To help you edit, reverse your sentence order

by Intermittent Rain ~ May 16th, 2019. Filed under: Thoughts about Writing.


Here’s how to make your computer help you find grammar and line editing problems. Awkward phrases, missing words, repeated words in close proximity, and repeated sentence length will be much more obvious and easier to identify to fix.

It requires Word, WordPad and Excel. Plus a bit of computer skills, or, just follow the instructions closely and trust my advice.  🙂

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In late drafts we need to focus on line editing and on finding oddball errors like extra words or missing words. Reading aloud can help, but when I read aloud I insert words that aren’t there because I know what I meant to say and I know the context and make corrections as I read without noticing. Reading to someone else can help but only if they notice the changes you make, and they may not have your eye for phrase structure or voice or sentence pattern.

Some writers read their prose backward to break the stream and the context. This is very useful for finding line edit issues, but doing so from a regular draft is strenuous, so here is a method to have the computer separate each sentence and to reverse the order for you.

I’ll use square brackets in the instructions to surround specific characters for you to type. Normally I would use quotation marks but that won’t work since we need to replace some quotation marks.

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  1. Copy your entire document and paste into Wordpad (shortcuts: Ctrl + A to select all, Ctrl + C to copy, Ctrl + V to paste). Or, you can use Word instead of WordPad but you must turn off all AutoCorrect options. Autocorrect will mess with what we’re going to do. I find it easier to copy into Wordpad than to turn all the Word Autocorrect off and then back on.

  2. Replace all [. ] (that’s a period followed by a space) with [.~] (period with a tilde) The “Find and Replace” shortcut is Ctrl + H.

  3. Replace all [? ] (question mark and a space) with [?~]

  4. Replace all [.” ] (period, end quote, and a space) with [.”~] (You may need to copy [.”] from somewhere in your Word document because WordPad doesn’t use Word’s smart quotes.)

  5. Do the same with ! if you used them.

  6. Done in WordPad. We’ve now replaced the space after each sentence with ~ to make it easy to identify. Now, copy all from WordPad and paste into a new Word document.

  7. In Word, replace all [~] with [^p].  ^p is a special character that tells Word to break for a paragraph. You can also do this in WordPad but it’s more difficult because you have to use the code for special characters to identify the paragraph break.

Now each sentence is its own paragraph. Easier to read backward.

To reverse the order, I use Excel. You could also use tables within Word, I think, but I prefer Excel.

  1. Format one entire column as text (otherwise Excel will autoformat the text in Excel-ese). To do so, select the column and right click, select “Format Cells”, in the “Number” tab choose “Text”. Or, select the column, from the menu choose “Home”, then “Cells”, “Format”, “Format Cells”, “Text”

  2. Copy and paste from the broken up Word document into a cell in that column you just formatted in Excel.

  3. In an adjacent column, fill the column with sequential numbers. One way to do this is to type [1] in the highest cell, then [2] in the next, then drag the bottom corner as far down the sheet as your pasted text goes. I do it differently, but I work with Excel a lot and am faster using keystrokes.

  4. Select the two columns that have your text and the numbers

  5. Sort, high to low, on your sequential column. Now your sentences are in reverse order.

From here you can read in Excel format, if that helps you see things new. Or, copy just the text column back into Word.

Now, read from top to bottom. It won’t make a lot of sense (which is part of the point) but each sentence will stand alone.

I edit in the new Word document. Corrections I type in red, text to delete I change to strikeout font, and I highlight both types of changes so they are easy to find. Then save this new document and go back and fix your original.

In theory, it may be possible to write a macro that will use tables and do this entire process within Word, but I’m more of an Excel expert than a Word expert. If someone knows how to do this, please leave a comment below.

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One thing that limits any writer is what they don’t know or can’t see. Reading in reverse order is like shining light from a different direction to find the spots you missed when you were dusting, a way to help you to see some of those pesky little things that you’ve become blind to.

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