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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Review: WhiteSmoke Writing Software

Recently the good folk at WhiteSmoke sent me a copy of their writing software to evaluate. So here's my review of this popular tool for writers...

For those who don't know, WhiteSmoke is a program that aims to help its users produce better-written documents. It does this by analyzing the spelling, punctuation and grammar in any document, and then suggesting corrections and possible improvements. WhiteSmoke is compatible with Microsoft Windows ME, Windows2000, Windows XP and Windows Vista. It will work in almost any text-based application, including word processors, email programs, web-based forms, and so on.

Once WhiteSmoke is installed on your PC, you use it as follows. First, you create your text in your chosen application (e.g. Microsoft Word). Select the text you want to analyze by highlighting it in the normal way, then press the WhiteSmoke shortcut key. This is set by default to F2, though you can change it if you like. In Word a separate "Enrichment" button is created on the toolbar, and you can click on this as an alternative to pressing the shortcut key.

WhiteSmoke will then open in a new window, with your selected text in a box in the middle. Spelling mistakes are highlighted in red and grammar mistakes in green. When you move the cursor over any item, suggested corrections (a range of them) appear in a box at the foot of the screen. You can accept or reject any correction just by clicking on it.

Perhaps the most interesting feature for writers, however, is the enrichment function. The WhiteSmoke software analyzes your writing and looks for ways it could be improved, e.g. by using an alternate word or phrase (thesaurus function), or by adding extra words. All candidates for enrichment are highlighted in blue in the WhiteSmoke window, and suggested additions and alternatives are shown in the boxes below. Again, you are at liberty to accept or reject any change. Once you have gone through all the program's suggestions, just save the changes and close WhiteSmoke, and the corrected and "enriched" version will automatically appear in the original application.

Overall, I was impressed with how easy WhiteSmoke was to use, and its effectiveness. Obviously Word does have its own spelling and grammar checkers, but WhiteSmoke's appear to work better. This is especially so with the grammar checker, which is far more user-friendly than Word's. The "Enrichment" function is particularly good for revealing ways in which text can be improved. Obviously not all the changes the software suggests will be appropriate, but simply seeing the suggested alternatives can jolt you out of using the same old words and expressions, and give your writing a new, fresher feel.

The version of WhiteSmoke I evaluated was the standard one, which is really aimed at business users. It would still be useful for writers, but WhiteSmoke also offer a version of the software specially tailored for use by creative writers. If you're a novelist or short story writer, this would probably be the version to go for. It has a larger vocabulary than the standard version, and is less likely to suggest inserting business-related terms such as inventory and turnover into your sensitive description of a woodland sunset...

Are there any drawbacks to WhiteSmoke? Well, a possible one for some users is that you need to have an Internet connection open while you are using it. WhiteSmoke say this is because the program's database is constantly updated via the web. For most users this is unlikely to present problems, but if you regularly use your computer off-line, it might be a bit frustrating.

WhiteSmoke is probably ideally suited for writers who are buzzing with ideas but know that they have a few shortcomings in grammar, punctuation, and so on. Even if you're reasonably confident in these areas, however, WhiteSmoke can give you a fresh perspective, and suggestions for improving passages of text you may have become "bogged down" on.

For more information about WhiteSmoke, click on any of the links in this article to visit their sales site. Watch out for their regular special offers!

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