Humans vs. Robots: When (And Why) You Should Use Editing Tools

editing tools

Can editing software and computer apps replace human editors? No way. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for editing tools in your book writing work flow.

There has been a debate recently about whether an editing app can or should ever replace a human editor. The answer – and I say this as a staffer for one of the best editing tools out there – is a resounding NO. Writers need real, actual people to help them develop their ideas and tell their stories. That will never change. But there are some areas where an editing tool can, in my opinion, blow a human editor out of the water. You should think of it as a two step process: use the editing tool to improve the technical elements of your writing so that your human editor is freed up to focus on content and style.

Let’s look at some of the different elements of editing.

Narrative Development

Best Editor: Human
A software program can’t analyze your plot for holes. It doesn’t know if you have given enough background about your underground bunker for it to make sense that your two protagonists know to find each other there. A computer can’t tell if you have failed to mention the fact that the virus takes four days to run its course and then the zombies die. Narrative development takes emotional engagement and computers can’t do that. Find a person!

Sticky Sentences

Best Editor: Editing Tool
Analysis shows that using too many glue words (the 200 or so most common words in English: and, the, he, that, etc.) in one sentence means that sentence is probably overcomplicated and needs to be simplified. An editing tool can point these sentences out so you can correct them before they go to your human editor. You will be amazed how easy it is to improve the readability of these sentences once they are highlighted.

Sentence Length Check

Best Editor: Editing Tool
It’s impossible for a human editor to make note of the length of every sentence as he reads. The average sentence length for most published writers is between 11 and 18 words. If your average is over that, your writing might feel verbose or overly complicated. If your average is below that, your writing will likely feel choppy. To maintain your readers’ interest, use a variety of sentence lengths: some short and punchy, others long and flowing. An editing tool can quickly give you a visual representation of your work so you can see whether your sentence variety needs to be increased.

Empathetic Characters

Best Editor: Human
One of the hardest parts of writing fiction is creating characters that feel true to life. Your reader needs to believe in them and empathize with them, or else they won’t care whether they overcome whatever obstacle is placed before them. Your characters also need to be consistent: if you have convinced your reader your protagonist is not good in school, and then they can suddenly solve cryptic algebra clues, you’ll need to give some explanation or your reader will lose trust in you. Computers can’t engage emotionally; find a human.


Best Editor: Editing Tool
In running this piece through the repeats check, the editing tool pointed out that, I had the five-word phrase “doesn’t know if you have” three times (I’ve changed that now, obviously!). It pointed out that I used the word “editing” 14 times, “human” 12 times, and “can” nine times. Too much repetition makes for tedious reading. In seconds, an editing tool can build a report that points out exactly where you are repetitious so you can go back and add more variety to your writing.

World Building

Best Editor: Human
Some worlds created by authors are so real you can practically smell the poisonous fume that is the air of Mordor. Creating fictitious landscapes, historical settings, or post-apocalyptic worlds takes just the right amount of description. Too much and your reader might lose interest; not enough and your reader may not understand the experiences of the characters. A computer is only analyzing words, not constructing a world in their mind’s eye. A human editor can help you get it just right.

Demand strong and active verbs

Best Editor: Editing Tool
With the click of a button, an editing app can highlight every single adverb and passive verb in your story. Using these is not necessarily wrong, but good writers know that a strong verb beats an adverb nearly every time, and an active verb is nearly always more engaging than a passive one. If you run the report and your paper is suddenly covered in brightly highlighted adverbs and passive verbs, it makes it clear that you need to do some revision. Sure, your human editor can do this too, but it’s going to take more time and distract her from your ideas. Clean it up before it gets to her.

Awesomeness Assessment

Best Editor: Human
There is some writing that is so unique, poignant, inspiring, insightful, or amazing that it just blows the reader’s mind. Books like The Great Gatsby or Sense and Sensibility are so engaging, not because they are so well written (which they are), but because they have that literary “X” factor we are all chasing. Those authors grab our hearts somehow and don’t let go until the last page. If you had told me that I would devour pages and pages about weather calculations and fishing boats in Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, I would have thought you were crazy. But that book had an awesomeness factor that captivated me. Only a human editor can properly assess the awesomeness of your writing.

I could go on and on with this list, but I think you probably get my point. In fact, looking back over this post, it’s become clear to me that an editing tool is there to help with all the boring (but necessary) stuff. Humans are there to help with all the creative elements that will help you affect your reader’s heart and mind. A perfect marriage!

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Keywords Guide


Read More
7 Ways An Algorithm Can Help You Write A Better Novel
Why Do You Need Professional Editing For Your Novel?
What To Expect From Copy Editing
How To Turn A Good Manuscript Into A Great Manuscript
What Kind Of Book Editing Do I Need For My Manuscript?



  1. You have touched on some very important pointers for editing. So many think it means looking for grammatical errors. There are several that work well for these and is one. However a good human editor is needed for assessment and credibility of text and character. So many forget about this part. It can make or break a novel. Certainly a worthwhile investment if you want to sell a quality book.

    • Hi Stephanie,

      I completely agree that credibility is key and needs a human editor to assess. I’ll add that to my list for next time!

      Thanks for commenting,


    • Hi Robert,

      I use the MS word add-in most of the time too. It makes the most sense for me because that’s my writing platform. I’m so pleased that you find it useful.

      Thanks for commenting,


  2. This i a wonderful and informative piece it is very important to follow the words of wisdom. Remember, all it takes is listening for a very well written and wonderful book ending.

  3. Great article. I just started using and put a ton of old articles and stories through the program, making most of the suggested changes. What a difference! I decided to pay the small yearly fee to be able to put my novels through the same process. Now my words are finally ready for a human editor.

  4. I actually started using ProWritingAid to help me edit the columnists I was responsible for as an ME. I applied it to my own work, and both “editors” circles I submitted parts of it to said there really wasn’t a whole lot of editing needed and they hoped I look them up when it’s done. I’d call that a success! Thanks to ProWritingAid!

  5. Good, informative article. I hate to nitpick, but the author could have used an editing tool to fix the sentence that begins, “There is some writing that is so unique…” The word “unique” means one of a kind, and should never be preceded by a modifier. Other than that, good information!


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