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Alex Benarzi Holly Vestad

Free (or Cheap) Tools for Freelance Editors: Part 2

A laptop screen shows a document with red circle correction marks.

We are back this week with more free or cheap tools to help you effectively run your editing practice. In our previous post, we shared resources that help organize your thoughts, your time, your published work and your money. Here, we offer some affordable tools specifically for editors. 

Word processors

There’s no way around it: editors need a reliable word processor. There are a few strong word processors out there that are free, including Pages, FocusWriter, Google Docs, and LibreOffice

Microsoft Word, however, is the industry standard, and it is our preference because of its many functions, including Styles (which can be read by InDesign for typesetting), Track Changes, customization (did you know you can customize the Ribbon?) and many productivity-enhancing features, but more on those below. 

Microsoft offers the web-based version of Word for free. To use the desktop version, you will have to purchase an annual subscription for about $80. Since Word can be integral to our work, we consider the price worth it. 

Bonus tip: cleaning up documents in Word

We would be remiss to not reference how to “Maggie” a Word document. You’ve likely encountered a stubborn Word document before — impossibly laggy and unable to keep up with the rate of your typing, causing spelling errors as you type. 

For reasons unknown to us, Microsoft Word stores a lot of information that can become corrupted in a document’s final pilcrow, or paragraph mark (¶). To free yourself from whatever nonsense was slowing you down, copy everything but that final pilcrow and paste it into a new document. It works!

This trick is named after the editor who discovered it, the late Maggie Secara, and we’re grateful to the members of the Facebook group Editors’ Association of Earth who recently brought this to our attention. 


A macro is a string of commands that you can program into Microsoft Word to help quickly accomplish a task. Macros are incredible for their efficiency and breadth; Paul Beverley provides thousands of them on his website, and this is not hyperbolic.

Many editors use macros to analyze the document as a first step. The very popular macro ProperNounAlyse creates a list of all proper nouns in the document and their variations. HyphenAlyse generates a table of hyphenated words and their variations. Editors can move through these lists and correct inconsistencies. 

Macros can also help with one-off tasks. Take, for example, the macro GoogleFetch, which immediately looks up a term on Google so you can fact-check it, or MerriamFetch, which opens up your highlighted word in the Dictionary

There is some copying and pasting of coding involved, which can feel intimidating at first. Once mastered, though, macros leave the picky details to the computer so that you can spend more time on the creative side of editing. If you find yourself doing the same task over and over again, there is likely a macro that can streamline that process for you. Best of all: the macros on Beverley’s website are free and come highly recommended by editors. 


PerfectIt is an add-in for Microsoft Word that corrects spelling and grammar mistakes, checks for consistency across hyphen usage, capitalization, abbreviations and punctuation, and includes more advanced features like checking house style preferences and ensuring the formatting of lists, tables and graphs are uniform. It can also remove any extra spaces lingering in the document. Many editors use PerfectIt for a preliminary clean-up at the start of an edit, and it is a particularly helpful tool for editors who work on manuscripts requiring quick turnarounds. 

Alex Benarzi: I was hesitant to try PerfectIt because it seemed like I was admitting defeat against “the threat of AI” (even though PerfectIt does not yet use AI). Still, I tested it and found it useful at catching minute details that I overlooked. The consistency checker is great when editing a multiauthored piece. PerfectIt is not capable of discerning all nuances in language — proving that copy editors are still important.

PerfectIt also offers a Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) extension, which ensures that documents following CMOS are styled correctly. You must have a subscription to both PerfectIt and CMOS to purchase this add-in. (Note: While Editors Canada members do receive free access to CMOS Online and a discount on a single PerfectIt licence, which comes to just under $100 per year, linking these products requires a paid individual subscription to CMOS.)

Text expanders

If you find yourself often writing the same feedback to different writers, affordable programs like TextExpander and PhraseExpress can be a significant help to your workflow. These programs save snippets of prewritten text that can be called up using specific keyboard shortcuts. 

In other words, rather than rewriting the same phrases again and again, you can generate the text with a few keystrokes, customize it if needed and carry on with the edit.

Holly Vestad: I like to provide detailed rationales for my editorial suggestions. In a developmental edit, for example, I often coach writers on methods of structure, style or flow. Other times, following Crystal Shelley’s recommendation in her webinar “An Editor’s Guide to Addressing Problematic Content,” I try to provide a learning moment about conscious language, an often delicate and carefully articulated process. I believe the quality of my work benefits from this, yet writing these rationales takes a lot of time. Text expanders allow me to efficiently occupy the role of both editor and educator.

Proofreading stamps

For those who proofread using Adobe Acrobat, Cobweb Design’s sets of proofreading stamps are essential and accessible tools. With these stamps, you can quickly insert proofreading marks into the document. You can then adjust the size and rotation of the stamps to fit your needs. This is the cleanest way to replicate traditional (i.e., by hand) proofreading in the digital age. 

There are two sets of stamps: you can download the student set for free or purchase the full set for $25. 

The free set contains 22 of the most commonly used proofreading marks: a wonderful collection for those exploring digital proofreading. If you are a professional proofreader, the full set of 96 is a worthwhile, and cheap, investment.

More resources to come

Do you have a favourite low-cost editing tool? 

Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for the final part of this series, which will focus on reference tools.

About the co-author

Alex Benarzi began his editing career in 2020, connecting with clients as he obtained his certificate in editing through SFU. Most of his freelance work has been in fiction and academic writing. Alex is also passionate about accessibility in language and in practice. As a fiction writer as well as an editor, he believes in bridging atypical and accessible writing. In tandem, writers and editors have the power to see the world differently and communicate it clearly. Alex cares deeply about community, bringing writers and editors together in an increasingly isolated industry. Learn more at


Previous post from Holly Vestad and Alex Benarzi: Free (or Cheap) Tools for Freelance Editors: Part 1

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About the author

Holly Vestad

Holly Vestad

Holly Vestad is a freelance editor specializing in memoir and non-fiction based on the unceded lands of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation. She has an MA in English literature and has held many writing workshops in the university setting. She is also a writing tutor at the McGill Writing Centre and the chair of Editors Canada’s career builder committee.


5 Comments on “Free (or Cheap) Tools for Freelance Editors: Part 2”

  • Thanks for this. I do a fair bit of proofreading of texts in PDF and had not heard of Cobweb Design’s tool.

    You are, alas, quite right that Microsoft Word is the industry standard. I always consider us to be *stuck with it* because in my experience, although it can do a lot of things, it is one of the worst-designed software tools I use. That said, if you don’t want or need to have the other Office software such as Excel and the like, you can subscribe to the latest version of Word fairly cheaply: $2/month (plus tax).


    • Holly Vestad


      Hello Wayne,

      Thanks for your note! It’s true, Microsoft does offer a Basic plan for $2 a month, but it’s still web based, and we’ve found the web versions lack the features of the desktop app that help us out with our work so much. I use the web version when I’m working with students at McGill Writing Centre, and I’m always quite struck by how clunky it is.

      Apparently you can arrange to pay monthly for the license that provides you with the desktop app for about $7, but you save a little bit when you buy for the year.


  • Thanks for this helpful post. You will want to know that the wonderful Maggie Secara did not invent the maggie maneuver. But when she learned about it, she became an ambassador for it, telling editors everywhere how useful it is, and the community of editors + tech folks named the maneuver after her. Here’s the story about it:


    • Thanks for sharing, Katherine! I love that the wider editors community has its own lore.


    • Katharine — thank you very much for this. I’ve only recently been introduced to the wonderful person and editor that Maggie Secara was, and I keep encountering the loveliest things written about her. Indeed, if only there were pilcrows we could edit out of our lives, the lives of our loved ones.


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