Re: Grammar Checkers

Subject: Re: Grammar Checkers
From: Michael Wing <mjwing -at- INGR -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 27 Jun 1996 13:37:22 -0500

>The only grammar checker I've ever used is the one between my ears.
>It's probably the only one I'd trust, too (although I often use a
>spellchecker to catch problems in the connection between my brain and
>my fingers).

>> The specific focus of this paper is the effectiveness of grammar checkers.
>>Would or should anyone in tech editing rely on them at all? Are there
>>any versions that are superior to others and why? Also, what is the
>>greatest shortcoming of grammar checkers?

>As with spellcheckers, they're only as good as the person who
>programmed them. With the English language in particular, there are
>numerous intricacies and idiosyncracies that I doubt any computer would

>For example, most would probably try to "correct" the phrase "Robinson
>Crusoe walked down the isle" by replacing the last word with "aisle".
>Unless specifically programmed with the cultural reference to Robinson
>Crusoe, and possibly the ability to read a paragraph or two surrounding
>the phrase for context (possibly a reference to a wedding or movie
>theater), the computer would have no way of knowing that "isle" *is*
>the proper word (I'll bet you're not likely to find many aisles on his

I know our egos bruise at the thought of a machine doing some of our
work, but I would rather work with spelling and grammar checkers than
without them. To me, the applicability of checkers depends on whether
you expect it to do 100% of the work or less than 100%. If you expect
the checker to 100%, you're going to be disappointed. The "isle" and
"aisle" example illustrates the checker's shortcomings. However, if you
use the checker as a first pass in your edit, you can save time finding
and correcting typos, repeated words, improper capitalization, awkward
phrasing, and so forth.

Many of the positions in this discussion seem to be "use the checkers
exclusively" or "don't use them at all". I see nothing wrong with a
combination. Having run a checker does not preclude the author from
performing their own edit.

Mike Wing

>_/ Michael Wing
>_/ Principal Technical Writer
>_/ Jupiter Customization and Educational Services
>_/ Intergraph Corporation
>_/ 730-7250
>_/ mjwing -at- ingr -dot- com

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