Take grammatical responsibility

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A plea from University of Washington professor, Sandeep Krishnamurthy who says that if “you think grammar check has completely checked your paper, I have news for you — it really hasn’t”.

That’s the plea from a University of Washington professor, Sandeep Krishnamurthy who says that if “you think grammar check has completely checked your paper, I have news for you — it really hasn’t”.

He’s absolutely right, and even Microsoft will admit that their grammar tools are not perfect. It’s understandable that busy people on deadlines will rely on the absence of green and red squiggly lines in their document but it is really not enough.

The English language is pretty complex. It is not so much the rules that are complicated but all the exceptions to those rules. Programming software to check for grammar is a complex task – what we have in Word is the result of decades of development and brainpower. But it’s not perfect and it probably never will be perfect.

Here we have a resident proof-reader, Phil, who checks over most issues. He not only changes things that Word thinks are OK – he also alerts us when sentences or sections don’t make sense or could be clearer.

That’s not to say that errors don’t get through and there are plenty of readers who’ll jump on us with any grammatical grievance. And in some cases my personal writing style knowingly breaks the rules. Phil paid attention in English at school as opposed to Peter who probably spent his time dreaming in Basic or Fortran.

Even if you’re not lucky enough to have your own ‘Phil’ you should try to step back and re-read a document with fresh eyes (I often print the document out and edit the old fashioned way). If you still get complaints then you can try blaming Word anyway .



A new grammar tool for MS Word and Outlook was released this week.  Called WhiteSmoke, it’s a tool to ‘enhance’ and ‘enrich’ your sentences.

Highlight a sentence in your document then click on the new ‘Enrichment’ button on the Word toolbar to see additional and replacement words for the ones you have typed.  A short summary of the workings can be found here.

The dialog box has a unique look and you won’t mistake it for normal part of Word.

We’ve not had a chance to evaluate White Smoke, but there’s a trial version available for download after registration here.


Many readers wrote about the grammar ‘enhancement’ product White Smoke and we never received a more negative consensus about a product before.

For starters the ‘free’ demo requires you to submit a credit card before downloading. Most readers, rightly, would not agree to this and decided not to go any further.

Others pointed out the grammar peculiarities on the web site itself which is not a good sign for a product of this type.

Yet more objected to some of the company’s marketing methods which we are not aware of in detail but do seem to have annoyed some web users.

A few readers got past all this and checked out the product but only a few seemed to find it any use.

Bottom Line: This is probably a product not worth your time.


If WhiteSmoke doesn’t interest you and you’d still like more grammar advice, you might want to check out ClearEdits – prices start at US$99.95 .

Interestingly there’s a free tool to let you receive a document from a ClearEdit user then accept or reject edits without having to buy the full product. A good idea that should help deploy ClearEdit among some people collaborating on documents.


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