Three alternatives to Word’s spelling and grammar checker

Other references it found concerned horse racing, website marketing and the joy of cooking with rice flour (thanks to the phrase “a well-thumbed copy”). An adjustable threshold would make more sense: perhaps suspected plagiarism should be reported only if it accounts for more than 10% of a document, or if all the putative references point to the same document.

Grammarly costs $30 a month, but buying three months at a time reduces this to $20, and buying one year reduces it to $12. You have to hand over payment details to try the program, but there’s a seven-day trial period before you’re charged (you must cancel within that time if you don’t want to continue).

StyleWriter

StyleWriter takes a more old-fashioned, less cloudy approach to Word integration, but it does much the same job as the other two. Checking doesn’t happen on a website; instead, you install an application on your PC containing all its rules, and it adds a toolbar to Word that launches this application and passes it the text of your document. While using StyleWriter, you’re bouncing back and forth between its window, where you see the errors, and Word, where you edit the text, but this works surprisingly well, particularly if you have a large monitor and can dock the two windows side by side.

Aiming for less Bog and more Pep yields a more interesting document that’s easier to read

Alternatively, StyleWriter can automatically shrink its window when you switch to Word and grow it again when you switch back.

StyleWriter suspends processing while you edit the text in Word and resumes, with your changes, when you return to its window. It shows a graphical representation of your sentences in a panel on the left, with charts indicating the length of your sentences and their “Bog” and “Pep” scores. Sentences with a high Bog index contain a lot of difficult words, initials or acronyms, while high Pep words, such as names, adjectives, personal pronouns, contractions and phrasal verbs, add interest. Aiming for less Bog and more Pep yields a more interesting document that’s easier to read.

StyleWriter picks out sentences that are too long, and its sentence-length chart shows whether you have a preponderance of short or long sentences. You want a wide spread of different lengths to add interest, but they should cluster around a mean of 18 to 20 words: too many short sentences make a piece look disjointed or childish; too many long ones make it difficult to read.

StyleWriter shows which words you’re overusing, and those that are overcomplicated or can be easily confused. It suggests how to improve the text in a box at the top of the window, which highlights glue words and the sentences that contain too many of them. It also scores your article overall for its Bog index, sentence length, reading grade and passive index (the percentage of passive verbs in the piece). Grading these scores as Poor, Good, Excellent and so on, gives you a better idea of how you’re doing than the raw figures presented by other tools.

You can choose from 20 different writing styles – such as academic, newspaper, letter, report and speech – and also specify your audience from public, in-house and specialist. These two settings apply different thresholds for all the “mistakes” StyleWriter detects. You can also turn on or off the different style categories, and choose how they’ll be highlighted in the text. StyleWriter’s user interface looks a little old-fashioned and could certainly be improved, but it’s powerful.

Doing all the processing on your PC means confidentiality isn’t a concern, and StyleWriter also runs far faster than Pro Writing Aid or Grammarly. It occasionally highlights the wrong words when switching from StyleWriter to Word windows, but otherwise it’s reasonably stable.

As with all the other products mentioned here, you’ll have to wade through many false positives, but the result is usually worth it.
StyleWriter costs $90 for the Starter Edition, $150 for the Standard Edition and $190 for the Professional Edition. The licence covers one person using the software on one computer in perpetuity; for $30 more, you can extend the licence to cover up to three computers (but still for only one person). A free 14-day trial is available.

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