StyleWriter: Produce Pristine Prose

By Scott Koegler | Posted March 24, 2005

Business writing involves several skills, disciplines, and procedures. For most businesses it's rare enough to find an employee that can write professionally, much less follow a particular style the company has developed.

StyleWriter from Editor Software won't write your documents for you, nor will it structure your prose into logically flowing communication — that's still the responsibility of the writer. But what it will do is analyze your document for grammatical and linguistic problems, while also identifying words or phrases that need to be changed to match the language standards set by your organization.

StyleWriter installs as both an add-on for Microsoft Word and as a standalone application. If you regularly use MS Word as your editor you can click the icon in the Word toolbar to start StyleWriter's analysis. If you use another editor you'll need to start StyleWriter separately, and you may need to paste your document into the application.

Using MS Word or similar word processors that support DDE (dynamic data exchange) is the preferred method, though, as StyleWriter uses DDE to connect to your word processor. StyleWriter can use DDE interactively to apply changes it suggests directly to your document, and it will even get out of the way so you can edit the document directly.

You can also use StyleWriter with any other application by copying your text to the Windows Clipboard. This makes the process more cumbersome, however, since StyleWriter doesn't automatically apply its changes. In this case, you have to make the edits manually based on StyleWriter's instructions. It would be helpful if the program had a more generic link and could be used directly with any Windows-based editor.

StyleWriter analyzes your text and scores it based on the type of document you are creating.

Click for a larger image

Above and Beyond Your Average Word Processor
So how is StyleWriter different than your average word processor?

All word processors can check your spelling, and most will even review your grammar and suggest changes, but StyleWriter goes beyond that. When you start StyleWriter from its icon in the Word taskbar, it performs a preliminary analysis of your document and scores it on three criteria — average sentence length, number of passive verbs used and overall style.

Different document types use different styles. For example, research papers have distinctly different styles than press releases. StyleWriter offers several choices for the type of document you're checking, including general writing, newsletter, résumé, cover letter, technical report, instructions, and general letter. Selecting the type of document you'll be checking loads StyleWriter's basic analytical parameters.

Besides checking sentence length and the number of passive verbs, StyleWriter's style indexes check for a wide variety of common editorial issues like misused words, confused words, complex words, jargon, abstract words, hyphenation, overused words, legal words, sexist writing, clichés, grammar and redundancies. It goes even further and does some of the same things a human editor would look for, such as overwriting, foreign words, sentence structure check and even preferred spelling.

Now the Fun Begins

After loading and scanning your document against the active parameters, Stylewriter shows three grades ranging from "horrid" to "excellent."

StyleWriter works like an inline spell checker in that it identifies and highlights each of the offending items that contributed to the high score and then offers advice on fixing each problem. The word or phrase that was identified as violating the rule and the suggestions for repairing the problem is displayed in the Advice window.

You can apply many changes by simply clicking the suggested fix. For example, StyleWriter identified the word "authorized" as a Complex Word, and suggested using "let, allowed, approved, or sanctioned" instead. Simply clicking "allowed" replaced the word in the main document and moved to the next offender.

Some changes require editing the document directly, wherein StyleWriter automatically minimizes after clicking the Edit button so you can make your changes manually.

Customized Rules

In addition to making your documents easier to read using built-in rules, Stylewriter lets you create your own set of House Rules. For example, if your company has standardized on the spelling "e-mail," StyleWriter can check for offending spellings like e-mail, e-mail or E-mail, and suggest they be changed. You can also modify other parameters that control sentence length and passive verbs in order to suit your company's preferences.

A Complete Package
Overall, StyleWriter is a valuable tool for organizations that need to produce high-quality documents and that don't have a full-time editing staff. Even with a documentation or public relations department, StyleWriter can help ensure a consistent set of standards and ease the burden of training staff on the company's editorial guidelines.

The StyleWriter program comes with a demo and tutorial as well as a dictionary/thesaurus, a writer's outliner program, a typing tutor and a writer's calculator. Guides for writing technical documents, business plans, résumés, cover letters, essays and letter writing are also included as bonuses.

Editor Software offers a 30-day free trial, and the full package (on CD) costs $160.00.

Pros: Valuable collection of tools for improving your writing and ensuring your company's documents follow a set style, solid integration with Microsoft Word

Cons: Aging interface, expensive at $160, doesn't integrate as well with other word processors (especially non-DDE-compliant processors), somewhat buggy

Adapted from wi-fiplanet.com.

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