Tuesday, September 4, 2012

More on automated grammar programs

I've blogged in the past about my experiences test-driving grammar and style software. Through my work in publishing and at the university, I've had the opportunity to test several different systems, and none of them have come close to being satisfactory. Even MSWord's built-in grammar checker -- which is notorious for its inadequacies -- is several generations ahead of most of the other programs available today. I am not, you might guess, a fan of any of them.

I'm not alone. This topic came up on a mailing list for academics recently, and some of my colleagues there shared a couple of links to other test results. I thought I'd link them here for those of you who are toying with investing in some of this software. (Don't bother. They're a waste of money.)

The Economist: Grammarly Revisited

The Chronicle: These Cards Always Lie

Before you dismiss these opinions because they examine academic writing rather than creative writing, let me assure you, this should not be a selling point. The rules of academic grammar are less fluid and less forgiving than the rules of creative writing. It should be easier to apply academic rules, simply because there's less deviation from those rules. Creative writing is full of judgment calls, colloquialisms, and allowable "errors" like fragments and run-ons. If a software program cannot properly identify where a sentence begins and ends, how will it ever distinguish between a good fragment and a bad one? No, this academic/creative distinction doesn't help matters at all.



Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

I agree. I recently upgraded to Word from Open Office. The first time I ran my manuscript through the grammar checker, I was appalled by all the ridiculous things it suggested. It is handy for finding things like overused passive voice, repeated words, and incorrect usage. I ended up "ignoring" about half of its suggestions, though. It's especially troublesome and frustrating with dialogue.

Alicia said...

Laura, agree. I use Grammar Check and Spell Check to look for typos and the most obvious grammar mistakes, but it's only the first pass before I actually read the manuscript aloud.

Edittorrent said...

Laura, I'm telling you, Word's grammar checker is light years ahead of the others. I had to test one for the university that returned 44 "errors" -- not one of which was an actual error. Not one. To this day, even hearing the name of that software program is enough to make me twitch and whimper.

So, no, Word's grammar checker is far from perfect, especially for creative/casual writing. But it does have its uses, as long as we use it wisely.


Anonymous said...

I do like Editor from Serenity, but it is not a substitute for a second set of eyes.

I dislike Grammerly's advertising, they are trying too hard.