We live in an era of artificial intelligence (AI). Even those who don’t own self-driving cars or operate drones from their phones use AI every day in some form or another. Social media algorithms, smart home assistants, virtual banking, streaming services, predictive text messaging—there seems to be no field that AI has not entered and completely changed. And that’s not a bad thing; AI makes our lives easier. As Sabine Hauert, cofounder of Robohub.org, says, the ultimate goal of AI should be to take on the “difficult, demanding, dangerous, [and] dull” jobs, allowing humans to focus on what’s left.
However, AI’s reach into jobs that have previously been done only by humans is worrisome to some. In the past decades, several automated writing evaluation (AWE) software programs have been created to help writers proofread, spellcheck, and improve their writing. With the success of other AI technology and AWE’s ease of use and access, some worry that traditional human editors will fade into obsolescence.
Fortunately, such a future is unlikely. AWE does provide helpful tools, but it cannot replace a human editor. While it can supplement and complement the work of an editor, it shouldn’t be used exclusively. Editors provide nuanced feedback, are overall more accurate than AWE, and help writers learn from mistakes. However, editors in the digital age could use AWE to increase productivity and overall efficiency.
One writer at Grammarist says that she uses several AWEs in her editing, running her manuscripts first through the built-in spellcheckers in Microsoft Word, then Google Docs, and finally through Grammarly—a practice that would prompt gratitude from any editor. It should be noted, however, that before and after using any AWE, she proofreads her writing to catch mistakes an AWE may not.
Editors could also opt to use AWEs only for specific aspects of editing. For example, reference sections are crucial in academic writing. However, formatting reference sections is incredibly nuanced and changes depending on which style is used. Researcher Yeonwook Kim suggests that AWEs such as Edifix, an AWE specifically for proofing references, and PerfectIt could be used to find and correct most of the errors in a reference section, leaving the human editor more time to address other, more refined issues (Kim 2020).
Another option for editors is the lesser known FRedit, a macros-aided editing technique conceived by Paul Beverley in his online book Macros for Editors. FRedit allows editors to use the macros option in Microsoft Word to automatically find, delete, or replace common and repeated global errors. Learning how to set up macros is simple and requires only a short video tutorial and some practice, after which editors can program their own macros into their FRedit document.
A FRedit macros might change all double hyphens to an em dash, convert straight quotes to smart quotes, correctly format ellipses according to the Chicago Manual of Style, delete extra spaces between words, and highlight any instances of open-ended quotes—all at once and with just a few clicks. This function is especially helpful for editors working on long manuscripts, when edits such as those listed above might number in the hundreds or even thousands. On his website, Beverley has a long list of sample edits that can be done by FRedit and how to code them in macros, but they all focus on correcting mechanical errors such as punctuation or formatting, leaving the more individualized, subjective editing to an actual editor.
Whatever combination of AWEs editors choose, they should remember that AWE programs are never a replacement for human eyes on a page. Even assisted by AI technology, editing is a meticulous, time-consuming job. Cutting corners by trusting too completely in an AWE will result in less correct, less personalized, and overall less helpful editing.
AWEs such as FRedit and Grammarly can’t replace human editors, but they can be used in conjunction with traditional editing to increase productivity and allow the human editor to focus on more individualized feedback. Editors provide something that AI has yet to achieve: empathy and connection, two skills that are absolutely vital for effective editing.