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Write it right.

Write It Right

Does your use of the English Language leave something to be desired? Don't worry; help is now available. RightWriter and Grammatik III are software packages which check your grammar, punctuation, and style. Both are easy to use, menu-driven programs operating directly with most popular word-processor files, as well as standard ASCII text files. Recent updates allow both to operate from within some of the more popular word processors to eliminate the steps of saving and exiting the program.

Both programs look for similar types of errors: double words, changes in tense, gender, or number, split infinitives, improperly used punctuation, as well as other common grammatical errors. In addition, the user can select the classes of errors which the program will identify. This provides some control over the basic writing style set in the program.

RightWriter and Grammatik III do not make corrections on their own. The former simply reads a document, and writes a new one (under a new filename.ext) with comments inserted at every potential error it has detected. When the new document is created, the user can then make any changes as he or she sees fit. The latter program is perhaps more powerful, as it has an interactive mode. It scans the document and points out each error as it is found. A full screen display gives details and options for the user to make a decision at that time.

RightWriter and Grammatik III also provide document summaries. These include basic statistics about the document such as average word, sentence, and paragraph length. In addition, they calculate a readability index which gives the writer a measure of the reading difficulty on a scale roughly corresponding to the education level required by the reader. They also give indices to provide feedback on the strength of the writing, the use of descriptive words and jargon, and recommendations for sentence structure.

One major drawback to using a grammar-checking program is that, although some options can be adjusted, the program is nevertheless designed by people who may not write the way you do. These two are written by Americans, using American authorities for grammar usage. If you learned English outside the United States, you probably use different grammar. For example, it is grammatically incorrect to say "real good". RightWriter calls this `colloquial language' and does not indicate that the correct form must use the adverb "really" not the adjective "real". Both programs object to the use of quotation marks around a single word as in the previous sentence. Figure 1 demonstrates a number of common errors and RightWriter's response to them. It would be useful to have a facility to adapt these programs to other styles of language.

Tests of both programs would suggest software such as this is best applied to letter writing. Writing fiction using such software might seriously impair a writer's poetic license. Upon checking some of my own university essays, I discovered a few errors which I (and the professors who marked them) had missed. I was also told that the essay was too passive and might be improved via the use of shorter sentences. In technical reports or other material of that genre, several more drawbacks become apparent. Technical terminology can confuse the grammar-checker, and it may misinterpret the meaning of some words. Technical words are an integral part of the language. It is annoying to see words such as ion or adsorption classified as jargon. Technical papers tend to contain speculation or assumptions, which by necessity must be written using the passive voice. Both programs consider the use of the passive as an error, and judge the strength of the writing harshly when it is used. By the time the 30th or 40th use of the passive voice or jargon is indicated as an error, you will probably want to throw the package out the window. In every piece of text tested, I was advised to shorten the sentences, use simpler terminology, and stop using the passive voice.

The English version of The Chemistry of Boiling (see September'89, p.12), was used as a test. Corrections were made on the galley proofs and readers have been spared the pain of a split infinitive, a double word and a few other errors which were discovered in the manuscript. Again, both programs were replete with advice to use shorter, simpler words and sentences. RightWriter suggested the capitalization of `al' in `et al'. Surely a term in common usage such as this merits a place of its own in the dictionary. Figures 2 and 3 show document summaries pertaining to this article. It may be of interest to note that the authors wrote in a manner only slightly easier to read than the average life insurance policy, using sentences shorter than President Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, but longer than Hemingway in The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

In conclusion, many word-processors now boast such features as spelling dictionaries, thesauri and hyphenation dictionaries. A grammar-checker is a useful addition to this arsenal, as even the best proof-readers can miss things. They are highly recommended for people who are not at ease with the English language. For those who are quite adept with the language, they are still useful, however they can be immensely frustrating to use. Nevertheless, catching an inconsistent tense or split infinitive can make it all worthwhile.

Figure 1

Sample Output from RightWriter

Upper: Original text containing numerous errors. Lower: RightWriter inserts notes into the text.

Original Text:

A real good grammar-checking program should be able to easily find split infinitives, misused punctuation, questionable terms such as ain't, and point out sentences which are perhaps longer or more vague than they should be for purposes of easy reading. It should do all this quick and it should be easy to use like a spelling-checker would be. How many errors can you spot in the preceding sentence?


A real good << * U2. COLLOQUIAL. REPLACE real good BY very good * >> grammar-checking program << * S15. IS THIS AMBIGUOUS? good grammar-checking program * >> should be able to easily find << * S2. SPLIT INFINITIVE: to easily find * >> split infinitives, misused punctuation, << * P13. IS THIS PUNCTUATION CORRECT?, * >> questionable terms such as ain't << * U1. COLLOQUIAL: ain't * >>, and point out sentences which are perhaps longer or more vague than they should be for purposes of << * U12. WORDY. REPLACE for purposes of BY for or to * >> easy reading. << * G3. SPLIT INTO 2 SENTENCES? * >> << * S3. LONG SENTENCE: 41 WORDS * >> It should do all this quick and it should be easy to use like a spelling-checker would be. [Figure 2 to 3 Omitted]
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Title Annotation:RightWriter and Grammatik III software packages
Author:Silbert, Jonathan D.
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Product/Service Evaluation
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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