Using your word processor as style checker


Style Check Programs

     "Style checker" programs are no longer much in evidence though some are still around. If you find one, use it with discretion. Don't automatically accept any style checker's suggestions on word choice. Grammatik, for example, tells you to simplify expressions like "one more" to "another" and automatically questions each use of "girl," whether you're talking about female executives or Brownie scouts.  Its advice is frequently nonsensical.  And no style checker yet developed is much help with hundreds of common writing problems you need to avoid.  For a broad outline of errors a style checker may or may not catch, click here.  On the other hand, most flag trite expressions, there constructions, and passive verbs for possible editing.  All have counters that give you words-per-sentence and syllable-per-words counts, and measure your writing against various "readability" indexes. 

Word Processors


    You can do a lot of useful style analysis by taking advantage of a regular word processor's text-moving and highlighting capabilities.  For instance, emphasizing the deadwood in a wordy passage, perhaps in color, can make the problem jump out at you.  For an example, click here.

    Or simply add a return to the end of each sentence to get a graphic representation of your sentence length.  Remember, variety is good.  To see what I mean, click here.

    Of course, you can refine this technique a great deal by adding a return to each breath unit, as in this example.

   Want a quick count of syllables per breath unit for a long passage?  Block it, copy it into a new document, insert a period at the end of each breath unit, and run a statistical check.  Since each "sentence" in the new document is a breath unit, the program will now identify the number of words per breath unit.  Multiplying by the number of syllables per word gives you the syllables per breath unit. To work with individual breath units, copy each one separately into your new document.  The checker will directly identify the number of syllables for you, no multiplication required.

    Why copy the text you want to measure or otherwise manipulate into a new document?  Just to save yourself from having to hunt through the original and take out all the changes you've introduced.

    Go through a passage displayed by clauses highlighting your subjects, and you'll have a clear idea of how well they cluster to promote coherence.

    Or mark the verbs to see how lively and effective they are.

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