In the 11 years that I have been writing this weekly column (more than 500 columns), I know that I have had some spelling and grammatical faux pas. I have used several versions of Word, Google Docs, Open Office and Libre Office as my word processor, and all have a reasonable spelling and grammar checker, which I have never failed to run, but still some errors slip through. I am fortunate to have an educated and competent wife as a proofreader after I peruse the column, and she almost always catches some composition errors that both the software and I missed. I have noticed that the outstandingly fine editors at the Examiner have occasionally made some minor changes and corrections as they practice their editorial art.
In the decades that I have been teaching college classes, it no longer amazes me what college students can turn in as a finished written product. It is uncommon that a paper or project has proper spelling and grammar, and some students get belligerent upon being shown their written (word processed) errors, often blaming those errors on their “stupid computer.” In the many years since the advent of the word processor, first as a glorified typewriter (remember those?), then as a dedicated hardware word processor, and now as sophisticated software on a modern computer, the capabilities of the software to correct spelling and grammar errors have greatly improved.
Recently several free, browser based automated proofreading services have become available for anyone to use to provide a level of spell checking and grammar corrections typically superior to the similar services incorporated in the contemporary software based word processor. By using these free services, anyone, including newspaper columnists, newsletter editors and students, can now have an additional layer of proofreading of their documents, providing a better quality of written output. These online utilities will not create an original document, but can substantially provide the user with enough reputable assistance to produce an enhanced quality of output in terms of spelling and grammar, but not necessarily superior content — that is still the responsibility of the writer.
I was impressed with PaperRater (paperrater.com ), a feature rich and totally free service. According to its Web site, “PaperRater.com is a free resource, developed and maintained by linguistics professionals and graduate students. We may offer a premium service for those who are interested, but for now we are content offering a high-quality service at no cost to writers.” This service offers comprehensive spelling and grammar checking, plagiarism detection (notifies the student before the teacher finds out), and writing style suggestions. After pasting the text for this article, PaperRater inquired about the usage of the document, the educational level it is being used for, and the option to detect any potential plagiarism. In a matter of seconds, PaperRater produced a color coded list of questionable words, suggested grammar corrections, and even a “Vocabulary Score.” My vocabulary score was displayed as, “ Excellent work! Your usage of sophisticated words is on par with other well-written papers!” While I am not an English teacher, I found PaperRater to be an excellent and very capable resource, and will recommend it to my students.
After the Deadline (afterthedeadline.com ) is a “free for personal use,” open source, comprehensive proofreading utility. Unlike most of the other Web based proofreading utilities, After the Deadline requires the downloading (free) and installation of one or more of 11 different utilities. These distinct utilities can be added to Web pages (allows users to check spelling and grammar), WordPress software, plug-ins for Firefox and Chrome, add-on for OpenOffice, Windows Live Writer, and free standing utilities for other popular blogging and social networking services. Once installed, After the Deadline can be used as a comprehensive grammar and spell checker for use with those products, and for online services such as blogs, WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Google Docs, Windows Live Writer, any Webmail utility, and virtually any other form of online text input. I downloaded and installed the Firefox plug-in, which adds features more substantial than Firefox’s built in spelling checker. In addition to a simple spell checker, After the Deadline adds proper spelling in context (to, too, two; there, their, etc.), grammar checking, style recommendations, and fixes for a variety of other writing errors. In evaluating After the Deadline (the Firefox plug-in), I found it exceptionally easy to use and very powerful. I now use it universally when entering any text using Firefox (my browser of choice). I can strongly recommend After the Deadline as a comprehensive spelling, style, and grammar checker for any products or services that it is designed to work with.
The next Web based proofreading utility that I tried was SpellChecker.net, where I simply copied and pasted my text into the box at the top of the Web page, and then clicked on the yellow “Spell Check” button on the bottom-left of the text box. Almost instantly (it took 1.51 seconds to spell check this entire column), a second browser window opened displaying possible spelling errors, and a list of possible corrections. At the top of this correction window is a “Grammar” button, which will rapidly run a grammar checker (1.12 seconds), clearly showing any questionable grammar and some recommended corrections. A fully functional interactive thesaurus is also provided, which can almost instantly come up with synonyms for a selected word. Once completed, the corrected text can then be copied back on to a blank page, and then saved and printed as appropriate. One tactic that I have found useful, which applies to all of these online services, is to repeat the entire process a second time in order to catch any newly created syntax errors.
I then tried the free Ginger online proofreading Web site at www.gingersoftware.com/grammarcheck, which describes itself as, “Most advanced grammar checker available. Immediate feedback. Free to use.” I was disappointed when I tried to copy and paste this column into the top “Ginger” window, and was brusquely informed that it “exceeded the allowed number of characters.” Since this free Web based utility is very limited in the amount of text that it can process at one time, I would only recommend it for short blocks of text, although multiple blocks of text can be checked sequentially by clearing the box, and then copying and pasting the next section of a document, which is an inconvenience. The text that was entered in the top window of Ginger was displayed with recommended corrections in the bottom half of the browser window. This corrected text could then be copied and pasted back in the original or new document. Ginger offers a more capable premium (paid) product that can be downloaded and installed, and works with Word 2003/2007/2010, Outlook 2003/2007/2010, PowerPoint 2003/2007/2010, Internet Explorer version 6.0 and higher, and all contemporary versions of Firefox.
SpellcheckPlus (spellcheckplus.com ) seemed very capable and easy to use, but the free Web based version is limited to 2,000 characters (about 1/2 of a single spaced typed page) per proofread session. Unlimited access requires paid registration (9.99 Euros, or about $15 per year) and can process unlimited text of any length, and includes a lengthy list of writing tools. SpellcheckPlus explains itself as, “ ... a grammar checker that finds common spelling errors and grammatical mistakes in English. Simply type (or paste) your text into the window below and hit the “check text” button.” Despite the short length limitations of the free version, SpellcheckPlus did a very good job of detecting potential errors and offering suggested corrections.
With proofreading utilities like these, there is little reason for anyone, using a computer with Internet access, to produce a document with spelling and serious grammar errors.
Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.