Best Self-Editing Tools for Academics

Rose Ernst
May 8, 2019 · 3 min read
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You’ve finished writing an article.


Before sending it off, you’ll want to give it extra editing love. Unfortunately, your eyes turn blurry when you read the first sentence.

Time for an online editing program.

But which one is best for academic papers?

I’ve used a variety over the past four years and found that each can perform a different function.

1. Pro-Writing Aid

Cost: Free for online use only, $60/70 premium annual subscription (often run sales)

If you want to purchase only one program to improve your writing, this is it. I’m a wordy writer — as many academics are — so PWA’s “glue index” (filler words) is invaluable.

PWA also includes style, grammar, overused words, readability, clichés, diction, sentence variety, pacing, plagiarism check, and more.

If you want to enliven your prose, this is a great option. The program also helps you spot writing habits that need to be changed.

PWA also has a Chrome plugin, like Grammarly, so you don’t have to open a separate program when editing email.

Bottom Line: Worth it for improving writing style.

2. Writer’s Diet

Cost: Free!

Though I’m not a fan of dieting, I love Writer’s Diet for academics. Helen Sword, magical queen of academic writing, created this free tool for academics who want to create elegant prose. The online site accompanies her excellent book, The Writer’s Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose.

Here’s how it works: pop a section of your paper into the “test” box and hit “run the test.” The program spits out a diagnosis: lean, fit & trim, needs toning, flabby, and heart attack.

The test highlights overuse of abstract nouns; turgid verbs; prepositions; adjectives and adverbs; and it, this, that, and there.

The test makes self-editing a game. Mercilessly delete passive voice and multiple “that” highlights in order to achieve a “lean” rating.

Bottom Line: Invaluable tool for improving an individual paper. And fun!

3. Hemingway Editor

Cost: Free online, $20 for desktop app

Similarly to the Writer’s Diet, Hemingway makes editing into a game. Using color, the program highlights target numbers for overused words, passive voice, and adverbs. It also provides a readability score.

Unlike the Writer’s Diet, however, Hemingway highlights whole complex sentences in yellow and very complicated in red. The highlighting system is useful if you’ve received consistent feedback that you write overly complicated prose.

I prefer Writer’s Diet to Hemingway Editor because the Writer’s Diet is designed for academics. Hemingway is great if you’re a fiction writer or blogger. If you’re an academic, however, it’s easy to become discouraged by that mass of yellow and red highlights!

Bottom Line: Great if you’re writing for non-academics.

4. Grammarly

Cost: Free or $139.95 per year (monthly plans available)

Grammarly shines as a proofreading tool, unlike the other programs on this list. Pro-Writing Aid also has a grammar check, but it’s easy to be diverted by all the other checks it offers.

What does premium have that makes it worthwhile? You can see a specific comparison here.

The free version is adequate for most academic writers. Premium offers a check for genre-specific writing styles (a specific button for academic) but I haven’t found it particularly helpful.

Bottom Line: Excellent for email editing and proofreading an article.


Need to improve your writing style?

  • Choose Pro-Writing Aid and Writer’s Diet

Need to reach the broader public?

  • Choose Pro-Writing Aid and Hemingway Editor

Grammar Check and Proofreading?

  • Choose Grammarly

Why am I offering this advice on ways not to hire an editor? None of these programs replace an excellent developmental editor, line editor, or proofreader. They are excellent tools to use if you cannot afford an editor (but why not if it’s your career?) or if you want to clean up your prose before sending to an editor. They are not a substitute, however!

Dr. Rose Ernst is an academic editor and consultant who loves to support scholars in sharing their brilliance with the world. Find her at Sign up for her email list here.

Rose Ernst

Written by

Academic editor and writing consultant. Former tenured professor and chair of political science. Happy fiction author. Find her at

Rose Ernst

Written by

Academic editor and writing consultant. Former tenured professor and chair of political science. Happy fiction author. Find her at

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