With a personal copy editor named WhiteSmoke Web you may be unstoppable

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/05/30/with-a-personal-copy-editor-na.html

loads up WhiteSmoke website
clicks on the demo link
"Do you write papers or e-mails"

The preferred spelling has been “email” since around 2011, when the AP style guide made the change. Google returns roughly 3Bn hits for “e-mail” and 7Bn for “email.”

Oh, and calling a completely non-interactive video with zero examples of the product in action a “demo” isn’t exactly good writing, either.

I’m keeping an open mind, though. I’d love to hear from people who’ve actually tried the full product in a real-world scenario.

edit: And then I tried to register, and the WhiteSmoke website vomited 33 pages of MySQL and MODx errors over my screen.


Sounds perfect for the next time I need to draft a press release announcing the selection of a new pope!


OK, OK. I was being mean to it without any data to go on. And apparently feeding the site your email address (not “e-mail,” WhiteSmoke!) gets you a 3-day trial of the web version, so I went for a test drive.

I fed the checker an article I wrote a few years back. Here’s a sample.

The check highlighted my repetitive use of “particularly,” which is entirely fair. Score 1 for WhiteSmoke.

I fully expected “aeromagnetic” to not be in the system’s dictionary, as it’s an industry-specific term. I was given the option to add it to the dictionary, so that is perfectly fine, if no different from pretty much any spell checker out there. I was quite disappointed to discover that, like pretty much any spell checker out there, WhiteSmoke treated “aeromagnetic” as distinct from “Aeromagnetic.” I shouldn’t have to add the same term to the dictionary once for capitalization, once for pluralization, and once for possession. Not when I’m paying $7/month for the privilege of using the service.

Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room: The suggestion that I add a comma after “results.”
This is blatantly, obviously, wrong. This isn’t just wrong, it’s wrong in a way that isn’t present in Word 2013. I can sort of kind of see what the system is trying to do: It’s interpreting the sentence to read
“aeromagnetic survey results [, which are] particularly useful to gold explorers[…]”
and seems to be ignoring that the phrase ends in a colon, not a period.

I’ll keep playing around with this, but my preliminary sense is that WhiteSmoke is doing interesting things. It just isn’t doing them well enough to actually be reliable for a professional writer or journalist.

edit: Just ran the check on a few paragraphs of my own work. The clipping above was pre-editorial review, so maybe I’m just bad at writing and not even aware of it. Alas, the edited text produced similar results: Repeated words are marked as such with no consideration for their significance to the content, and some of the replacement suggestions are altering meaning in unwelcome ways.

I also tried a few paragraphs from a current NY Times column, with similar results. I’m by no means good enough to write for the Times (nor, I suspect, are my editors good enough to edit for the paper), but I do feel that the difference is quantitative rather than qualitative. WhiteSmoke seems best aimed at a different class of user: People who aren’t spending hours polishing a single paragraph, and for whom writing is a necessary activity but not the focal point of their work.


I find your dedication to reviewing this product, particularly inspiring.


a) I hate you.
b) I’m a (former/occasional) professional journalist and editor. I’d also somehow completely missed out on this entire product line. I’d never heard of grammar checkers until today, with the exception of the one built into Word, which I’d always disabled immediately after installing a new version. I was rather excited about the prospect of NLP having advanced enough for this to actually be useful to me from a professional standpoint.
So yes, I’m possibly more invested in the idea of this product offering than most happy mutants :slight_smile:

Now excuse me while I stock up on red pens to fling at you. I hope you realize you just did the literary equivalent of playing a piano piece and then refusing to play the very last note.


Is there a monthly subscription available that is distinct from the offer promoted by the OP?

Because $99.99 for a lifetime amortizes to less than $7.00 per month during the 15th month of the license.

But on a separate note, a “lifetime subscription” usually means “until we get tired of maintaining the DRM service” and also implies I have to be online to use the app.


There is a “premium desktop” app that is not made available as part of the trial period (as far as I could see), so I can’t comment on the file size or connectivity requirements. But it seems reasonable to assume that yes, you have to be online. I also have a limited amount of faith in the StackSocial offerings, nor is there any sort of an easy way to figure out what “$99 lifetime subscription” translates to in monthly costs.

The WS site offers the online-only solution for $9.95/mo or $6.66/mo if you prepay for a year (and $4.44/mo if you prepay for three years), and the premium desktop version for Windows and Mac for $14.95/$9.99/$8.33, respectively. The mobile app is an add-on for $2.50/mo, $9.95/yr or $30/3 yrs. Which seems kind of strange, given that you’re paying more for three years at once than you would for three consecutive one-year subscriptions. Not like the company is allergic to non-whole dollar amounts…


Thanks for the information…saved me some money and a lot of time as well.


I have yet to see a grammar/usage/style parser that’s better than my own training and experience. Certainly not one that I would, say, recommend to an undergraduate writer. Spell-checker, yes, though always with the caveat that autocorrect is not to be relied on.

The AP Stylebook isn’t the only authority. In fact, it’s not so much an authority as a house-style handbook, and any publishing writer needs to be prepared to follow whatever standards a particular outlet prefers. I routinely use “e-mail” because I’m old enough to have the old hyphenation conventions ingrained, but if an editor wants AP style, then that’s what I use.


It’s a bit ironic hocking the online-only subscription service on the BB store when Cory’s always going on about DRM isn’t it?

No, but I like the analogy. :grinning:

Seriously I do find your dedication to diging into this product commendable, since there are so many odd things vigorously promoted by the BoingBoing Store.


Message to the girl in the Grammarly advert on all youtube videos: Maybe you should get a job that doesn’t involve written communication.

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I was proofing some documentation I wrote last week and realized I used “eMail” throughout the entire piece.

After I reminded my self it wasn’t the early aughts, I replaced all and went on with my day.

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I would like to put the text of Finnegans* Wake through this and see what happened next.

*The Chrome spell check doesn’t even like “Finnegans” without the apostrophe, so there’s a literacy fail right there.

For now, I’ll settle for a default install of Grammarly in all Web browsers.

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