version of PerfectIt comes with a number of style sheets built in, including Australian Government, United Nations, European Union and World Health Organization styles. You can also simply specify Australian, US, Canadian or UK spelling.
What’s it like to use?
The program runs through your Word document, test by test, and presents you with possible errors. You then need to decide whether to accept the suggested correction, or choose between correction options. Sometimes you’re simply directed to edit the text in Word (for example, to provide a missing definition for an abbreviation).
Running the August newsletter through PerfectIt, for example, it picked up a possible inconsistency in hyphenating ‘first stage’. Here is what it found: two cases of ‘first stage’ and one case of ‘first-stage’. In a way some people find counterintuitive, if ‘first stage’ (no hyphen) is selected at the top (preferred), the example in the ‘location to check’ box is the opposite case – ‘first-stage’. That’s because if you do prefer ‘first stage’, then clicking ‘Fix’ on the hyphenated version will change that instance to the preferred option. (Clicking on the entry to check takes you to that section of the document, so you can always see the text in context.)
Note, however, the style tip at the bottom. Some ‘inconsistencies’ are intentional, as they were in this case (naturally, seeing as the piece was written by Accredited Editor Rosemary Noble).
So in this case I choose ‘Next’ and the program goes looking for the next issue to consider.
In other cases, you may be presented with a preferred option according to the style sheet, for example, ‘symposiums’ is preferred to ‘symposia’, and ‘policymaker’ is preferred with no hyphen (I had to check the Macquarie for that one but, yes, it’s correct).
It can take quite a while (30 minutes plus) to work through a large document, because you are presented with lots of decisions along the way (and that’s an indication of how helpful it’s being, not a criticism). The greatest value I find is that it will pick up inconsistencies dozens of pages apart that you could easily miss when reading through, especially in words you aren’t primed to check.
The final tasks offer more potentially useful features. For example, you can produce a list of abbreviations or compile comments into a text file.
I often run a doc through PerfectIt before I start editing – to get pointers on what I should look out for. You can now get a ‘Summary of Possible Errors’ as a report rather than actually running through doing the corrections, which would be another way of seeing what you’re up against. Then I run the doc through at the end to ensure as many errors as possible have been caught.
What can you customise?
First, you can choose your style sheet – the Australian Government one is very useful for my editing work. But you can also customise it further and save and use different style sheets for clients with different style requirements.
You can select which tests to run. For example, much of my work is aimed at the general public and should be easy, relatively informal reading. I can turn off the contractions test, which otherwise will suggest ‘can not’ for ‘can’t’ and so on. For readability, I also often prefer to use names of organisations in full even after an abbreviation has been provided – that’s another test I can turn off.
And you can customise what PerfectIt checks and which option it prefers in many of its tests. For example, you can set preferences for superscript ordinals (10th), nonbreaking spaces with measurement symbols and dates, not italics for ‘in vitro’ but italics for ‘E. coli‘, no apostrophes in decades (1970s), abbreviations without full stops and no Oxford commas. Text that differs from your preferences will come up for you to deal with.
What are some other new features in PerfectIt 3?
The degree of customisation possible is a big new feature and PerfectIt 3 includes an expanded list of tests: dealing with accents; brackets or quotes left open; en dashes and more.
You can also specify material to be ignored in the testing (for example, references or text within straight double quotes or in particular Word styles).
I still have a lot to learn about its capabilities, and need to go through and pick my preferred options to create a comprehensive style sheet or two.
One thing PerfectIt Pro doesn’t offer (yet?) is the recommended punctuation in bullet lists given in the Australian Style Manual: upper or lower case starting letters can only be set based on ‘long’ or ‘short’ points (not specifically whether or not the point is a full sentence); and you can’t set for a full stop for just after the final point.
There’s heaps to like about PerfectIt, and the excitement around the traps when PerfectIt 3 was released was palpable.
I have no hesitation in recommending it, particularly for anyone dealing with large documents, multiple authors or sources and clients with varying requirements.
How can you test it out?
You can give PerfectIt Pro a 30-day free trial. The full version costs US$99, and I reckon it saved me that amount of my time in just a few uses. But Daniel Heuman, CEO and founder of Intelligent Editing, has offered Editors Victoria members a 15% discount off the purchase price. To get the discount, you’ll need to find the details on the member portal discounts page.
You can also gain access to some of the features in a couple of free apps – Consistency Checker and Abbreviation List – produced by Intelligent Editing for use with Google docs or Office 2013. These, especially the Consistency Checker, would be a good start if you’re not keen on paying for the full software. And, as I understand it, running it via Google docs is one way confirmed Mac users can get some of the benefits.
Australian editor Hilary Cadman has set up a LinkedIn group for users and also does some PerfectIt training – look out for some PerfectIt webinars via Editors Victoria later in the year.. There are also plenty of resources available on the Resources and Support tabs of the Intelligent Editing website.
Read my other review posts.