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More word processors

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

The column appearing in this space last week was my editorial criticizing what I see as the unnecessary editing done by some proofreader in the Atención office. I have to admit being at least a little irked when someone takes it upon himself or herself to insert grammatical errors that I did not put there, or to substitute different words I did not use. I realize though that I could have responded more constructively because modern-day technology offers tools to help writers as well as proofreaders. To that end I would like to take a look at some work being done in the area of writing style that might be helpful to editors.

Word processor software has for many years come complete with spelling and grammar checking abilities. These features are good for detecting and correcting actual mistakes but are not of any use in suggesting how to improve writing style. Recently there has been work done by researchers and computer programmers in the area of much more advanced programs able to identify and critique writing technique.

One of these projects is a writing analysis program named JSAN. This software consists of two parts; JStylo is the authorship attribution framework and Anonymouth is the authorship anonymization framework. The first computer program JStylo is used to identify stylometric features of a writer’s authorship, then the second program Anonymouth suggests changes writers can make to remove personal style from their writing.

In an interesting juxtaposition of goals, JSAN has been deployed both by writers who have reasons for wanting to be anonymous and by others who want to identify anonymous writers. This might not be what the academic researchers intended, but JSAN is already being used by political activists and cyber-criminals to disguise their identities. At the same time law enforcement agencies are using JSAN to de-anonymize writers who may be involved in criminal enterprises.

The effect of using JSAN is to homologize writing style making it less distinctive but perhaps more readable (no long sentences, no four-syllable words). The academic researchers probably did not intend this either, but if a newspaper proofreader were to filter all the articles through JSAN they could achieve the goal of making every article appearing in the paper seem that it could have been written by the same author. JSAN could reduce the time that proofreaders would otherwise have to spend making manual edits.

Had this technology existed 150 years ago President Abraham Lincoln might have benefited from using it. His wordy 272-word address could have started out with “Eighty-seven years ago our ancestors founded here a new country dedicated to liberty and equality. Now we are at war to test if this idea will work.” The rest of his speech could have been similarly improved and shortened with the application of a little modern technology.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at)

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