The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
In 2016, I fell in love with PerfectIt all over again, so it’s high time I wrote my own review of the product.
Needless to say, this only scratches the surface – to understand all of the tests and checks that PerfectIt can do for you, you really need to get stuck in and play with it.
I’m not going to use this article to provide an instruction manual for how to use PerfectIt – the developer, Daniel Heuman, has provided plenty of guidance on the Intelligent Editing website and a stack of video tutorials on the Intelligent Editing YouTube channel.
What I will do is highlight the new features that I find most useful when proofreading and copyediting for those clients who want me to work directly in Word. Readers who are specialist copy-editors or who have different client groups may well have different preferences.
Disclaimer: I have a PerfectIt licence and am a long-time user of the software. However, the developer has not asked me to write this review, nor have I been remunerated in any way for doing so. The views expressed herein are mine and based solely on my experience of using PerfectIt on a regular basis.
What is it?
For those readers who are not familiar with this software, PerfectIt 3 is a sophisticated consistency checker. By customizing its built-in style sheets, or creating your own, you can define your preferences and let PerfectIt locate variations and possible errors.
Note: PerfectIt is not compatible with Macs. If you’re a Mac user, you’ll need software that specializes in enabling Windows applications to be run on a Mac (e.g. VMware Fusion or Parallels).
What's so brilliant about PerfectIt 3?
There are two reasons why I fell in love all over again.
In my early days of using PerfectIt, I didn’t do this. The result was that I didn’t get the most out of the software because it was ignoring inconsistencies (or flagging up false positives) that I'd marked as not relevant, when the opposite was true. It isn’t that PerfectIt wasn’t working properly, but rather that I wasn’t.
Here are two examples:
There’s a developer summary of all the new features and improvements of PerfectIt at ‘What’s new in Version 3’. The following is a brief overview of what I love the most.
PerfectIt 3 allows you to harness the power of wildcard searches using exactly the same terms that you’d use in Word. I love this feature because it means I can work more efficiently – I don’t have to run a set of find/replace searches in Word and then go and do a bunch of other stuff in PerfectIt. I can consolidate all my wildcard searches in one place, which saves me time.
Example: one of my clients has a house style that asks for comma separators in four-digit numbers (e.g. 2,999), but fixed spaces in five-digit (and above) numbers, e.g. 12 999 or 112 999. In Word, the wildcard search is:
I can add those exact same instructions into a PerfectIt style sheet, customizing it via the Wildcards section in the Style Sheet Editor. Then, every time I use that style sheet, PerfectIt will test for the pattern in red and adjust the comma to a space. Note that you can tell PerfectIt to always use comma separators (or alternative renderings) but the wildcard search comes into its own when your house style asks for inconsistency (as in this example).
As my colleague Sarah Patey wisely pointed out, wildcard searches in Word can be problematic when Track Changes is switched on. Word doesn’t always behave itself! However, PerfectIt seems to handle wildcard searches with TC rather better.
Missing brackets and quotation marks
This is a gem for those of us who work on academic projects with lots of brackets (e.g. author/date citations or quoted matter) and those of us who proofread and edit fiction (e.g. dialogue).
To take advantage of this function, launch PerfectIt, select your preferred style sheet and click on the Tests in the sidebar to activate the dropdown menu. Then select ‘Tests and Options’, choose ‘Formatting’ and make sure that ‘Brackets and Quotes Left Open’ is checked.
The debate about whether the Oxford comma is useful or unnecessary rumbles on in the world of words. No matter – editors and proofreaders often find themselves instructed by their client to use it or bin it (except where enforcing the preference would lead to a lack of clarity). PerfectIt allows you to set a preference either way – just make sure the test is checked (it’s in the ‘Formatting’ section mentioned above, and that you’ve actually set the preference. To tell PerfectIt what to do, click on ‘Edit Current Style’ on the top ribbon, choose ‘Settings’, scroll down to ‘Oxford (Serial) Commas’ and make your choice.
If your client has insisted that a particular word is italicized (or not), you’ll love this function. PerfectIt already has a built-in list of words that can be styled, but you can add your own. Here’s a quick example: some clients want [sic], some want [sic] and some don’t care as long as it’s consistent. In ‘Edit Current Style’ on the top ribbon, select ‘Italics’. Then choose an existing word or add your own. You can then tell PerfectIt whether it should be italic, Roman, consistent, or italic at first use only. This is one of those functions that really does save time if you work on lengthy academic texts.
Here, again, PerfectIt 3 enables us to harness the power of Word’s styles palette. You can set your preferences for several different heading levels, e.g. sentence case, initial caps on significant words, upper case, or all initial capitals. As with the italics check, this is particularly useful when working on academic books and theses. Additionally, those who regularly work with clients who have a specific house style that explicitly defines how heading levels should be formatted (e.g. journal article editors) will love this too, regardless of the length of each individual project they’re working on.
Dashes and non-breaking spaces
These searches are my final wow tools! If, like me, you regularly work on documents riddled with hyphens that should be spaced en dashes or closed-up em dashes, or you want to ensure that all those space-separated numbers and measurements are not going to end up falling over the cliff, you’ll adore this function. Again, these are issues that can be corrected using Word’s find/replace tool, but being able to consolidate the searches within the PerfectIt platform is simply another time-saver. The fewer programs I have to use to get high-quality consistency within the framework of my client’s brief, the more time I save and the better my hourly rate.
A few final comments
One of the big plusses of PerfectIt is its stability. Despite the fact that it’s often asked to work on very large Word documents and check a tonne of stuff, it doesn’t crash. This was true for older versions, and PerfectIt 3 is no different. For me, this is important – I feel confident when I’m using it.
I also think US$99 for a permanent licence that never expires and permits me to upload PerfectIt onto my laptop and desktop for no extra charge is great value for money. However, I do want that US$99 to offer me a product that’s fit for purpose. PerfectIt 3 is.
If you’re someone who’s reluctant to use software to complement your beady eye, I’d urge you to try this. I don’t say this within the framework of one of those human-vs-machine arguments. Rather, it’s about time.
Even if your eyes are so beady that you will spot every single hyphen that should be an en rule, every double space that should be a single, every missing closing quotation mark, every comma in a large number that should be a non-breaking space, every Mrs. that should be a Mrs, every heading with initial capital letters that should be in sentence case, and so on, using a program such as PerfectIt enables you to make all of those hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of changes more quickly. That’s something that can’t be argued with – it’s a fact that PerfectIt works faster than my hand, so why would I not reduce the likelihood of eyestrain and RSI by getting it to do the donkey work?
The faster I work to bring high-quality consistency to my clients’ files, the sooner I can get down to the business of actually reading the text word by word and line by line, for sense and context. The more efficient I am, the better my hourly rate. Increased efficiency means I can accept more projects from more clients because I have more time.
I want my business to be profitable. I want my clients to be thrilled with the quality of my work, so much so that they retain my services. PerfectIt is one tool that enables those two ‘wants’ to sit at the same table with ease.
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and copyeditor. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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