Thursday, February 27, 2014

Improve Your Writing With Expresso, The Style Checker

Improve Your Writing With Expresso, The Style Checker

Writing isn’t just a matter of proper spelling and grammar.
Don’t get me wrong: that bit is really quite important. But also important is ensuring that language is fluid. That all messages are presented clearly, and that you make appropriate word choices.
Sadly, this is something spelling and grammar checkers rarely look out for – the team at Microsoft Office isn’t concerned with writing style. Can no website or app help you make better writing choices?
Meet Expresso. It will change the way you blog – for the better.

A Proof Reader In The Browser

Expresso is the creation of Mikhail Panko, a US based neuroscientist. He built Expresso out of dissatisfaction with his own written English, and created it to identify weaknesses in his writing. Here’s what he has to say:
As many other PhD students, I was struggling with writing good quality texts. I read a couple books on how to write well and took Coursera’s “Writing in the Sciences” course. Many of the suggestions were the same across all sources: avoid weak verbs, use passive voice sparingly, get rid of filler words, don’t cluster nouns, etc. As I started to purposefully apply these techniques, I noticed large improvements in my writing. I also realized that it would be helpful to automatically detect potentially weak spots in text based on those rules and focus attention on them while editing. I am interested in natural language processing, so I put together an online tool for this.
So, how does it work? It’s actually quite simple. Open Expresso up in a modern web browser. Copy your text into your browser and click ‘Analyze Text’. After a few seconds (subject to the length of the piece uploaded), Expresso completes its analysis and tells you how much you suck at writing.

What does Expresso look for?

Objectively defining the quality of a text is hard. After all: literature is art, and art is subjective.
Or is it? Turns out there are a few hallmarks of bad writing.
Is your writing littered with the passive voice? This is where the subject is the receiver of a man action, and overuse results in your language sounding weak and confusing. Likewise, are you a rare words junkie? When you use colorful language, sentences become that bit more interesting. However, overuse of obscure words may result in your text being difficult to comprehend, especially by non-native English speakers.
Expresso looks for these potential problems, and more. The goal of Expresso is to identify deficiencies in your language, and in this respect Expresso delivers, with other 30 metrics being gathered.

Using Expresso

Sounds complicated, right? Wrong. Expresso couldn’t be any easier. Here’s how you can use it to improve your written English.
First, copy in your body of text. The example I use here comes from this article I wrote about videoconferencing website
expresso copy text   Improve Your Writing With Expresso, The Style Checker
Then, press ‘Analyze Text’. This is located to the right of where you copied in your text. Expresso will then scour through your text and give you some metrics.
expresso metrics   Improve Your Writing With Expresso, The Style Checker
Clicking a category highlights all instances of this category within your text. In this case, I’ve identified all instances of rare and obscure words.
expresso rare words   Improve Your Writing With Expresso, The Style Checker
Expresso is quite cool in the respect that it offers suggestions for replacements of words. Just hover over a word, and it’ll provide you with a list of synonyms for it.
expresso word suggestions   Improve Your Writing With Expresso, The Style Checker
This keeps you from repeating words, a habit that breaks flow.


Expresso identifies a major weakness with most spellcheckers, and provides a compelling alternative. I found that it provided a comprehensive set of suggestions that were accurate, and I plan to start integrating it into my writing workflow.
But what do you think? Have you given it a go? Let me know in the comments below.
Photo Credit: Espresso (Phil Volmer)

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