Is There Any Good Software For Checking Prose Style?
October 20, 2010, 03:17 PM
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In the mid-1990s, Microsoft added a feature to Word that checks not just spelling but also grammar and prose style. It was rather rudimentary, but promising. The idea of using the brute processing power of the computer to point out potential stylistic infelicities was a good one. In fact, Microsoft hired James Fallows of The Atlantic to dream up new ideas for Word.

But Microsoft soon had a near monopoly on word processing software, and subsequent improvements in Word have been grudging. I haven't seen Word 2010, but it doesn't appear they've done much to improve the self-editing process. I don't expect my computer to rewrite my stuff, but it doesn't seem too much to expect in 2010 that it can find more of the weak spots that I've overlooked.

Does anybody have any experience with third party software? Looking around on the Internet, it appears that the most heavily promoted product, White Smoke, might be a scam. (What does the name of the company imply? That it will help you write more graceful thank you notes after you've been elected Pope?) Judging by its well-written website, Editor from Serenity Software would appear to have potential.

The Microsoft model in the past, as a Silicon Valley executive explained to me in 1995, was to acquire third party makers of add-in software by making a lowball offer while simultaneously threatening to drive the target out of business if they didn't play ball. I clucked sympathetically at the executive's tale of Microsoftian nefariousness, but as a customer, it sounded pretty good to me.