Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 134 / OCTOBER 1991 / PAGE 132

The Complete Writer's Toolkit. (word processing software) (evaluation)
by Anthony Moses

While it won't replace a serious writer's reference library and while one of its functions isn't quite up to scratch, The Complete Writer's Toolkit is a welcome addition to the resources available to the writer. The Toolkit contains six modules, as many or as few of which you can install as you like. Five of these - The American Heritage Electronic Dictionary, Roget's II Electronic Thesaurus, Written Word III, The Abbreviation Expander, and The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations - can be made memory resident and hot-keyed into windows over your text within your word processor.

Three of these modules may get limited use: Written Word III is a reliable handbook on the basics of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, though its sections dealing with research papers and resumes are too general to be very useful. On the infrequent occasions you need it, The Abbreviation Expander provides the full terms for abbreviations you type into the Lookup Screen and allows you to add to its list, and The Dictionary of Quotations may actually slow down your writing - chiefly because of the temptation to linger and browse through the 6000 quotations which can be accessed by topic, author, or index, and imported directly into your text file.

In a writer's toolkit, though, the real test cases are the dictionary and the thesaurus - and these are, surprisingly, better than I had hoped for. While not as comprehensive as its hardcover parent, The American Heritage Electronic Dictionary contains 115,000 entries and provides succinct but detailed definitions; you can also look up words within the definition simply by placing the cursor on the word and hitting Enter. The Spelling and Wildcard modes let you search for words even if you're unsure of their spelling, and there's even an Anagram mode for people who want to cheat at word puzzles.

While I wish Roget's II Electronic Thesaurus had been based on a more traditional model, its versatility makes it attractive. Type in your word, and the thesaurus window splits into two columns - one with the word's definitions, the other with its synonyms. Moving the cursor from definition to definition changes the displayed list of synonyms; tab over to the synonym column, and you can check the definitions for each of its words.

The sixth module, The Houghton Mifflin Grammar and Style Checker, is not memory resident but can be accessed from DOS if you want to check an imported text file for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and style. It also contains a Stats option that counts the words in your file and rates its readability. Anything that would reduce the drudgery of proofreading is welcome, but unfortunately, using The Checker is a little like having your work proofed by a C-level freshman comp student. Though it usually catches the most blatant errors, some subtleties escape it. For example, it may confuse participles with verbs or fail to recognize a gerund as a subject. And sometimes its advice is just wrong; in the sentence "The Grammar and Style Checker is weak," it reads Grammar and Style Checker as separate nouns and recommends you change is to are. The Checker allows you to enable or disable its grammar rules and thereby customize it to some extent; however, to use this option, you have to know enough about proper usage not to need it in the first place. Use it with caution.

Despite this weakness, the other modules of The Toolkit are serviceable online references. The Toolkit may conflict with some memory-resident programs, so you'll need to experiment a bit to see what it works well with. If you do have problems, check with the people on the support line listed below; I found them to be helpful and patient even with idiot-level questions.