Sending An Application To Do A Man’s Work

Throughout much of the IT world, the developers and the people who love them want technology to solve everything for them, to be everything to them. Unfortunately, we in QA spend most of our days steeped in the myriad ways technology fails without remorse on its part and often without remorse on the part of the negligent nabobs who created it.

So you can understand why I’m not an early adopter to the latest gee-whizzery that uses faulty algorithms to supplant fallible people. So when I saw several ads for WhiteSmoke, a product that’s supposed to review and improve your written work, you might think I would be tempted to go to its Web site and review it for grammar. Brother, you know me too well.

So here’s the Flash landing page of WhiteSmoke, several screenshots grafted together to present it in one pretty package:

WhiteSmoke home page
Click for full size
I want to draw your attention to the following items where the grammar and whatnot could be improved:

  1. The bulleted list items Advanced Dictionary & Translator and Artificial Intelligence Technology are not capitalized the same way as the other items in the bulleted list. This is not parallel structure.
  2. The software is designed with for all applications on myriad Windows platforms. I’m not entirely sure why the company included the Apple logo here; are they insinuating that it works with iTunes or QuickTime? Or is it just pretty?
  3. The capitalization on these items is, again, not parallel. Some use title casing, some use sentence casing, and one (All-in-one Proofreading Solution) uses Emily Dickinson casing.
  4. Two things: First, the second series, a legal document, an essay for class, or medical presentation? is not parallel; it should be a legal document, an essay for class, or a medical presentation? (the styles of these vary and should be parallel in both blocks, but internally the others are parallel except where noted). Second, there should not be a comma in a series of two things a short story, or thank you note?. Granted, for stylistic reasons, one could use it in informal writing, but on a Web site that tries to sell something to punch up your business writing, one should adhere to formal writing rules.
  5. The following brand names are incorrect: Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Outlook Express, Microsoft Works. Etc., the abbreviation, is spelled and punctuated correctly. Also note that these product names are brand names and trademarks owned by other companies, not so you would know it by a footnote at the bottom of the page.
  6. The sentence Also, Explorer version 5.01 and above is required in order to use WhiteSmoke. uses an incorrect brand name, faulty logic, passive voice, and extraneous words. This would read better as Also, you need to use Internet Explorer version 5.01 or laterto use WhiteSmoke. The preceding sentence uses active voice. Did the junior copywriter, responsible for this sentence, fall down on the job? Or did someone consciously choose to break up the repetitiveness of the active voice by inserting passive voice? Perhaps that’s “Artificial Intelligence Technology” at work.
  7. The title tag doesn’t have spaces after the commas in the series, and it also lacks a serial comma after the last item in the series. Other series in the body use this comma. Sure, it’s a “stylistic” choice, but Strunk asserts that one should use it, and I have explained time and again that it makes sense to use it, but above all, one must be consistent in using it or not.
  8. Firefox is capitalized incorrectly.
  9. Copyright and the copyright symbol together are redundant; currently, this reads “copyright copyright 2002-2007.” One should be eliminated.

Additionally, here’s a frame of the Flash presentation:

WhiteSmoke home page Flash

Notice, again, we’re not using the serial comma although it appears in most other places on the page.But, you know, let’s not get to into that; perhaps WhiteSmoke outsourced this Web site to someone who didn’t use WhiteSmoke. Let’s instead focus on the WhiteSmoke demo.Before:
An e-mail before WhiteSmoke

An e-mail after WhiteSmoke

  1. The swap of possible for prospective makes sense. Credit where credit is due.
  2. Changing exhibition to technology show adds a word and doesn’t really add anything since, within an e-mail, the context is established. I mean, what other sort of exhibition would two co-workers talk about?
  3. Adding innovative before product line just adds market blather to an internal e-mail. Besides, how does WhiteSmoke know that Tim wasn’t pitching a line of AS/400 tape backups? It doesn’t. It’s using its “Artificial Intelligence Technology,” and apparently it has the artificial intelligence of a marketing intern.
  4. That’s a compound sentence joined by a comma splice. There should be a semicolon before however. Whoops, WhiteSmoke missed that.
  5. WhiteSmoke adds significant? That changes the meaning of the sentence and seems to rely on WhiteSmoke’s Artificial Mind Reading technology to scry the nature of the prospect’s actual issues.
  6. WhiteSmoke adds generous? Tim might have thought a couple hundred off was a good starting point, but WhiteSmoke has put “60% off” into his mouth.

So it looks like WhiteSmoke not only checks your grammar but also re-imagines your original with less faithfulness than the Gus Van Sant rendition of Psycho.

Now, all hijinks aside, I don’t think tools like WhiteSmoke are useless, because it can make suggestions that might help a mere mortal writer; however, when it comes to the final review of your written work, whether it’s a proposal or a Web site, you cannot beat having a strict grammarian review and improve it.

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