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June 1, 2016

In-Context Document Proofing

Filed under: Main — Tags: — admin @ 12:01 am

Dear Microsoft,

I see that you continue to upgrade Office and improve the various features of Word, Excel, and others. Word has been rather stable since 2007, with a few minor improvements. One major leap forward you must consider, however, is what I call in-context document proofing. It’s a revolutionary feature.

Spell check was added to word processors in the early 1990s. It was a boon to document production. Incorrectly spelled words and typos were flagged for correction and then the document was processed and replacement words chosen.

In the early 2000s, on-the-fly document proofing became popular. Spell check was combined with grammar check to provide a real-time document proofer. It’s good, but imperfect.

What’s needed now is in-context document proofing. It flags not only incorrectly-spelled words, but words used in the proper context.

As a case in point, in one of my books I wrote, “It’s all about what you put into your test.” The sentence is spelled correctly. It’s grammatically correct. It might even make sense, but the word test should be text. Such an error would be flagged by an in-context document proofer.

Yes, what I’m really talking about is retiring legions of copy editors. In fact, most of them have been retired already: Major newspapers and (most obviously) online publications do hardly any copy editing. Improper word usage, verb agreement, and even common typos litter the online landscape. People are either accepting the lower quality text because, well, it’s free but most likely because they don’t know any better.

The goal of writing is communications, but text is just the media. If you can’t express a thought properly, you might as well let the cat walk on the keyboard and go with whatever text is generated. Even so, I think it would be easy to implement an on-the-fly, in-context document proofer.

A great majority of the text we write has common roots. In that sentence, you see two common phrase chunks:

“great majority”

“common roots”

These are text tidbits that an in-context document proofer could use. Further I wrote, “text we write,” which is logical: text is written. So if I had instead typed “test we write” or “text we right,” the in-context proofer would flag it.

Now I don’t believe any Microsoft minion reads my blog. Still, if they wanted to improve Word, and really get people to desire an upgrade, they would perfect in-context document proofing. It would be miraculous.

Thank you for your time,
Dan Gookin

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