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How to Use Google in the Most Unusual Way to Make Your Self-Editing Faster, and Better

Posted By Guest Blogger 25th of November 2014 Writing Content 0 Comments

This is a guest contribution from Karol K. You can read the first and second post in this mini series here and here.

“[…] then the evening came and she found herself sitting by the drawing board again, trying to […]”

Um … wait a minute, is it “sitting by the drawing board” or “sitting at the drawing board”? Damn it, I never remember, and both sound okay to me! How do I check this?!

Oh, the struggles of every blogger attempting to edit their own work. There are thousands of expressions just like the one above, causing us problems on a daily basis.

Is something in or on, at or by, from or with, of or for, “all of a sudden” or “all of the sudden”? There’s really no end to this craze. And this is especially relevant if English is not your first language.

So what to do? What to do if you’re not entirely sure and you don’t want to look silly?

Call a friend? Email a friendly blogger? Shout this out on Twitter?

Sure, that could work, but you can be sure that if you do this multiple times throughout the day, people will hate you.

There’s a quicker and better solution though.

Its name is Google.

Please, hold on! Don’t leave just yet. I promise the trick I’m about to describe isn’t as obvious as it sounds now.

Introducing clever Googling!

Here’s what I do when I’m in doubt like that.

Step #1. I go to Google and search for part of the phrase that I’m uncertain of. I put†the phrase in quotation marks.

Using the example above, like so:

“sitting by the drawing board”

Now, the individual results Google gives me don’t matter that much. What matters is the number of indexed pages:

google1

Not a lot in this case.

Step #2. I start checking other known alternatives. Like so:

google2

Ah, that’s better, over 130,000 results.

In most cases, what this means is that the higher number means proper expression.

The end.

Quick. Simple. Correct in most cases.

(Of course, sometimes a common error is more popular than the correct form. But even if that’s the case, can using this wrong form still be considered a serious mistake?)

How to do this properly

To be perfectly honest with you, I use this trick all the time. I’ve truly made Google my lightning-fast blog editor, and I encourage you to do the same.

Now, just a handful of final guidelines.

  1. If you’re completely clueless about what the correct expression you’re looking for might be, try using the magic “*” character. This star lets Google know that you’re looking for any word that fits the gap. Go ahead, try it with†“sitting * the drawing board”.
  2. Always put the phrase in quotation marks. This is important. Without them, the method is useless.
  3. Enclose the word you’re looking for on both sides. For instance, looking for just “by the drawing board” wouldn’t provide me with sufficient context for the returned number to be an accurate representation. Always put the missing part in the middle.
  4. Use replacement verbs and nouns. Not all expressions are popular enough and they might not return any reliable numbers, but you can improve the results by replacing some not common words with more common ones. For example, if “drawing board” is too specific, I can replace it with “desk” and the meaning remains more or less the same (“by the desk”).
  5. Mind the context. In some cases, two versions of a phrase can be equally as popular, but that can be due to the fact that they mean two separate things. In such a case, look into the individual results and take a look at the excerpts Google gives you. Here’s an example result for “sitting on the drawing board”:

google3

Is this method fail-proof?

Of course not.

But it’s not meant to be fail-proof. This is just a trick to speed up your editing when you’re stuck and can’t find the right way to express a thought.

What do you think? Will you make Google your personal editor too?

Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a freelance writer, published author, founder of NewInternetOrder.com and a blogger at Bidsketch.com (delivering some cool freelance blogging and writing tools, advice and resources just like what youíre reading now). Whenever heís not working, Karol likes to spend time training Capoeira and enjoying life.

About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
Comments
  1. Tiny tip: You can use replacement words in a single search query, like below:

    “sitting (on|at|by) the drawing board”

    • Karol says: 11/28/2014 at 1:13 am

      Thanks for the suggestion, but it doesn’t do much for the method I’m presenting here.

      If you use the “|” character, you will get no insight on which of the phrases is actually the correct one.

  2. I have been doing this a long time. Every time i say, “I LOVE GOOGLE!”

  3. Hi Karol,

    Aha! The power of semantic search. Clever! I don’t use this method but I’ve thought about it. If many others are searching for phrases and if you trust Google, and the searches being queried this method works pretty darn well. Since I usually trust Google and searchers, yep, I’d vibe with this.

    I had used it once or twice in the past I reckon but I didn’t do the quotes thing. Which made it useless.

    I also toss things in Word or do most of my writing in Word anyway, at least for my posts, and for client articles. Word is like my 3rd grade grammar teacher, without the penchant for smoking during my restroom breaks lol :)

    Thanks Karol with a “K”, clever strategy indeed ;)

    Ryan

    • Karol says: 11/28/2014 at 1:15 am

      Apart form Google and Word, you can also use the grammar checking module in the Jetpack plugin for WordPress. It really does wonders in terms of finding some not-well-optimized phrases and constructions.

  4. Karol
    Great tip, except half the time I’m unaware if I’m using “on” or “at or “by or “for” wrong! I have to have someone else proof read it to let me know that I’m not saying a phrase right.

    I think for me, I just have to keep writing and reading! But thanks for the tip. I’ll give it a try in my next blog post!

    • Karol says: 11/28/2014 at 1:16 am

      I do agree, that’s the toughest thing here. It’s just that “we don’t know what we don’t know,” so it’s difficult to notice most of the typos we make. I guess practice makes perfect. :)

  5. Hi Karol,

    I have been using Google as an editing tool for a long time, and the process you described is precisely what I do.

    As an Iranian-American who’s not a native speaker, I find myself using this method often. Thanks.

    • Karol says: 11/28/2014 at 1:16 am

      Not being a native speaker is probably the main reason why I started using it as well.

  6. Wow’s your tips are excellent. I must really say, that now after reading all three articles I will defiantly give it a try. Not only with my blog writing but I can see this working for the Novel I’m currently writing.

    Thank you. :)

    • Karol says: 11/29/2014 at 6:45 am

      Thanks!

      From personal experience I can tell you that it works for book writing too. :)

  7. I use this technique, especially when I translate books, but I don’t do it in the general Google search engine, because there are so many people who write badly out there. Instead, I do it in “Google books search”, my contention being that if this sentence or group of words was printed many times, it has more chances to be correct and good English – English is not my native language

    • Karol says: 11/29/2014 at 6:46 am

      That’s an interesting spin on the method. I will have to give it a try myself.

  8. I do the same, but with the * operator. When I’m looking for an expression, but I don’t know the exact wordt I’ll type for example:

    “A * for your thoughts”

    Aah, penny is the word I was searching for and it works perfectly.

  9. Wow,Karol.I do this often.But I never thought of publishing a blog post on it on my blog.

    The above hack to great of filling up the gap between our dilemmas.

    The thing I loved the most is using asterisk as wildcard character.

    You made my day.

    Thank you for the great post.

  10. I’ve used this method forever! Never really thought of it as being a valuable tip, but rather just something that I do. Good for you for sharing! Sometimes I take things I do for granted and assume everyone else knows how to do the same thing – more and more, as I explain little tricks like this to my family, I’m realizing my geekdom is something to be taught and shared. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Karol says: 12/01/2014 at 9:18 pm

      Those kinds of little tricks are usually the best at making our work easier and more effective.

      Feel free to share if you have some other similar technique up your sleeve.

  11. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s helpful especially because I’m not an English native. But English natives to do it, too, so.. :)

    • Karol says: 12/01/2014 at 9:19 pm

      It seems everyone does it. English is not easy, no matter if you’re a native or not. :)

  12. Hi Karol,

    While writing post, sometimes even I stuck up with the things I.e. finding out the exact phrases of sentence.
    So what I do is, I’ll quickly open up new word document or out look email and type sentence to find out the exact phrases of it.

    Googling I does but not much, but you’ve given me a great tip of finding out the correct way of getting proper and absolute grammar to full fill sentence.

    Even now I’m in doubt that the line mentioned above is ” absolute grammar to full fill sentence ” or ” absolute grammar for full fill sentence ” ?

    Ps correct if I’m wrong

    Siva

    • Karol says: 12/01/2014 at 9:21 pm

      The problem is that sometimes more than one form is correct. The success here is finding the right context, and if needed, changing the verbs to make the phrase sound more common. So try to change the verb to something else and see which version sounds right.

  13. Yeah, I use this method very often, never thought what other people do. It just works for me. So I was happy to read your article Karol. Makes me thinking about topics I know a lot about, but never help others, cause never thought about it.

    • Karol says: 12/02/2014 at 8:09 pm

      Those types of topics are the best. There’s always something we do that could benefit other people.

  14. I often consult Google if I have a question… and I’m an editor!

    There is no shame in making Google your friend. You can even have some fun with her. Type in the word tilt and see what happens. ;)

    • Karol says: 12/02/2014 at 8:10 pm

      Absolutely everyone can make this method their friend … editor or not. :)

  15. Hi Karol,
    Thank you for the awesome tip to search in Google. From now onwards i will definitely use the tip to get the benefits.

  16. Karol
    Great tip, except half the time I’m unaware if I’m using “on” or “at or “by or “for” wrong! I have to have someone else proof read it to let me know that I’m not saying a phrase right.

  17. I’m not English speaker but when I have soñé doubts writting in English I use this trick, I find it very useful!

  18. Very nice & helpful post Karol. Thanks for sharing. I will definitely use this tip.

    • The first sentence in Step 1 is a sentence ending in a preposition. In my experience that places doubt upon the qualifications of its author using of the English language.

  19. There is actually an app that does this called Writefull. You can get feedback on pieces of text, from the number of results to which words appears most often in a context. It’s not free, but it’s a lot faster than using Google…

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