By Andy Coulson
By now many of you who use Word 365 will have noticed the new Editor pane that handles spelling and grammar checking. Microsoft describes this as an ‘intelligent writing assistant’, as it also brings in ‘Refinements’ – looking at, and suggesting alternatives for, things such as conciseness and clarity. Editor uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse the language used, and suggests amendments to improve the overall readability of the text.
So, the big question is: ‘Is it any good for editors?’ Well, that’s a very mixed answer, as a lot depends on personal taste. For instance, Editor opens in a bar at the right of the screen. I like this presentation, as it is clear and makes good use of white space around the text, making it easy to read, often in comparison to densely packed manuscripts. However, Paul Beverley makes a very good point in ‘Taming Word 365’ that this takes a lot of screen area, which is true. As an aside, Paul is developing a macro that will work like the old spellchecker. Your set-up and preferences, such as the type of screen(s) you use, may colour your view of this. I suspect it will end up being a very Marmite (for non-UK readers, a love-it-or-hate-it) type of feature.
Personally, I’m not sure how much the underlying spellchecker and grammar checker have changed. They can work with multiple languages (provided those are selected in the document). The defaults are broadly sensible and reflect good practice – for example, double spaces at the start of sentences are now flagged. Both give you alternatives and suggestions about changing the flagged word or phrase. The new sidebar allows you to review and amend things in a much more intuitive way than the right-click menu options (which I must admit to a particular dislike of). The options against each of the choices are also kept to a short list and are, broadly, sensibly chosen. One interesting feature is that there are Read Aloud and Spell Out options, and while I’m not sure how useful these are to me, I can see where they might be a help.
The grammar checker is very customisable, with simple descriptions in the options backed up by more comprehensive descriptions in the options (even via the dreaded right-click), perhaps backed with examples so you can decide whether or not to use the option. I noticed that it doesn’t, for example, check for the use of ‘which’ versus ‘that’, so it is not necessarily comprehensive or foolproof. There is still plenty of room for judgement, experience and author voice.
The big addition is the Refinements section that gives suggestions under the headings of Clarity, Conciseness, Formality, Inclusiveness, Punctuation Conventions and Vocabulary. These are all quite configurable through the options. I’m not a heavy user of this, so I don’t know whether the AI will improve the results, but my initial use left me underwhelmed. In some areas it was, to my mind, overly prescriptive and in others (eg Inclusiveness) it does not pick up very real problems. Again, I think the options could be better explained to give a sense of what the broader intention of the check is, allowing the user to make a more informed choice.
My main conclusion is that this feature is not aimed at editors, but at writers. The clue is in the name – it is targeted at being an editor replacement. At present I’m not overly worried about my job, but it is certainly a useful complement to a human editor. Compared with PerfectIt or Paul Beverley’s macros, it is clearly quite a blunt instrument. However, I don’t think that is an entirely fair comparison. Looking at it as a language professional perhaps misses the point of it. PerfectIt and macros allow you to focus in at a much more detailed level and adapt what you do to suit different clients. This is a level of depth that I’m not sure many writers will go to, particularly if they know the text will be further reviewed or edited. Editor will help many writers but tends towards homogenised text. This still leaves plenty of room for human editors to bring out the nuance and texture in the writing, and also to deal with the narrative thread through a piece of writing.
‘What’s e-new?’ was a regular column in the SfEP’s magazine for members, Editing Matters. The column has moved onto the blog until its new home on the CIEP website is ready.
Members can browse the Editing Matters back catalogue through the Members’ Area.
Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.