Grammar checkers?

Subject: Grammar checkers?
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Mon, 16 Sep 1996 13:01:09 -0500

Best reason to use a grammar checker: You don't have a real
editor handy. Each of us is blind to our own mistakes, and
grammar checkers can help us spot the more obvious problems
before we waste an editor's or other reviewer's time.

Second-best reason to avoid the technology: I haven't seen
a grammar checker yet that was more useful than annoying.
Of course, I'm an editor, so that's not a fair assessment.
(See "best reason", above.) Second-best non-editor reason
for avoiding them: if you don't understand the grammatical
rules in the first place, you'll be hard put to understand
and evaluate the advice you receive.

Best reason to avoid grammar checkers: The underlying
philosophy is seriously flawed. Editing grammar is only one
small task in the editor's task list. Speaking heretically,
it's probably not even the most important one, since there
are relatively few ungrammatical sentences that readers
can't figure out eventually. Grammar checkers don't
evaluate logic ("there are two erors in this quote"),
organisation, correctness of fact ("how's my editing? call
1-800-noerrors"), correctness of references (e.g., Table 1
should be Table 27, the screenshot actually shows what the
text claims it shows), correctness of calculations (you
wouldn't believe how many researchers can't calculate an
arithmetic mean reliably), and consistency of statements
with the data the author provides to support them (non
sequiturs and contradictions). They also don't acknowledge
audience analysis and usability. I look for all these
problems first, and fix the grammar and spelling only
afterwards, when (often "if") time permits.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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