Thursday, September 26, 2013

#RedPen: Proofreading Tool or a Bully?

Earlier this month I wrote a post about Red Pen Syndrome. To keep that discussion going, here are tweets that prove red pen lovers still exist:

@Paige_LA: I truly am a #GrammarSnob…I just can’t help it. I love my #RedPen.

@mrsmeghamby: Pretty sure there is no writing utensil I love more. Hated it in English class, love it now. #redpen

@cwoj620: Writing all of my note cards in #RedPen because it makes me feel more powerful #Nerd

Do you think red ink is offensive, or do you love red pens? For more tips and to talk about grammar and proofreading, join the National Proofreading Day LinkedIn Group! I’ll see you there.

Judy Beaver, The Office Pro

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Happy National Punctuation Day!

Please visit the National Punctuation Day website to celebrate the day. Yesterday, I saw a cloud (or perhaps a jet trail) that looked like a comma! Imagine my excitement! Here's the photo, although it's hard to see the top of the comma. Is that called the curl?

What's your favorite punctuation mark? 

Judy Beaver, The Office Pro
Founder of National Proofreading Day

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Can Grammar Checkers Help You Proofread?

Bette Nesmith Graham made a huge impact on the business world. Never heard of her? Most haven’t. She changed the way the business world corrected errors. She combined her secretarial background and artistic interests to invent “Mistake Out,” later renamed Liquid Paper.
Spell checkers and grammar checkers have also changed how we proofread and edit. So, are these tools helping us?

Tuesday, September 24, is National Punctuation Day. In its honor, let’s look at how effective Word’s grammar checker is with punctuation. And yes, punctuation marks are used for more than emoticons!

You can choose how errors are detected by changing the following punctuation style settings:

Comma required before last list item. Sometimes called the serial comma or Oxford comma, it’s the comma before the conjunction (and, but, or) in a list of three or more items. It’s a matter of style whether you use it; most magazines and newspapers omit this comma. I suggest using it for clarity in business writing. Whichever style you use, consistency is important, especially within the same document. Word can check for this comma, although you’ll need to change the setting because the default setting is don’t check.

Punctuation required with quotes. Should you place periods and commas inside or outside the quotation marks? That depends on where you live: British English places them outside; American English places them inside. Semicolons and colons are always placed outside the quotation mark. Again, Word doesn’t check this placement unless you change the default setting.

Check out the step-by-step instructions below to change the default settings and to learn more about the settings.

More Punctuation Settings
Two more punctuation settings are included in Word’s grammar checker for grammar and style errors:

Grammar: Punctuation. This setting detects errors for incorrect punctuation including commas, colons, end-of-sentence punctuation, multiple spaces between words, or a semicolon used in place of a comma or colon.

Style: Punctuation—stylistic suggestions. This setting detects unneeded commas in date phrases, informal successive punctuation marks, and missing commas before quotations.

Are you still awake? Even after several hours of testing these punctuation settings, I haven’t cured my insomnia. I love this stuff!

Check it out below. See what works and what doesn’t work for these settings to help you proofread and edit your documents.

Please tell me how you will be celebrating National Punctuation Day! I hope not creating new emoticons!

Judy Beaver, The Office Pro

Word's Grammar Punctuation Settings: What Works, What Doesn't

To access the proofing settings described in the post above, follow these steps:

1.   Click the Office button (2007 version) or File tab (2010, 2013 versions).
2.   Click the Word Options button (2007) or Options link on the left side panel (2010 and 2013).
3.   Click the Proofing link on the left side panel.
4.   Click the Settings button; Grammar Settings dialog box displays (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Commas and Lists
In the Grammar Settings dialog box under the Require category, Comma required before last list item is the setting to change.

The default is don’t check; although for consistency, I recommend changing it:

  • If you want to always include the comma before the conjunction, change the setting to always. For example, this sentence would be flagged as an error with the always setting because the comma is missing after Mary: The manager invited Jim, Susan, Mary and Joe to lunch to celebrate their promotions.
  • If you never want to include the comma before the conjunction, change the setting to never. This sentence would be flagged as an error with the never setting because the comma is to be omitted after Mary: The manager invited Jim, Susan, Mary, and Joe to lunch to celebrate their promotions.

This setting is typically correct. However, when a second and is introduced in the list, Word doesn’t detect an error for either setting (always or never). Here’s an example where the serial comma would help the reader understand the sentence:

The restaurant will promote the following pies this week: coconut, peanut butter and chocolate and marshmallow.

Without the comma, do you know the flavor of the pies? Is there a peanut butter and chocolate pie or a chocolate and marshmallow pie? A comma will make it clear. Word doesn’t flag the missing comma for the always setting, or if the second comma was placed, Word wouldn’t flag it as an error for the never setting. Be careful with these types of lists, even though they're not common.

Innies or Outies? Punctuation Placement with Quotation Marks
In the Grammar Settings dialog box under the Require category, Punctuation required with quotes is the setting to change.

Again, the default is don’t check; so if you want to have periods and commas checked for their placement with quotation marks, change the setting to either inside or outside.

Sometimes, the error isn’t flagged, although it depends on another punctuation setting. If the Punctuation—stylistic suggestions is not selected, the Punctuation required with quotes is consistently correct. If you use a lot of quotation marks, you may want to be sure the punctuation style setting is not checked. See the settings for Punctuation—stylistic suggestions below.

When the period is placed inside of the quotation marks, some Americans think it “looks wrong.” For American English, this is the correct way to punctuate it.

Incorrect Punctuation for Grammar Category

In the Grammar Settings dialog box under the Grammar category (see Figure 1), click the Punctuation check box to detect errors on the following items:

Incorrect use of commas. Missing commas are not detected; so if you’re relying on Word to tell you where to place commas, this setting will not help you. Word will occasionally guide you if a comma is not placed in its proper position with this setting, although this setting is not reliable. Because there are so many reasons to use commas, it’s easy to see why detecting comma errors by a computer is difficult. Consequently, you need to know comma rules. Sorry!  

Incorrect use of colons. Colons are used to introduce lists and long quotations. A colon is not used to introduce a list if it follows a to be verb (is, are, was, were, being, been, etc.) or a preposition (for, with, etc.), even if the list is vertical.

For example, this list follows a to be verb. An effective to-do list must be: simple, short, and real-world tested. Word will correctly detect this error ; however, the following error is not detected but should be. 

An effective to-do list must be:
  • Simple 
  • Short 
  • Real-world tested 

We need to consider new positions for: Accounting, Sales, and Production. Word will flag this error correctly because the list follows a preposition, although once again, it doesn’t detect it when the list changes to a vertical format.

Sometimes Word detects the incorrect use for long quotations; and sometimes it doesn’t. If you forget to use the colon, Word may or may not flag the error.

End-of-sentence punctuation. This setting detects an error when a question ends with a period. Here are the examples it flags correctly:

The speakers were to focus on the presentation, weren’t they.
Are you going to the meeting.

Word suggests a question mark for the above questions. However, Word incorrectly suggests a question mark to be used when the statement is a polite command, which doesn’t use a question mark: Will you please answer the following questions. 

Multiple spaces between words. This setting consistently flags more than one space between words in a sentence. 

Semicolon used in place of a comma or colon. As with most settings in this category, Word doesn’t always detect errors where semicolons are used when a comma or colon should be used. It’s not reliable.

Incorrect Punctuation for Style Setting

In the Grammar Settings dialog box under the Style category (see Figure 2), this setting detects errors for the following:

Figure 2
Unneeded commas in date phrases. This setting correctly flags commas placed between month and day (September, 24) and month and year (September, 2013). 

Informal successive punctuation marks. Errors flagged include more than one exclamation point (versions 2010 and 2013, not 2007), question mark, comma, and apostrophe. Double periods and more than four periods are flagged, but not three or four periods. 

Missing commas before quotations. This setting doesn’t reliably detect all errors. For example, She said “I like being in control.” is not flagged, although She said “I am happy to do this presentation.” is flagged. Both examples should have a comma after the word said.

Word’s FAQs state the following about grammar proofing in Word: “…you may experience some amount of ‘false’ or ‘suspect’ flagging and subsequent wrong suggestions; however, the grammar proofing tool in Word 2002 and later versions is vastly improved over earlier versions of Microsoft Word.” That’s true, and that’s why it’s helpful to know the grammar rules.

Even if these punctuation settings don’t work very well, some of the other grammar settings do help you proofread and edit your documents. Stay tuned for more exciting instructions to come. In the meantime, celebrate National Punctuation Day (Tuesday, September 24) by learning punctuation rules (that way, you won’t have to suffer through these grammar checker settings). 

Judy Beaver, The Office Pro