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Writing isn’t just a matter of proper spelling and grammar.

Don’t get me wrong: that bit is really quite important. But also important is ensuring that language is fluid. That all messages are presented clearly, and that you make appropriate word choices.

Sadly, this is something spelling and grammar checkers rarely look out for – the team at Microsoft Office isn’t concerned with writing style Writing For the Digital Age: 5 Free Writing Style Guides Online Writing For the Digital Age: 5 Free Writing Style Guides Online English is the language the world speaks and we have to put in our two bits to do it correctly. The web has created a global audience, so if you are among the ones who... Read More . Can no website or app help you make better writing choices?

Meet Expresso. It will change the way you blog – for the better.

A Proof Reader In The Browser

Expresso is the creation of Mikhail Panko, a US based neuroscientist. He built Expresso out of dissatisfaction with his own written English, and created it to identify weaknesses in his writing. Here’s what he has to say:

As many other PhD students, I was struggling with writing good quality texts. I read a couple books on how to write well and took Coursera’s “Writing in the Sciences” course. Many of the suggestions were the same across all sources: avoid weak verbs, use passive voice sparingly, get rid of filler words, don’t cluster nouns, etc. As I started to purposefully apply these techniques, I noticed large improvements in my writing. I also realized that it would be helpful to automatically detect potentially weak spots in text based on those rules and focus attention on them while editing. I am interested in natural language processing, so I put together an online tool for this.

So, how does it work? It’s actually quite simple. Open Expresso up in a modern web browser. Copy your text into your browser and click ‘Analyze Text’. After a few seconds (subject to the length of the piece uploaded), Expresso completes its analysis and tells you how much you suck at writing.

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What does Expresso look for?

Objectively defining the quality of a text is hard. After all: literature is art, and art is subjective.

Or is it? Turns out there are a few hallmarks of bad writing.

Is your writing littered with the passive voice? This is where the subject is the receiver of a man action, and overuse results in your language sounding weak and confusing. Likewise, are you a rare words junkie? When you use colorful language, sentences become that bit more interesting. However, overuse of obscure words may result in your text being difficult to comprehend, especially by non-native English speakers.

Expresso looks for these potential problems, and more. The goal of Expresso is to identify deficiencies in your language, and in this respect Expresso delivers, with other 30 metrics being gathered.

Using Expresso

Sounds complicated, right? Wrong. Expresso couldn’t be any easier. Here’s how you can use it to improve your written English 7 Online Resources to Help You Improve Your Writing 7 Online Resources to Help You Improve Your Writing Read More .

First, copy in your body of text. The example I use here comes from this article Move Over Google Plus Hangouts. Appear.in Is Here & It's Really Good Move Over Google Plus Hangouts. Appear.in Is Here & It's Really Good People have been crying out for a decent video conferencing app for ages. We thought that was Google Plus. We were wrong. Meet Appear.in. Read More  I wrote about videoconferencing website Appear.in.

expresso-copy-text

Then, press ‘Analyze Text’. This is located to the right of where you copied in your text. Expresso will then scour through your text and give you some metrics.

expresso-metrics

Clicking a category highlights all instances of this category within your text. In this case, I’ve identified all instances of rare and obscure words.

expresso-rare-words

Expresso is quite cool in the respect that it offers suggestions for replacements of words. Just hover over a word, and it’ll provide you with a list of synonyms for it.

expresso-word-suggestions

This keeps you from repeating words, a habit that breaks flow.

Conclusion

Expresso identifies a major weakness with most spellcheckers, and provides a compelling alternative. I found that it provided a comprehensive set of suggestions that were accurate, and I plan to start integrating it into my writing workflow.

But what do you think? Have you given it a go? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Espresso (Phil Volmer)

  1. Tom W
    March 1, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    This looks good, but most of the writing I do is fiction. I'm not sure it would be able to cope with the different styles of speech of different characters.

    • Rob
      March 3, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      This is a good point, though for more academic/non-fiction based writing, it looks like it could develop into a valuable tool :)

  2. Rob
    February 26, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Looks like a cool little tool, but the synonyms for 'Beginner' didn't look very relevant... :/ Did you find this when you were going through your article or is it usually ok?

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 12:39 am

      It's not perfect, but it is pretty early-stage. Let's see what it's like in a few month's time! Cheers!

  3. Harv
    February 25, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    I entered a several page text, and it went catatonic.

  4. Walt
    February 25, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Your quote: "Is your writing littered with the passive voice? This is where the subject is the receiver of a man action, and overuse results in your language sounding weak and confusing." Instead of "receiver of a man action" do you mean "receiver of a 'main' action"?

    Your quote: "The goal of Expresso is to identify deficiencies in your language, and in this respect Expresso delivers, with other 30 metrics being gathered." Instead of "with other 30 metrics" do you mean "with 'over' 30 metrics"?

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 10:53 pm

      Er, yes. ;)

  5. Layor
    February 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Some of the people reading about this excellent tool should not be writing if they can't even find the clear link to use the tool!

    • Pat Levy
      March 3, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      I tried the link. It sent me somewhere else. What does that have to do with writing. Do you think Shakespeare could find the link?

  6. Tom H
    February 25, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    thanks. this will be helpful.

  7. FarSideJim
    February 25, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    I can't get this to work on my desktop PC. I copy and paste some text of mine into the provided space, but nothing ever happens. Am I an idiot?

    • FarSideJim
      February 28, 2014 at 1:50 am

      Yes, I pressed Analyze Text, but it was greyed out and nothing happened. I left and reloaded the page several times, and finally gave up.

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 10:53 pm

      Weird. It's had a lot of traffic the past few days. Perhaps it's a capacity issue?

  8. FarSideJim
    February 25, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    I can't get this to work on my desktop PC. I copy and paste some text of mine into the provided space, but nothing ever happens. Am I an idiot?

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 12:37 am

      Er, did anything happen when you pressed 'Analyze Text’'?

  9. etim
    February 25, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Downright cool. I don't know if I'll use it much but it's fun to play with.

  10. Malcolm
    February 25, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Tourist to workman digging a trench on Broadway: How do I get to Carnegie Hall from here?
    Workman: Practise, lady. Just practise.
    [Oh--it doesn't like English-English spellings!]

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 12:38 am

      I write in US English, so I can't complain. ;)

  11. Kellie Determan
    February 25, 2014 at 10:56 am

    This should have an app icon that can be placed with the other apps that are frequently utilized instead of just bookmarking it.

  12. Phúc N
    February 25, 2014 at 2:27 am

    Sorry, but I would give http://hemingwayapp.com a try. I think it's much better.

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 12:37 am

      I find Expresso gives more detailed metrics, but hemmingway is awesome. Incredible namesake. :)

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 12:37 am

      I find Expresso gives more detailed metrics, but hemmingway is awesome. Incredible namesake. :)

  13. Gilbert Benn
    February 24, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    Where do Download this from, I can't find it any where ! No link that I can see.

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 12:36 am

      No download. Just use it in your browser. expresso-app.org

  14. Agraj P
    February 24, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    It works perfectLY. Nice app.

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 12:36 am

      Glad you like it! Thanks for your comment!

  15. Al
    February 24, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    It doesn't look at the surrounding context, and therefore it makes incorrect assumptions about the writing. For example, it thought that the word so was being used as a filler such as, "So, I moved on," when in fact it was used in a sentence that would not work without it: "or so he thought."
    I think this has the potential to be a great writing support tool if it is improved to read the surrounding context.

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 12:35 am

      Indeed, it does have its limitations. Hopefully it will build upon these in later iterations.

  16. Gary Honda
    February 24, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    I've been looking for replacement style checker since my enhanced, 486 class, laptop, became obsolete.

    To, Saikat B. - The control is yours - lazy is when you allow, in varying degrees, an app to work for and not with. One should never stop learning.

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 12:33 am

      Tell me, what did you use before your enhanced, 486 class, laptop, became obsolete? ;)

    • Gary Honda
      February 28, 2014 at 12:39 am

      Grammatika - If I've recalled, correctly.

  17. Pat Levy
    February 24, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Bad form. Where's the link. Typing in Expresso brings up an exercise site.

    • Evan
      February 24, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      Unless he edited the post, the link is up there at the start of the article. http://expresso-app.org/

    • Anthony N
      February 24, 2014 at 8:27 pm

      There is a link, 4th paragraph down. "Meet Expresso".

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 12:33 am

      Erk! Sorry if I didn't make it clearer. Expresso can be found at expresso-app.org! Cheers!

  18. Saikat B
    February 24, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Are these apps making us too lazy as writers? :)

    To its credit, it has some of the most detailed metrics I have seen so far.

    • Matthew H
      February 28, 2014 at 12:32 am

      Heh, did spellchecker make you lazy? ;)

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