Grammar check - is Word my only option?
July 26, 2010 6:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing a postgrad research paper. English is my second language (Afrikaans being my first), and though I am fluid in both, I still sometimes trip up on silly grammar issues with English, particularly tenses. I use Word, but was wondering -- does anyone know of software aimed specifically at writing academic/research texts? For what it's worth, I use MLA formatting with in text citation.
posted by New England Cultist to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My best advice is to get a friend who will read over your work for you. I know this isn't the answer you were looking for (as in, it's not a software rec.) but there are some things that the human eye is better at catching. For example,

"though I am fluid in both" is not correct usage. You probably meant, "though I am fluent in both" or if you really wanted to use the word fluid you would say, "though I can use both languages fluidly ..." but that's not a phrasing that people would generally use. My guess is that you were trying to translate something idiomatically from Afrikaans?

But yeah, to sum up -- find an editing buddy! Eventually you'll be good enough at it on your own, it just takes practice.
posted by blue_bicycle at 6:57 PM on July 26, 2010

Totally - that's it exactly. In all fairness, I probably didn't look that post over with as critical an eye. An editing buddy would be awesome - if only everyone else I know who'd be interested in reading the thing aren't all bogged up with their own research. Perhaps alcohol and sugar could be used as persuasive tools.
posted by New England Cultist at 7:08 PM on July 26, 2010

Yes, make someone dinner/buy them a pizza/bring a six pack or whatever in exchange for a read and edit. As far as I know there is no software that will do this right.
posted by serazin at 7:17 PM on July 26, 2010

If for whatever reason you're having trouble locating someone, I'd be happy to help you out a bit. I haven't started my graduate education yet, but I'm a native speaker with some tutoring experience.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:32 PM on July 26, 2010

Although there is software like WhiteSmoke for grammar/writing, there isn't any GOOD software that I'm aware of. Word's grammar check, as you probably know, is as frequently incorrect as it is correct. However, one thing that many of the grad students at my grad school didn't know was that the writing/tutoring center services were available to them as well. When I worked there, I had a standing appointment with a couple of grad students who came in every week for assistance with their papers (and sometimes did drop-in appointments with other tutors for more help). Your university may have similar assistance available, and any tutor who's worth her salt will also help you find strategies that will help you become better at writing and self-editing on your own.

I know that's not what you asked for, and you may have already tried it, but I wanted to mention it.

OWL at Purdue's ESL page may be useful or may be below your level, along with the general OWL page.

(By the way, the internet is filled with glowing reviews for WhiteSmoke. Suspiciously so. This site contains some of the only clearly user-based reviews that I've seen: EnglishForums. I would not buy it.)

Good luck!
posted by wintersweet at 10:20 PM on July 26, 2010

wintersweet - cheers for that. The OWL page is a nice reference nonetheless.
posted by New England Cultist at 12:06 AM on July 27, 2010

OWL has great resources in general.

I agree that you need an actual person to help you with your writing. As a bonus you can also ask your editor questions and they can explain their editing as you go on - that way you will be improving your skills as well.

Does your school have a writing resource center? You could make an appointment with someone there to get help. Or as mentioned above, ask a friend.
posted by radioamy at 5:51 AM on July 27, 2010

The schools I have attended do typically have writing resource centers, with tutors available specifically to help with this sort of thing. It's worth looking into.
posted by lover at 9:58 AM on July 27, 2010

Thanks all for chipping in. Victoria U does have a writing resource center that for some reason I've never needed to use in my undergrad years. Guess the pressure's on now :)
posted by New England Cultist at 2:07 PM on July 27, 2010

I'm currently in an MA English program, and our program's listserv regularly sends out editing requests such as yours. Granted, it's often grad students who work at writing centers, but ours doesn't offer the kind of line-by-line attention it sounds like you're seeking. A fair option would be to email the secretary of the English program with your request and see if you find any takers.
posted by fishpatrol at 5:28 PM on July 27, 2010

A proofreader would be a really good idea. However, proofing is laborious work - I used to do it as part of my previous job - and so it would be expected to come with payment. There might be an undergrad happy to help out for some extra tutoring in exchange - it might be helpful to find someone already working within your discipline.
posted by mippy at 5:35 PM on July 27, 2010

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