March 17, 2003
IF all you have is a hammer - everything looks like a nail

A study has been made on the influence of spell checkers on writing quality. The result - a little unsurprising I think - is that using spelling and grammar checking can actually impede performance.
The way this probably works is that you change your work mode from a 'creative' mode to a rules-based fact checking mode. This has two problems: First of all, the spell checking software is far from perfect. Generally speaking the checker will not catch all errors, so the rules you're checking against to see if you're done are incomplete.
Second, you rarely want to be in a rules based mode during writing. Working rules based (with present day technology at least) invariably means that you're working from closed world, severely bounded models of the problem - i.e. the proverbial hammer that nails your english to the floor. A new book that's coming out just now, makes the same point as the experiment only about child creativity and interactive computer games as opposed to old-fashioned creative self-made games.

Writing is more of a search problem in that respect . You're scanning your memory and the situation for appropriate phrases to apply when continuing the text. While I am an AI optimist, computers are unlikely to sensibly support that process in any known near term future.

p.s. I know that is a living counterexample to the experiment discussed. Browsers are possibly the worst text entry interface possible.

Posted by Claus at March 17, 2003 02:40 AM
Comments (post your own)

Actually, I don't buy that explanation at all. If a post is exceedingly brilliant, there will be all kinds of replies to it (most often moronic replies, but that's just the standard). Similarly, if there's a lame-ass post made, there will most likely be a lot of 'shut up' followups. Deletion is a response that speaks loudly indeed.
But most writings are somewhere in between; a bland medium that inspires niether awe nor augh. Those posts are the ones that get forgotten about, and recieve no feedback.

(If this was either exceedingly brilliant or exceedingly bogus, email me if you like, but put the word XYZZY in the subject somewhere to prove your mail is not spam : )

Posted by: geofrey s. on October 19, 2003 10:18 AM
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