Features

Bouncing spell check

National | Machines are no match for men, at least as grammarians.

Issue: "Beginning of the end," March 29, 2003

Machines are no match for men, at least as grammarians. So argue researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, who say computer spell checkers actually hamper good writing.

The researchers asked 33 college students to proofread a short business letter. Half used the familiar spelling and grammar tools in Microsoft Word. The rest used conventional proofreading methods. Microsoft Word users made more mistakes than the standard pen-and-paper types made. The software spotted errors but also flagged correct phrases and sentences, prompting the students to add mistakes to their documents.

Microsoft technical specialist Tim Pash said grammar and spelling technologies are not meant to solve every writing problem. "What you're dealing with is a mechanical tool that follows a fixed set of rules," Mr. Pash said. "The human mind and the creativity involved in free-form writing is always going to be restrained by a tool."

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