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StyleWriter Reviews
The Daily Telegraph
by Richard Jones - Editor of the Good Software Guide
StyleWriter teaches the art of editing; how to run the editor's pen through inadequate writing; how to cut the waffle, how to turn a draft into clear and concise plain English. It persuades users to change their ingrained style. It persuades writers to produce prose that helps readers - effectively and briefly. And it is really very good.

The program works by analyzing writing for 35,000 known style and usage faults. To take two simple examples, it suggests altering "It was decided by the committee..." to "The committee decided..."; and "This pamphlet is intended to show..." to "This pamphlet shows...."

Blindingly obvious when you think about it. And it is what plain English is all about - clear, concise and effective writing. It also highlights complex words and suggest simpler alternatives, draws attention to abstract words, over-complex phrases, confused and misused words (a far more common problem than poor grammar) and the bare minimum of self-evident grammatical errors.

The results of using plain English are stunning. The UK Employment Department saved £250,000 a year in paper alone, merely by reducing the number of words used. StyleWriter may well be a surprise when you start to use it, mainly because its advice is so devastatingly sensible.

Poor writing is often the result of slipshod thinking or the muddled memory of unnecessary rules.

StyleWriter has the chance to break habits most writers are not aware they had. Anyone smug enough to think they have no writing problems should remember the old saying "Most writers only have two writing problems: first they don't know how to write; second they think they do!"

It is time to break these habits, either by joining the Plain English Campaign, or, on computers, using StyleWriter. It had a significant effect on me, and I know I knew it all. These people are talking my language, or indeed our language - English - clearly.
 
The Manual
Anne Bradbeer reviews a software package that should bring a touch of style to your work.
I first encountered StyleWriter tucked away unpretentiously at the back of a computer exhibition. It was competing for attention with a virtual reality game, free teddy bears, and a reconstruction of a Parisian cafe. At least you could tell what the StyleWriter stand was promoting. I liked it already.

The package comes from the UK-based company Editor Software. "StyleWriter is designed for people who do a lot of writing, but wouldn't necessarily consider themselves writers", according to the program designers. I'm sure it could benefit many people who do consider themselves writers!

As a manual writer myself, I believe that good software needs a good manual. When a product claims to help with writing style, its manual is doubly important. The StyleWriter (CD) manual is excellent. It is clear, to the point, and gives you every confidence in the claims of the software.

The Software

The package is easy to use; you certainly don't have to be a computer genius. It accepts text directly from the most popular word processing packages or through the clipboard. If you have a little computer experience its use is pretty intuitive, but the computerised manual and tutorial provide thorough backup.
StyleWriter has two kinds of online help. Predictably, one is about using the program. The other is like having the Chicago Manual of Style at your fingertips. For example, if you forget how to use the exclamation mark correctly, advice is available at the press of a key.
As it checks your text, StyleWriter looks for stylistic horrors such as long sentences and passive constructions. It also watches for sexist language, jargon and foreign terms amongst a host of other problems. It checks for up to 26 different categories of stylistic and proofreading pitfalls. The house style category lets you include your own organization's style rules for checking.

The Verdict

StyleWriter is undoubtedly useful for anyone who writes, not just technical authors. It takes the hard slog out of editing, and draws your attention to stylistic faults you probably didn't know you had. In an ideal world, every technical author would have a copy of it.

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Find out how StyleWriter can help you with: Technical Reports, Journalist Writing, Advertising Copy, Minutes of Meetings, Writing Memos, Writing Policies and Procedures, Legal Documents, Essays and Research Papers, Business Letters
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