There is a new feature in Microsoft Word called Editor. It reviews the document you are working on for spelling, grammar, clarity, conciseness, punctuation, and more. For people who need the help, it is a godsend. Who am I kidding? I use it rather a lot. It helps me from time to time, although more often than not when it scolds me for formality or conciseness, I am being eloquent and do not wish to be concise or formal.
There was a time when Microsoft would release a new version of their software every three years, and we in the community would learn the new features and get excited about them or forget about them. With the new Software as a Service model that is no longer the case; I have no idea when it was added. In my defense, I get weekly emails saying ‘what’s new in Microsoft 365’ and more often than not I ignore them. Sometime over the last few weeks I probably pressed an icon accidentally and it appeared as a sidebar.
As you can see from the screenshot, Editor tells you how many suggestions it has to make, and then breaks them down into Corrections and Refinements. Within each, they are then further broken down by language.
Under Corrections the Editor will take you to every spelling and grammatical error in your document. While the spelling component is pretty accurate (and why not? there is a built-in dictionary!) the grammar tool does make a lot of mistakes. Grammar is a lot less definitive than spelling. For example, in a recent journal entry I quoted Shakespeare and was told that there were a few errors… repeated words (Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow… ) and it was not a fan of ‘creeps in this petty pace.’ It may not be perfect, but it is still better than nothing… for some of us.
In this day and age, there are myriad distractions that prevent us from getting our work done. While it is easy to see that the Editor is a great tool to help us write better documents (and believe me, many of us can use all the help we can get) there is something distracting about seeing all of our corrections and suggestions in black and white (or, as it happens, in red or blue).
As you see in this screenshot, the suggestions and corrections are underlined in real time. Additionally, the online version of Editor even gives you an Editor Score (which might be in the desktop version as well, but I have not looked for it). With all of this happening on the screen in real time, it is difficult to maintain a rhythm to my writing; I find myself distracted by these notes, and going back to make corrections on the fly.. rather than finishing my thought, and then going back, proof reading what I wrote, and making the appropriate corrections then.
There are tremendous benefits to the Editor, to be sure. For those concerned with political correctness, you can configure the settings to highlight age, cultural, racial, and sexual orientation bias, as well as other issues that might cause offense (gender-neutral pronouns, for instance). To configure these (and other grammar settings) within Word, click on File –> Options, and within the Word Options window, select the Proofing tab. Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word section, next to Writing Style: click Settings. You can set the grammar options here, and the options are divided into eight headings: Grammar, Clarity, Conciseness, Formality, Inclusiveness, Punctuation Conventions, Resume, and Vocabulary. There is no question that these features will help students and professionals by pointing out issues and making suggestions that might prevent unintentional offense. With that said, I have found Word has pointed out several phrases and styles that I use in my everyday speech and in my writing that are part of who I am. None of them are wrong, just recommendations that might make my writing more concise. Oh, and there is the double-space after a period that it has tried to beat out of me. Thanks, Word… thirty years I have put two spaces between sentences… I am not sure how not to press the space bar twice after a period!
As a writer, I have always let the words flow from my consciousness to the screen, through my hands and the keyboard. It has always served me well. So many of my readers have commented over the years that my articles actually read like I am speaking to them. I feel that this editor, when shown on the screen, is breaking my stride, and while it might help my punctuation by adding commas where it sees fit, I feel the benefits outweigh the cost to my style. As such, I have decided that, for now, the Editor will work in the background, but my foreground will remain the clean page. When I am done, it can give me my score… but constantly doing so while I work is simply maddening, and is not for me.