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    « Farewell 2010 | Main | Transforming Data into Information »

    Emotional Spell Check (we are all really dumb)

    In the world of office productivity software like the Microsoft Office suite of programs, (Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc.), the 'spell check' feature is so fundamental, so ingrained into our experience of using these tools that we probably can't imagine a word processing or other text-centric application lacking the capability.

    At this point could anyone craft a 400 word email or 5 page quarterly report without running spell check at least two or three times?  In fact, spell check is so core to the process of content creation that we take it for granted, and some might contend when the capability is introduced to children in grade school via the use of common office productivity solutions that their ability to actually spell becomes diminished, as they come to rely on the spell check device too heavily.  This likely occurs in adults as well, but we often cleverly convince ourselves we don't really have a spelling problem, we have a typing problem, and that most of the corrections made by spell check are to words we really do know how to spell.

    So if we can justify the heavy reliance on spell check as a mere productivity enhancer and not really a crutch, what possibly could we say about the newest 'check' solution launched recently, a product called ToneCheck, which is described as 'the emotional spell check'.  In the words of its creators:

    ToneCheck™ is an e-mail plug-in that flags sentences with words or phrases that may convey unintended emotion or tone, then helps you re-write them. Just like Spell Check… but for Tone.

    Does your first draft of that email message to your prospect read something like 'Come on already, quit wasting my time and jerking me around. Are you signing the contract or not?

    Here is a screen shot of the ToneCheck plug-in activated on a possibly 'emotional' message:

    A quick run of the ToneCheck plug-in can flag that passage as 'potentially angry' and suggest that you make some alterations to hit a more 'contented' tone. I suppose you probably knew the 'quit jerking me around' line did have the potential to seem angry.

    This functionality has similarities to common features in HR Technology solutions for performance management, namely the 'legal scan' that catches managers from noting things like, 'Sally is really too old to grasp the technical complexity of this project'; and 'managerial helper' kinds of tools that suggest descriptive sentences and paragraphs to accompany objective or competency based ratings.

    Having these kinds of helpers and filters and in the case of ToneCheck, a bit of a stop sign put up before you press 'Send' may be beneficial, but I can't help but wonder if these tools are really confirming something many folks often think. That is we really don't know what we are doing, we will quite likely get ourselves and our firms in big trouble if we are not monitored, and at the end of the day we really can't be trusted to spell, keep our emotions in check, and are in fact, really dumb.


    1.This post is about 500 words, I made 37 spelling mistakes that hopefully were all fixed by spell check.

    2. I do not have 'ToneCheck' turned on in the comments, so please feel free to tell me what you really think.

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    Reader Comments (4)

    Where does it end? Isn't the mark of an educated person their command of language, and that certainly includes being able to find le mot juste for any business occasion and medium of expression. I HATE my spellchecker because it insists on changing things like "raising the barre" to "raising the bar" and clearly doesn't understand my insertion of Yiddish when searching for le mot juste. I do use a wonderful included "Mood Watch" feature in Eudora (yes, I'm still running happily on Eudora, although the move to Windows 7 nearly killed this no longer supported but rumored to now be open source email client) that does remind me that certain four letter words might offend the recipient, but I almost never listen to it. When I use a four letter word, it's rarely by accident.

    December 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi Bloom

    I think you have it right on - there may be some good use for it and, from a purely psycho-technical aspect, it is rather fascinating. However, it is the continuation of removing responsibility from the individual. Now someone doesn't even have to be responsible for their writing because they can "rely" on a programmed system to tell them if they are doing it wrong. I have done my fair share of coaching of employees about diplomacy in their speaking and writing, but that is a two way interactive process between us; a conversation that, hopefully, gives them the understanding and ability to write and communicate effectively. I think a system like this will continue the pablumization (spell check hated that word) of our business language and will no teach people how to work and communicate well, it will just let them write their drek (again, spell check didn't like that) and they can let the system tell them if they are doing it properly. Feh.

    Thanks for the post, Steve - very interesting stuff!


    December 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Sherman

    @Naomi - Super comments - I have had many a tussle with various spell check programs over the years as well, as they usually want to 'correct' my last name to 'obese'. Not fun at all, either as an observation or a prediction.

    @Richard - I agree that these kinds of tools have the likelihood of going too far as well. At some point we all need to be grown-ups and responsible for what we write.

    December 30, 2010 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment, and for taking the trouble to post it www.rolfoo.com

    December 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterakigsh

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