Using the Grammar Check
Your computer word processing programme probably contains a "Grammar Check" function designed to help you write more clearly. With each new program version, Grammar Checks are becoming more refined.
Will they ever become sensitive enough to be
truly useful? At the very least, experimenting
with some of the latest versions is a good way
to look at your writing in a new light.
Consider the Spelling Check, for example. Who would dare to argue with it? It is much easier to just accept the preferences it suggests. Naturally, the programmers occasionally had to chose one of various accepted spelling forms, and this can lead to some surprises. My computer, for example, insists on hyphenating the word "world-wide" while four different dictionaries of English list it as one word.
That user-friendly charm
The various programmes have distinct personalities. The Macintosh, for example, ever the user-friendly and congenial one, has the most diplomatic grammar check. In WordPerfect 5.1 for Mac, suggestions are made with the greatest of care: "Try to use this word sparingly," or my favourite, "Usually a paragraph should have more than one sentence." Word 6 for Windows 95 also takes a gentle approach, "This does not seem to be a complete sentence," while Word 97 has dispensed with the diplomacy in favour of displaying more alternatives.
What can we learn from the Grammar Check? If
we ignore the nonsensical suggestions, it does
surprisingly well in certain complex areas.
One aspect that stands out is the way the function
treats the distinction between the relative
pronouns "that" and "which".
Checking a sample of different texts showed that a press release for a prestigious insurance company rates quite low on the readability scale, and apparently would not have been understood by a 16-year-old. Perhaps this was due to the whopping 38% of the verbs being in the passive voice. The rating for this article, by the way, is within the recommended range for "most standard documents". By contrast, a letter I wrote to a childhood friend scored 0% on passive voice and 81% on overall ease. Much to my amusement, the writing level was rated as grade 5.2. How little things have changed between us since the age of nine! Use the Grammar Check, and see yourself as your computer sees you.
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