ClearEdits for Microsoft Word Helps You Write More Concisely
At a Glance
Microsoft Word has a built-in spelling checker with a touch of grammar smarts, but it will never highlight a big word and ask whether you can swap it for a small one, or note that a verb is weak and deserves replacing. For that kind of advice, you must turn to a dedicated product such as ClearEdits, an $80 add-in for Microsoft Word.
In pricing, ClearEdits is somewhere in the middle of the writing-advice pack: It's more expensive than Serenity Software's Editor ($55; $75 with Word add-in), but much cheaper than Sentence Aerobics ($139) and StyleWriter ($190 for the Professional version).
It's more tightly integrated with Word than either Editor or StyleWriter--although both of those offerings play well with Word, they run outside the main Word window. ClearEdits, like competitor Sentence Aerobics, runs right inside Word. In fact, ClearEdits is even more tightly bound into Word than Sentence Aerobics: Instead of using its own custom pane, it simply adds comments and color-coded formatting to your document, much as a human editor would.
Of course, with a program such as this, price and interface don't matter as much as sound usage advice. In this department, ClearEdits plays it safe, forgoing ambitious pattern recognition and mainly highlighting single words or idioms and asking polite questions about them. The advice is concise and pleasantly worded: 'Unnecessary word? Cut if used only for emphasis; leave if reflexive pronoun is needed for meaning.' That's what I got for the word itself, which neither StyleWriter nor Sentence Aerobics flagged for consideration.
ClearEdits can also search for language patterns that it calls "Vector Edits," such as the -ed suffix, which can indicate passive voice, a participle that needs to be made into a verb, or an adjective that can be simplified. This feature still leaves the user to do most of the work, because you will have to figure out which of the myriad options applies in each case, and whether the item is something that you should change. Also, since every Vector Edits category has so many matches, ClearEdits' documentation suggests using Vector Edits one at a time--which means you'll need to recheck your text several times. On the plus side, because ClearEdits' output consists of just highlighted words with native Word comments, it is easier to work with than either Sentence Aerobics (which is festooned with colors) or StyleWriter (which requires constant switching back to Word for making changes).
ClearEdits also offers some basic statistics about your document, such as the longest and shortest paragraphs and sentences, the average number of words in a sentence, and so on. Like StyleWriter, it employs its own usage metrics, ClearScores, which offer at-a-glance analysis of your text. While StyleWriter shows its metrics in the status bar, ClearEdits keeps the scores in a separate window, which is not as convenient to use.
The usage advice I received from StyleWriter tended to be more useful, since StyleWriter highlights particularly long sentences, checks for active voice, and more. ClearEdits' advice is basic though sound, and did not contain awkward mistakes like those in the output from Sentence Aerobics.
In a perfect world, one application would combine StyleWriter's or Editor's lexical richness and ClearEdits' perfectly integrated interface. Until such a program comes along, you will have to decide what's more important for you: ease of use, or comprehensive advice.
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