Editors use add-ins to Word to make their work faster and more consistent. PerfectIt is one of the more well-respected add-ins for Windows users, and Intelligent Editing was kind enough to provide the Editors’ Weekly with a copy of the newly released PerfectIt 3 for review. Contributor Adrienne Montgomerie has written a detailed review of the software.
For two years I have been using PerfectIt to check book-length works in the copy editing and proofreading stages. I have even exported text from PDF printer’s proofs to run it through PerfectIt. That it finds single instances of inconsistency separated by 300 pages (e.g., breast-feeding and breastfeeding) has always had me singing its praises. Its ability to check for punctuation style stuns me.
Testing this new version of the add-in made me dig deeper into the settings and run more tests than ever before.
Best new features
- Ribbon — There are now three ways to access the PI3 settings: through the ribbon, the menu or the side panel that opens once you launch PerfectIt.
- Built-in style sheets — Eight style sheets are now built in to the software. More style sheets are still available for download through the PerfectIt website.
- User customization — On top of the ability to create your own house style sheet — or one for each client — PI3 adds detailed customizability for a long list of tests.
- Serial comma test — This tricky test is often requested by users. With as many false positives as the check for hyphenation consistency, the value of it is that you can check them all in one swoop.
- Heading level capitalization — You can set capitalization style preferences for four different heading levels. You can also set preferences for words that should never be capitalized in the Fine-Tuning tab.
- Skipping types of material — You can set PI3 to skip errors that appear within certain parameters, such as anything in quotes or anything in a certain style (such as captions). This means such content won’t raise flags for inconsistency.
- Close parentheses and quotation marks test — This is a difficult check that editors have sought for a long time.
- Moving automatically to the next test — When this option is selected, there is no need to click Next after making or ignoring each fix.
Points of confusion
Once you’ve been editing for a while or editing for several very different clients, you learn that style is about preferences rather than absolutes, and style terminology is used inconsistently. Scrolling through the tests, I made many erroneous assumptions about what they would flag. What I really need to do is review every single option (under the Edit Style Sheet button) and be sure my preference is selected.
If you’re not using one of the preset style sheets, the PI3 default is to check for consistency or not to check at all. So, though you may have selected a check for serial commas, the default is only to check that they are used consistently, not that they are used. Not using a serial comma is consistent.
Reading the help files for each test is necessary to make sure it’s doing what you think it is, but more detail is required to make sense of some of the test parameters. For instance, I would like to know what defines a long bullet point and what defines a short one. I consider any list or bullet item longer than one line to be at least medium length, but all the points in my test document were treated as “short.”
Points of frustration
PerfectIt doesn’t run in Word automatically. Before you can access the ribbon buttons, you have to click the far left ribbon button that says Launch PerfectIt.
Tests with Word 2003 were particularly fraught. Granted, this is Very Old Software now, but the system requirements say it will work. The ribbon got lost periodically, and my old custom style sheet wouldn’t run without giving an error message. I didn’t encounter these problems testing PI3 with Word 2007.
If comma-separated clauses in your manuscripts run longer than four words each, you’ll want to adjust the setting for the maximum number of words in the serial comma test.
There doesn’t appear to be an option to set the preferred terminal punctuation for the last point in a list or in bulleted items. That means remembering to check each list yourself.
There is only one option concerning dashes and whether they should be surrounded by spaces. But I would like it to check both en and em dashes, and the preferences are unlikely to be the same.
The customization options in PerfectIt 3 make it vastly superior to earlier versions, though they do add a deep layer of complexity for the user. You’ll need to spend time setting your preferences to make the most of this product — perhaps a lot of time.
As the developer says, this product doesn’t replace a human: you need an educated eye to spot the false positives (of which there can be many), to add the terminal punctuation in lists and properly place the closing parentheses and quotation marks that are flagged. It’s possible that a user who isn’t a trained and experienced editor would be completely flummoxed by the choices.
Imposing house style across many users still seems like the most brilliant use of this add-in, especially when those users come and go (at agencies, for instance) or work with many style sheets at a time (whose nuances are hard to keep straight).
PerfectIt will still save your bacon, can save you time and tends to make you look eagle-eyed. If you take the time to set up style sheets for repeat clients, you can free up your eyes for content issues and lingering style issues. I will definitely be taking the time to make the most of this add-in for my largest clients, and I’ll continue running it on all documents.
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