by Richard Jones - Editor of the
Good Software Guide
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
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.
reviews a software package that should bring a touch of style
to your work.
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.
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
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.
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.