Credosity – Supporting your writing

In my new role I’ve been exploring the tools available to get feedback on your writing. ‘Style and grammar’ tools are one category of such feedback, and in addition to the inbuilt word processor features there are a number of tools available. I’ve been playing a bit with one – Credosity – today.

Credosity is enterprise software for Microsoft Word. Its simple traffic-light approach helps you fix your writing faster and get more done.

It provides some general tips, and some customised to issues identified in your document, along with a dashboard (right) and ‘cred’ score to gamify and target writing improvements. Within the dashboard we see:

1 main dash
  1. Plain English & Brevity – looks for short words (preferring words with 2 syllables or less), computes average syllables per word, and suggests shorter synonyms for words found where available (i.e., in a lot of academic work it may not suggest an appropriate synonym…)
  2. Short sentences – finds long sentences and suggests cutting these to 15-20 words (but also varying length for readability)
  3. Short paragraphs – finds long paragraphs and suggests cutting to 4-5 sentences (of ~20 words a piece)
  4. YOU-ser rating – a metric of personal pronoun use focussing on ‘you’ words (over I/me, etc.) for reader engagement
  5. Reading ease score – based on Flesch Reading-Ease score
  6. Reading grade level – based on Flesch-Kincaid grade-level.

Readability dash

2 readability dash

3 para dash 4 sentence dash
  1. Grammar, spelling, style – gives feedback per Word’s grammar/spelling checker, breaking these down into types and giving feedback on particular problems
  2. Punctuation – gives feedback over and above Word’s grammar checker (e.g. gives feedback on use of ampersands in text), breaks issues down into types and gives feedback on particular problems
  3. Layout – looks for inconsistent layout (e.g. multiple fonts used), and suggests layout improvements (e.g. use of headings, ragged right throughout)

Professionalism dash

5 professionalism dash

Other boxes

  1. Reading time and statistics – give some notes on document properties (including – obviously – roughly how long it will take to read with an average reading speed).
  2. Audience – gives some tips on writing for particular groups and purposes
  3. Structure – gives some tips on structuring documents and arguments
  4. Templates – offers some template documents for particular purposes (e.g. board report)
  5. Get inspired – gives some tips on writing motivation (and a game to play)
  6. Hire a writer and training offer additional services
6 structure dash6 audience dash

Review

I ran a paper I’m drafting through it. To be clear, I don’t think I’m a particularly good writer, (although I certainly think I’ve improved over my PhD).  It’s also important to remember that Credosity isn’t particularly marketing itself at the academic or student audience – they’re looking at the business audience. There’s some nice bits of advice given, and it’s worth reflecting on some of the feedback. Generally, the generic advice in Credosity looks very good to me too. It’s well presented, easy to follow, and all sensible stuff. It’s also nice to see a combination of advice and feedback based on analysis of your own text.

Having said that, the active analysis and feedback seems to me to miss some academic nuance – academics should write more simply, but sometimes technical language is necessary (nice recent blog on the ‘academics are terrible writers’ cliché). In the example paper I ran through credosity both epistemology and philosophy were flagged. I’m sure my friends would say that’s like, 90%, of my words! That artificially decreased my ‘Cred’ as I had to ignore each instance (I have emailed to say an ‘ignore all’ feature would be useful there). For students especially I also wonder whether a sidebar based feedback (rather than highlighting), will be used effectively, and whether it helps give authors an overview of their writing style (as seeing paragraphs of red underlines does) and possibly flag issues as they emerge.

In addition, there are a lot of features built in to MS Word, although you may not know about them all, and you can extend the existing MS Word functions (per this blog). For example, readability stats are natively available, you can flag long sentences, and contextual spelling (e.g. using ‘their’ where ‘there’ is appropriate) is also a native option.

Given that, and given that a lot of the functionality is pretty broad advice, the value-add over built in functions isn’t clear enough, particularly for academic use (mileage for business users might vary). Coming in at $108 for an individual year-long license, it’s also not particularly cheap. There is clearly a market for alternatives to built in grammar/spelling checkers for word processors such as Microsoft’s, Open Office, Libre Office, etc. For example, UTS has a site license for Grammarly, I rather like Hemmingway (free online, $9.99 desktop), with various other options including: StyleGuard ($60), prowritingaid (free limited, $35 a year), and StyleWriter 4 ($90-190). It’s also worth noting there’s at least one open source spelling and grammar checker (i.e., a tool that can be adopted and adapted for free) called language tool (papers http://wiki.languagetool.org/papers), which as I remember you could add rules to fairly easily.  So, interesting idea, worth playing with, but also worth looking at the range of tools available and not expecting any single one of them to solve all-of-the-problems!

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Source: SK Blog

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