Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 11 / NOVEMBER 1983 / PAGE 108

Electric Webster: much more than a spelling checker. (evaluation) Dan Robinson.

I have always been a fast typist. But I am not a master of the touch system, and sometimes I am not very accurate. Sometimes it looks as though I have used my toes, nose, and elbows on the keyboard, and every once in a while my typos slip into the final copy. My errors often appear as misspelled words that make me look like a kindergarten dropout; and I have found in rushed notes to non-computerists that jargon words like ROM and byte have crept in. Clearly, I need help.

The most helpful program I have found is Electric Webster. After looking at nine proofreading programs, I have settled on Webster to keep my final copies accurate and to disguise my precocious senility.

Like a shiny new car, Webster comes in a basic model at a reasonable price in CP/M, TRS-80 Model I/III, and PC DOS versions. If you want to go first class, there are options to correct errors Webster finds, hyphenate your text, check your document for proper grammar and style, and integrate Webster with your favorite word processing program.

Electric Webster boasts a 50,000-word dictionary with virtually unlimited expansion capability. It is a highly enhanced version of the earlier Microproof dictionary program; but unlike Microproof, Webster uses a literal dictionary so that exception-to-the-rule prefixes and suffixes will not slip by. Written by Cornucopia Software's Phil Manfield, the program requires 32K. It may be used with a single disk drive with some disk swapping, but works best on a two-drive, double-density system. Using it with all the options integrated into your word processor, a typical session would go like this: Spelling

After your document has been typed, pressing a control key in conjunction with another begins the proofing process. Electric Webster fires up, storing your file on disk and providing you with a word count. It discards duplicates and displays the number of unique words. The document is compared to the 50,000-word dictionary as well as your own word list and the mismatches are presented on the screen.

Next, each word is presented along with a selection menu for your choice of action (see Figure 1). If the error is obvious, such as a missing space in sparetire, you can type the correction once, and it will ultimately be replaced as many times as it appears in your document. If it is a word that is not in the dictionary, such as Mr. Grunch, you can choose to leave it alone or add it to the dictionary if there will be many letters to Mr. Grunch in the future.

If you are not sure how the word was used, you can command Webster to show the word in context and defer your decision to the end of the session. For example, if you were inviting someone at Palm Springs to have dessert on the desert, you would have to see how the word was used to know if it was correct.

The main choice is to display the dictionary. Webster will show a list of words with a question mark where your word would appear alphabetically. The dictionary can be scrolled up or down with repeating arrow keys at a speed of your choice, appearing all uppercase in one direction and all lowercase in the other to keep you from getting lost. If you find the correct spelling, you don't even have to key in the word: by striking the period key, the scrolled-to word is accepted as the replacement.

When you have finished the session, your corrected words will replace the errors wherever they appear in your document. The corrections will follow the capitalization of the words they replace: all upper- or lowercase or fist letter capitalized. Hyphenation

In the meantime, conditional hyphens have been inserted in your text. If the word must be broken to fit on the current line, it will break at the conditional location, a hyphen will be printed, and the rest of the word will appear on the following line.

When you configure the hyphenation program, you select the minimum word length for conditional hyphens. You set the minimum acceptable segment size to appear at the end or beginning of a line, and decide whether single letter syllables can be hyphenated before and after or only after the syllable. Grammar

Before the corrections are actually written to disk, you have the option of grammar checking. Actually, this feature goes beyond what Mrs. Mullberry taught at P.S. 42, for some 23 categories of style may be checked.

The grammar feature not only displays errors, but also offers suggestions. If you have used lots of, Webster will offer many as an alternative. You can leave the phrase as it appears, type your own correction, or merely type a period if you are satisfied with the suggestion. Your other options are to marke the phrase for later repair work, skip that phrase in the remainder of the document, or eliminate the entire error category for the rest of the session.

Among the 23 categories are checks for two spaces at the end of a sentence, sentences without periods, capitalization errors, mistakes in parentheses and quotation marks, and miscellaneous punctuation errors. Repeated words and double negatives are checked.

The program also identifies words and phrases that style manuals recommend avoiding (see Figure 2). These include awkward, imprecise, obsolete, slang, trite, or verbose words and phrases. Webster also flags homonyms: words which sound the same but have different meanings. As always, an alternative is provided along with enough of a delinition to enable you to choose the proper word.

Webster also looks for words and phrases in a user-defined category--a good way to ensure that professional or industry jargon doesn't leak through to the uncomprehending outside world.

Thw grammar feature flags long words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs according to the values you set in configuring the program.

At the end of the grammar session, you see a summary that provides clues as to the overall readability of your document. The summary gives the average word length, number of words in the average phrase and sentence, number of phrases in the average sentence, and number of sentences in the average paragraph. The number and percentages of long words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs is provided as well as the number of markers placed in the text. (See Figure 3.)

At the end of the grammar session, the corrections are made, and you find yourself back in your word processor with the completed text on the screen ready to be printed.

Without the options, Electric Webster operates as a stand-alone program. It reads your text file and sends the list of mismatches to disk or printer for later correction via the search-and-replace function of your word processor. Separate utilities are provided to expand and edit the spelling list.

Webster will process a 1000-word text file in about 1-1/4 minutes for spelling errors, and somewhat longer for grammar checking, depending on your writing style.

The expandable user dictionary, like the main one, is compressed so that about 500 words occupy only one gran of disk space. Since all of the dictionaries don't have to be on line at one time, the user dictionary could fill an entire disk to give Webster an awesome vocabulary.

The Grammar module has utilities to add phrases to be checked together with your own suggested replacements, each assigned to the appropriate grammar category. The files will be alphabetized and integrated into the program files. With the hyphenation option, you can instruct Webster where to place conditional hyphens in the words you add to the dictionary. Documentation

The newly revised documentation for the package is thorough and easy to understand. It consists of 77 full-sized pages to help you set up your files and become familiar with features while following along with the sample file provided on the disk.

I have tested Webster with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; Dr. Thomas Pollock's list of "The Hundred Words Most Frequently Misspelled;" and his list of "The Next 550 Words Most Frequently Misspelled." Webster had most of the words already in its dictionary and scored high when compared to most other dictionary programs: 99%, 99%, and 96%. It certainly scored higher than I did.

If you have found yourself promoted from the line to the paper-pushing level; are foreign born and find our upside-down English troublesome; or if English 101 is where you caught up on your sleep, then you will appreciate the grammar option.

Writers of narrow-column newsletters will find the automatic hyphenation a big help; and if your spelling is less than perfect or if you have ever missed a typo, then you will love this fast and accurate dictionary program.

Products: Electric Webster (Spelling/grammar checker)