lit­tle­fire­fae’s teacher needs to read this…

Step Away From the Spell-Checker
Asso­ci­at­ed Press
Sto­ry loca­tion: http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,58058,00.html

08:24 AM Mar. 14, 2003 PT

PITTSBURGH — How might you drag a good writer’s work down to the lev­el of a less­er scribe? Try the spell-check button. 

A study at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh indi­cates spell-check soft­ware may lev­el the play­ing field between peo­ple with dif­fer­ing lev­els of lan­guage skills, ham­per­ing the work of writ­ers and edi­tors who place too much trust in the soft­ware. In the study, 33 under­grad­u­ate stu­dents were asked to proof­read a one-page busi­ness letter—half of them using Microsoft Word with its squig­gly red and green lines under­lin­ing poten­tial errors. 

The oth­er half did it the old-fash­ioned way, using only their heads. 

With­out gram­mar or spelling soft­ware, stu­dents with high­er SAT ver­bal scores made, on aver­age, five errors, com­pared with 12.3 errors for stu­dents with low­er scores. 

Using the soft­ware, stu­dents with high­er ver­bal scores read­ing the same page made, on aver­age, 16 errors, com­pared with 17 errors for stu­dents with low­er scores. 

Den­nis Gal­let­ta, a pro­fes­sor of infor­ma­tion sys­tems at the Katz Busi­ness School, said spell-check­ing soft­ware is so sophis­ti­cat­ed that some have come to trust it too thoroughly. 

“It’s not a soft­ware prob­lem, it’s a behav­ior prob­lem,” he said. 

Microsoft tech­ni­cal spe­cial­ist Tim Pash said gram­mar and spelling tech­nol­o­gy is meant to help writ­ers and edi­tors, not solve all their problems. 

The study found the soft­ware helped stu­dents find and cor­rect errors in the let­ter, but in some cas­es they also changed phras­es or sen­tences flagged by the soft­ware as gram­mat­i­cal­ly sus­pi­cious, even though they were correct. 

For instance, the let­ter includ­ed a pas­sage that said, “Michael Bales would be the best can­di­date. Bales has proven him­self in sim­i­lar rolls.” 

The soft­ware — pick­ing up on the last “s” in “Bales” — sug­gest­ed chang­ing the verb from “has” to “have,” as if it were a plur­al. Mean­while, the spell-check­er ignored “rolls,” which should have been “roles.”

Richard Stern, a com­put­er and elec­tri­cal engi­neer at Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty spe­cial­iz­ing in speech-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy, said gram­mar and spelling soft­ware will nev­er approach the com­plex­i­ty of the human mind. 

“Com­put­ers can decide the like­li­hood of cor­rect speech, but it’s a per­cent­age game,” he said.

Cur­rent Music: “Gulf War Song” by Moxy Fruvous
Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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