Microsoft Word Grammar Checker Are No Good, Scholar Conclude

I’d wager that the majority of my beloved readership (yup, all three of you) have used this software product at some point. Some may use it every single day and you have my pity as, no doubt, it is STILL invading your work, suggesting improvements, alternatives and generally annoying the crap out of you.

FYI – The latter statement is widely used and accepted by many a usability expert, for example; When the autocorrect feature changes some of your text, how annoying is it on a scale from 1 [not annoying] to 10 [annoys the crap out of you]?

Of course here in blogland we don’t have the benefit of grammar correction, and only have spell checkers if we choose to install and run them. So does that mean that we have better grammar and spelling than most? After all it’s all about the words, right?

How many of you use Word but have turned off the spelling and grammar checker?

In the article, Mr. Krishnamurthy argues that the grammar checker is next to useless as it’s just so bad. Microsoft are quoted as stating :

that its grammar checker is a writing aid, not a catchall. “The Word grammar checker is designed to catch the kinds of errors that ordinary users make in normal writing situations”

And this is why Microsoft gets a bad press. If you are going to release a new feature for a product, and you are offering it as a timesaving, productivity enhancing widget, then it must either work properly, or be damn close. Alas the grammar checker, a good idea in principle, doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for the last couple of versions since it was introduced. Of course Microsoft will improve on it again for the next release, presuming it’s still included, but given the varied and oblique “gotchas” in the English language, is it any wonder it doesn’t work? And anyway, why are they bothering?

I’m not offering them that as an excuse though (but it’s toooo hard!!) instead, if anyone from the Microsoft Office development team is reading, I’d offer this as a suggestion: Wouldn’t it be easier to provide suggestions rather than corrections? Make it a learning tool, rather than a “automated so you don’t HAVE to learn it” tool. It’ll stand both you and your users in much better stead for the future and I’m pretty sure that you already have plenty of information on grammar that you could incorporate into the Office suite of applications. Wouldn’t take much, just remove the options to accept things willy-nilly, and offer good grammar information?

The “widget” approach is all well and good, and is applicable in many places in many applications but there does come a time where you have to presume the user has a certain amount of knowledge and is able to make decisions based on that knowledge. Without that the next set of options are likely to include the ability to write an entire letter or document using a simple wizard. Just input some basic facts make a few choices and SHAZAAM! Your marketing document spews out the other end.

On second thoughts I think that’s how marketing documents are currently produced…

My point is this, we are dumbing down. Whilst I do think that computers should be making our lives simpler they aren’t, they are making our lives easier and lazier by lowering the standard. Simpler and easier are NOT the same thing. A close to home example is Blogger. You can create a blog without even knowing what HTML is, let alone what it looks like or how it works. Is this really a good thing? Am I being elitist, a snob? Do I care? I’m not asking for everyone to become experts in everything they do just that people take a little time to learn the basics even if it means asking daft questions. If you don’t take a little time to learn the basics and then you’ll excuse me if I’m patronising and off-hand when you ask me for help. If you ain’t willing to learn on your own, why should I fix everything for you? What will you learn from that? Nothing!

Hmm, lost track a little there so let me summarise. Computers are very very powerful things but are, essentially, dumb. They do what you tell them to do, so it might be worth your while to understand HOW they do things before you ask them to do it and then start complaining because they didn’t do it properly. There is a little acronym that sums things up nicely here – PEBCAK – it gets used more often than you might think.

Note: I wrote this post in Microsoft Word and accepted every suggestion it made. I guess I must write “Microsoft friendly” English as it only borked on a few things. See if you can spot them.

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Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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