Faster editing: Using PerfectIt to check consistency and house style—Daniel Heuman (EAC conference 2014)

I’d heard only good things about PerfectIt, the consistency-checking software, but I work on a Mac and didn’t want to run Parallels, so I’ve resisted buying it. Still, I wanted to attend developer Daniel Heuman’s EAC conference talk about the software so that I could learn more about what it can and can’t do.

PerfectIt, by Intelligent Editing, is an add-on to Microsoft Word for PCs, and it runs from the toolbar or ribbon. It’s a consistency checker that alerts you to inconsistencies in your text. These alerts don’t prescribe—it’s quite possible that what PerfectIt flags is all correct. “There are exceptions to every rule,” said Heuman, “so PerfectIt does make you slow down and evaluate each situation.”

PerfectIt will find inconsistencies in:

  • hyphenation. Although right now the software only works for open versus hyphenated compounds, Heuman says that checking for open versus closed versus hyphenated is “on the list” of future improvements.
  • numbers. It will alert you if you’ve deviated from your style and used numerals where you should have spelled out a number, and vice versa. It will not, however, find inconsistencies in the use of a comma or a nonbreaking space in a numeral (e.g., 5,000 versus 5000 versus 5 000).
  • spelling. Not only will it catch “adviser” versus “advisor,” but it will also flag usage inconsistencies, such as “preventive” versus “preventative.” Embarrassing errors that a spell check wouldn’t catch—such as using “pubic” instead of “public” or “mange” instead of “manage”—are also programmed to pop up on a PerfectIt scan.
  • abbreviations. Have you defined an abbreviation? Have you continued to spell it out once it has been defined? PerfectIt will also let you generate a table of abbreviations. (Heuman’s demonstration of this feature prompted a lot of oohs and aahs.) However, the software will not detect inconsistent use of full caps versus small caps.
  • capitalization. PerfectIt will alert you to inconsistencies such as “parliament” versus “Parliament.” It will also check for consistency in header cases—a good reason to use Word’s styles to define your headers.
  • lists. PerfectIt will flag inconsistencies in capitalization and punctuation in lists—but only those styled as lists in Word. It won’t work with manually inserted bullets, for example.

For each potential error that PerfectIt finds, a dialog box pops up that describes the inconsistency; shows you how many cases of each form you have in the document and allows you to choose your preferred form; shows an excerpt of text around each instance of the error, letting you fix each case individually or all of them at once; and states any exceptions to the rule or special considerations in a note box at the bottom.

I asked if PerfectIt could be told to ignore block quotes or text style as quotations. Heuman told me that it will respect the “Do not check spelling and grammar” checkbox, but only after you’ve gone into the advanced settings and told it to, specifically.

PerfectIt will not check grammar, nor will it check references.

One feature that makes the software particularly powerful is the ability to create a style sheet for each client or to import an existing style guide, such as ones from the WHO, UN, EU, or The Economist. PerfectIt can then check your text against the selected style sheet and flag any deviations from it. If you’ve created a style sheet and would like to share it with a client or colleague, it’s easy to export it and send it along.

For those of us who don’t have a PC and aren’t using Parallels, Intelligent Editing does offer an online consistency checker, but it is a “shadow of the full suite.” My fingers are crossed that one day, PerfectIt will be available for Mac users. It does seem to be a powerful time saver, and I imagine that future tweaks to its functionality will only make it better.

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