Publishing 101: Spell and Grammar Check

Publishing 101This is one in a series of posts entitled Publishing 101: Draft to Book in 30 days. To learn more about this challenge, visit the Publishing 101 page, where all links regarding this topic will be listed as they become available.

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This step of my editing process took less than fifteen minutes to complete. The check found eight issues that were easily fixed because they were brought to my attention using MS Word’s Spell Check and Grammar Check software (2010 version).

I know. I’ve heard the experts: Don’t use the computer software for spell check and grammar! Blah! Get over it, experts. Step down off your high horse and reconsider.

Spell and Grammar check does NOT replaceWhy do I use this feature? Because in an instant, it might inform me that I mistakenly used their instead of there, or placed two spaces instead of one between words. BANG! One mistake I may have missed was found. Even after I’ve completed the previous editing steps, there are still mistakes hiding in my manuscript, and if software can point out a few of them, I’m using it.

Spell and Grammar Check does NOT replace a proper edit, but it is a tool to help reduce the number of errors in a manuscript down to as close to zero as I can get it.

The software won’t correct things for me but many times it offers suggestions; the writer still must know whether to accept the advice of the program (and repair the error) or to discard it.

The software is not perfect. For example, it flagged the first ‘lay’ word in this sentence: “They don’t lay every day, but they lay most days.”

It suggested I change ‘lay’ to ‘play’, but obviously the software doesn’t know I’m talking about chickens laying eggs.

After the software runs its paces, it produces a pop-up screen with the following information (this is for Fowl Summer Nights):

Overall

Words: 20,222
Characters: 93,693
Paragraphs 672
Sentences 2201

Averages
Sentences per Paragraph: 3.4
Words Per Sentence: 9.1
Characters Per Word: 4.4

Readability
Passive Sentences 0%
Flesch Reading Ease 84.6
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 3.7

But what does all this mean? The Overall and Averages speak for themselves, but the Readability section has been something I’ve heard about before but never looked into. Today, I thought I would take a closer look.

Flesch Reading Ease: I consulted the Readability Formulas website. It has free readability tools to check for reading levels, reading assessment and reading grade levels.

Their page states the Flesch Reading Ease is one of the oldest and most accurate formulas. It was developed by Austria-born Rudolph Flesch in 1948. You can visit the website to learn more about the history of the formula and how it works, but my focus is on what the score represents.

Fowl Summer Nights received an 84.6, which according to Mr. Flesch indicates it is easy to read.

The Flesch Reading Ease ratings are:

  • 90-100: Very Easy
  • 80-89: Easy
  • 70-79: Fairly Easy
  • 60-69: Standard
  • 50-59: Fairly Difficult
  • 30-49: Difficult
  • 0-29: Very Confusing

This same website also contained information on Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. Flesch joined up with John P. Kincaid to develop this formula. In 1976 the United States Navy modified it. If you want to learn more about the history behind this formula, its other names and how they use syllables and word count to gage the reading level required to comprehend the text, check out the website.Emma by Austen was written

Fowl Summer Nights was rated at a 3.7 grade level, which indicates average grade three students in the spring of their school year (say March) would be able to read and understand the text in the novella.

Do you think that’s a little low, that the novella is below your reading level? During my Literature Class at Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, the professor told the class that Emma by Jane Austen—the book we were reading—was rated at a grade five reading level. From edHelper.com I see it has an actual grade level of 5.57.

This same Mount professor said Austen, like countless other authors, realised that many people didn’t read or didn’t read for enjoyment much further than this. Grade five was the goal to reach for with your writing.

That was a personal ‘wow’ moment for me. I assumed most novels were written for grade ten or eleven comprehension, but that is far from the truth. The fact is the further you go beyond grade five, the fewer readers will understand what you wrote. Frustrated readers mean fewer readers which in turn results in few book sales and less profit. This is a fact publishers know all too well.

The goal with any story is to reach as many readers as you can. Aiming for a grade level between three and six is the best method of doing this.A low reading level doesnt imply

Wait. I know what some are thinking: I’m not dumbing down my novel.

I’m not telling anyone to dumb down their story, but you can opt for more readily used words instead of long, multi-syllable ones that no one except scientists use. As I was told by one of my editors, “Why write utilized when used will do?”

A low reading level doesn’t imply simple plots and characters; it only means the average individual can read it and understand it.

If you still don’t think maintaining a low grade level is good enough, think about this: Is Emma less valued because it sits at a grade five reading level?

If you’ve never used the Spell and Grammar Check before and don’t know where to find it, here are the instructions:

  • Place the cursor at the start of the manuscript
  • In the top menu ribbon choose REVIEW.
  • Click the first selection: ABC (with a blue check mark) Spelling & Grammar
  • A pop-up window will appear
  • In the top of the two large screens within the pop-up window, the sentence with a possible spelling or grammar issue will appear. In my screen, the questionable text is high-lighted in green.
  • In the bottom of the two large screens are suggestions to correct this issue along with what the software thinks is the problem. This could be passive text, verb confusion, spelling, punctuation or extra spaces that don’t belong.
  • Below this screen is the dictionary language for this document. Make sure it’s the chosen language you are working with.
  • The OPTIONS button provides more options while you run the software.
  • The buttons on the right allow you to Ignore Once, Ignore Rule/ Ignore All, Add to Dictionary/Next Sentence, Change, Change All and AutoCorrect.

I use Ignore Once a lot. I usually do this for fragmented sentences. Most of this occurs in dialogue because people don’t always talk in complete sentences. The only time I’ve selected Ignore All is when I use a spelling that is not recognised by the software. If it’s a word I use often, then I simply add it to the dictionary, but if it’s a word that I’ve made up or the person misspoke (He ain’t ‘round here), I select Ignore Once.

Although this editing step takes only a few minutes, it certainly can save you in the long run by uncovering a nasty error that might be missed by you and your editor.

This completes this step in the Draft to Book in 30 Days challenge.

Next Post Publishing 101: Print and Edit

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4 thoughts on “Publishing 101: Spell and Grammar Check

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! That is one issue I have worried about. It also explains how it was that I so easily read Pride & Prejudice in Grade 4 for my first book report. That being said, I have to add that I find you are amazingly generous.

    • Thank you, Mae, for your kinds words and your comment. I remember feeling shocked when I first heard the news about grade levels. It changed my way of thinking and writing. I think I walked around for a week sharing this amazing news with everyone regardless if they were readers or not. I think we all just assume novels are written at a high school level.

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