More Fog and White Smoke

sunglassesI am fascinated by software that I never knew existed. Either this software provides a solution to a problem I never knew existed, or solve a known problem in a way I never new to me. The grammar and style analysers fall into the second category, potentially useful tools.

Earlier, I reported on my journey through several tools, namely White Smoke, Ginger and Grammarly, and dismissed all of them. Just when I had finished writing my report, I stumbled across more tools in the same category: the offline tools Editor Software’s StyleWriter and Serenity Software’s Editor.

As offline tools, neither StyleWriter nor Editor need an Internet connection to work. This speeds up analysis, and eliminates most security and privacy concerns (concerns the online competition seem little concerned about, judging by their half-baked statements and assurances about privacy and security).

Editor has some positive reviews. Serenity Software’s claim to fame also includes quotations from StyleWriter’s website, displaying where the competition’s marketing material fails to use good, clear English.

Frankly, I do not know how good Editor works. The tool has an archaic user interface and workflow, both unintuitive and unappealing. The general opinion gives this tool good marks on its findings, but I don’t even want to get there. It’s ugly and no fun. Dismissed.

StyleWriter has a cluttered user interface of questionable appeal, and offers half-baked integration into Microsoft Word. Their makers confirmed that they “don’t have any plans to integrate StyleWriter into other applications than Word,” and commented that “all other applications can paste text to Word for interactive editing or use the clipboard.” This fails to meet my requirements, but I am glad if this business plan works for Editor Software. Henry Ford also produced only black cars.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get StyleWriter’s Word integration to work reliably. Sometimes it worked, but in almost half the cases, the tool didn’t show the Word document‘s content, or didn’t list the work document among those available.

No matter how you present your text to StyleWriter, by copy and paste or using the Word Add-in, you’ll face a user interface suitable only for a few paragraphs. All formatting is removed, making correlation to the original document difficult. My display jumped about on some occasions, making me think they are trying to scroll both Word and StyleWriter views in sync, but this didn’t work at all. Reviewing a whole document in this manner is not workable. I feel the only reasonable user interface includes true integration with the word processor, just like Word’s built-in red and green wiggly lines.

StyleWriter fascinates me nevertheless, because the tool identified several errors and weaknesses in my writing. The most common offence is unnecessary fill words, and overuse of the  passive voice. Most comments were unspecific, and repetitive: “Shorten this sentence,” “remove fill words,” or “try using active voice,” again and again, with practical suggestions few, and far between. Only few other comments were offered, although I am certain that my writing has room for improvement in many ways.

Experimenting with these tools heightened my awareness for grammar and style. Given the unappealing and largely impracticable user interface, I fear the software would become a disused item on my hard disc, once the novelty has worn off.

I can not recommend buying any of these tools, but I can recommend experimenting with them. If you can’t decide which tool to experiment with, try StyleWriter. This is the only reasonable contestant as far as I can see, although I struggle to understand how anyone would think this user interface good enough for the 21st century.

(Click here for the first part of this article.)

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A Lot of Fog and White Smoke

fog-in-sicilyI was searching for a software solution the other day, when stumbling over Whitesmoke and Ginger. Neither was what I sought, but once intrigued, I loaded their trial versions.

Both products claim to be a better version of Microsoft Word’s spellchecker and grammar tool. These tools provide spellchecking, and claim strong validation engines for grammar and style, and producing high-quality suggestions. Various language dictionaries, translation, thesaurus, … This post is too short for the impressive list of features, so you may understand my reasons for a closer inspection.

In a nutshell: it’s a joke. Try the free trial for a good laugh, just do not spend a penny on it.

I offered the same test to both tools:

First, I gave a simple and correct sentence, which a reference to a 3.3V voltage. Incomplete sentence was the verdict when facing the decimal point.

Second, I gave a 10-page Word document. This document (none of mine ;-) sports poor grammar, many spelling and upper case errors, poor style, use of jargon, missing articles or false word choice (e.g. weather vs. whether). The analyser tools should have shone with  long lists of findings. However, notes were mostly on missing articles and words missing from the dictionary.

Third, I gave a half-page long and reasonably well-written document, with more reasonable results. One repetition was reported, and no inappropriate advise was given.

Last not least, I found Grammarly, an online tool serving the same purpose – a pure online tool, given that their Microsoft Office Add-in crashed within minutes. Grammarly’s results and suggestions were better than Whitesmoke or Ginger’s. I used Grammarly for a while in a real (technical) document. It gave plenty of advise about my use of passive voice, thank you very much, and made me conscious of my writing style. A cross-check with the poorly written document showed no overwhelming success for Grammarly though. I also found many aspects of their online tool not practical or unacceptable on various accounts.

Grammarly found more issues and provide better guidance, compared with Whitesmoke and Ginger, but is far from being useful and worth a paid subscription.

An interesting journey. The journey soon continues with the more capable contestants, StyleWriter and Editor; stay tuned.

(The second part is right here.)

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B.Y.O. What?

One of the local curry houses advises customers to bring their own. I suppose that’s what happens when the spell-checker is set to Urdu and every Englihs word comes with those curly lines.

Or maybe the problem is that the spell checker might ask for the correct work to be selected from a list of alternatives. And, as one of my sister’s former pupils once put it, "then the spell checker asks do you want this or that – how shall I know?"

Click the thumbnail or here for the full-sized image.