Following a blog I wrote about plain language, I was offered a trial version of editing software, Style-Writer.
I wanted to put my 500 Word Contract™ through its paces before launch. I was dying to know how my document, written in what I thought was plain language, would measure up.
The software reviews every word, every quote, every grammatical code and syntax. It strips your writing to the bare bones and analyses it from many different angles.
The first document I submitted to interrogation was my Guide a workshop on 10 Critical Improvements to JCT 2011 DB. I was, initially, pleased with the results:
- the sentences it castigated for being too long (sometimes 40+ words) and impenetrable were largely quotes from judges or other authors;
- I scored excellent ratings for sentence length and avoiding the passive voice;
- the reading rating was standard – I told myself this was acceptable for technical writing aimed at lawyers.
But, the software rated my style poor. Some of my sentences it told me were dreadful. How dare it! I have always hated being nagged or chatted to by faceless technology. Cars that tell you which gear you should be in, even though they cannot anticipate coming road conditions, voicemail which tells you to have a nice day and so on.
I was determined this software was going to change its mind! I noted that there was an option to ignore quoted text, but it did not apply where there were returns in the text (for better visuals) or bullet points. At 12,000+ words, I got frustrated trying to change the ‘quote coding’ to make it pass the style test. So I gave up, at least for the time being…
It also kept pointing out my heavy use of jargon. I excused this by telling myself it was inevitable when discussing standard form construction contracts!
The second document I tested was my How to Write Your 500 Word Contract.
It is a shorter document at just 5 pages (less than 1500 words, but more than the 500 it recommends you use to write the contract, ho hum). This time I had no quotes to hide behind! It was very useful at pointing out some writing errors, although again it struggled with the note style of the Guide.
With good ideas and easy changes, I scored 2 excellents, one easy read and a good style.
The third document I tested was my 500 Word Contract™. The results are for another blog.
Legal Writing: Long and Dull?
I played around with the options for what type of document the software was testing. I was interested in how the categories affected the ratings.
Moving from ‘instruction’ or ‘general writing’ to ‘legal document’ improved some of the scores for my Guide. BUT it queried whether the sentence length was too short.
A-ha! My first glitch. I do not accept that ‘legal documents’ necessarily need to have longer sentences than ‘instructions’, ‘general writing’ or ‘manuals’ (for example).
Is It The Future?
Well, I have learnt a great deal from playing with the software already. I shall let you know the results of more testing shortly.
If you have a clause, short document or other legal writing on construction law that you would like me to test, please get in touch.
PS In preparing an image for this blog, I found some wording from a Health and Safety Manual (and its translation from the SpyGun website). The text had won a Golden Bull from the Plain English campaign in 2009 for its poor use of language. See how style-writer treats it!