A copywriting tip: Don’t completely trust Office 365’s check document tool.

I’ve been reading articles lately about how artificial intelligence (AI), or machine learning, is poised to wipe out gazillions of jobs in the next few years. Those articles unnerve me, because most predict that writers’ and editors’ positions could be taken over by robots in the future.

There’s one thing, though, that can alleviate my fears: Office 365’s “check document” tool.

Yes, it can be helpful. Yes, it does make useful suggestions. But when it’s wrong, it can make a writer look really, really bad.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, here are some examples of wacky suggestions I’ve gotten from Office 365 in the last week or so:

  • The typo “It cool to be kind.” Check document suggested changing it to “It cools to be kind.” That maybe works if you’re writing about an HVAC system, but even that’s a stretch. “It’s cool to be kind” was what I meant.
  • “The Eckart’s house is the blue one.” My husband makes this mistake, and he might do it intentionally because he knows it drives me crazy. Or maybe he’s in cahoots with Office 365’s check document tool. It’s “The Eckarts’ house is the blue one,” which is plural possessive. Or if used to address an envelope, The Eckarts. Why can’t Office 365 get it right?
  • “Even you’re not-so-successful ideas …” You’re is a contraction for “you are,” but your is a pronoun. Substitute “you are” in the sentence fragment above and you’ll see the mistake. Did Office 365 spot the error? Nope.

And don’t get me started about how the check documents tool ALWAYS prompts me to put a comma after “So” at the start of a sentence. It’s so rarely necessary. Honestly, you probably don’t need the word at the start of a sentence.

Those are just a few examples. Office 365’S check document tool also will ask you to simplify language, reduce the number of adjectives and modifiers you use, and eliminate gendered language, such as “postman.” Some of those suggestions are fine, but if you know your letter carrier is a man, then it’s fine to use “postman.”

All this may prompt another question: What should you do if you can’t trust Microsoft? Here are a few ideas.

  • Turn off the check document tool or modify it. If you don’t like the suggestions, try modifying or turning them off. Click the Settings gear and you’ll get a long menu of check document features you can click on or off.
  • Use a backup source when you have questions. If your organization follows a stylebook, use it when you aren’t sure about the guidance you’re getting from Office 365’s check document tool. For grammar questions, I love Grammar Girl – it’s searchable, and if you are really love writing and grammar you can check out her posts on topics of interest. For spelling and word usage, a trusted resource is Merriam-Webster (plus the online version has a handy thesaurus).
  • Print out and proofread your work. You can’t count on Office 365 to know the difference between words that differ by only one letter but have entirely different meanings. “Public” is a fine example.
  • Ask a friend to read what you’ve written. A human who is a good proofreader will outperform Office 365 every time.

Any of these options are better than relying solely on Office 365’s check document tool. It’s not that I think it’s useless – it’s definitely not. My son, who’s is in sixth grade, is not the best speller, but with Office 365’s check document tool he can fix most of his mistakes.

AI may eventually replace my job,  but it’s not there yet. (Although I will admit that it’s come a long way since Clippy.)

A professional copywriter can put together words and sentences much better than an automated tool, and Vela has a copywriting team that would love to work with you. Contact Vela today to learn more.