Human Editing vs. Machine Editing of Contextual Language
By: James Plowright and Candace Sinclair
In an age where court reporters can convert their typing into a digital document, and voice recognition software can convert speech to text, can computer software editing programs and spell checkers really challenge the skill of a professional human editor? How accurate is your spell checker or editing software, and what are its limitations and why?
Consider the elements of contextual language, and you can quite easily understand how errors occur in written documents. As a human editor, when you’re unfamiliar with a word, you can look for contextual word clues.
According to a statement on McGraw-Hill’s website:
“Context clues can help you figure out the meaning of a word or phrase you don’t know. These clues can be found in the words and sentences surrounding the unknown word or phrase.
There are many kinds of context clues readers can look for when trying to figure out unfamiliar text.”
Human editors better understand contextual language as compared to a computer editing program that searches a document for words already programmed into the software. Basically, a word can be spelled correctly but it’s not the correct word to use in the sentence, or it’s a repetitive word. A computer program is less likely to catch these types of errors.
Editing Sample with Errors
Below is an extreme example of a paragraph with multiple errors. Many software editing programs will not correct or “tag” all the errors in a document.
All day along I watched the birds and than the birds flu away when it wasn’t dark. They returned the prior morning and again weighted for me to putt bird said in the feeder.
A human editor would be able to easily see the errors and correct them. Below is the corrected version.
All day long I watched the birds and then the birds flew away when it was dark. They returned the next morning and again waited for me to put bird seed in the feeder.
Published Paper Review on the Topic of Editing
In a review of a published dissertation on this blog’s topic, Graeme J. Hirst offers the following insights:
“It is often easy to tell when a poor speller or poor typist has used a spelling checker on a document: each word is correctly spelled, but not all are the words that the author intended. And optical character recognition of documents, with its occasional misrecognitions, has given the world a whole new source of spelling errors.
The problem divides into two parts: detecting an error, which might be a non-word or a wrong real word; and correcting such errors, either in isolation or in context.”
Two Editing Solutions for Every Document
When you’re searching online for professional editing services, you will find two solutions available: free or paid software solutions and humans who provide their services for a fee. We encourage you to dig deeper before deciding which type of editing option will help you the most in your academia, business, or personal pursuits. From our research, software programs do understand the context of what is on the page, so it takes a chance, giving the user recommendations that are often wrong and frequently overlook major grammar errors.
What Editing Software Does Not Do
We found software providers that identify passive voice, repetition and offers suggestions and commonly confused words, but they often do not:
- Catch awkward phrasing and incomplete sentences
- Comply with common grammar rules, like not starting a sentence with a numeral and serial commas.
- Acknowledge or correct informal word choices (you, get, lots of, etc.)
- Correct the most basic of citation rules, such as placing a period after the citation.
- Offer correct suggestions to replace repetitive words; rather, the program chose to replace one word with another that was completely incorrect (suggested replacing ‘dissertation’ with ‘thesis’).
- Catch and correct words that were spelled correctly but were not the intended word.
- Provide correct corrections (stated that there were two independent clauses, when it was really a series).
- Follow correct punctuation rules.
Conveying Your Message to Your Audience
Language is contextual and critical in conveying your message to your audience. And some neuroscientists caution that today’s computers will never truly understand what we’re saying, because they do not take into account the context of a conversation the way people do. Software programs only catch the obvious context-free errors, not the advanced grammatical issues or word choices that will match any contextual requirements.
Why It’s Smart to Choose a Human Editor for Your Next Project
When professionalism and your reputation are at stake, then hire a human editor through an online site like WordsRU. Choosing this solution allows you to ask your questions, before and after the editing process. No known grammar software program will answer questions, in person, for you.
Our suggestion is to use computer editing software with caution and only for unimportant documentation. Machine editing algorithms do not have the expertise or experience that a professional editor has.
The Future of Understanding Contextual Language
When machines can understand language better than humans, then the singularity has been reached, and if Elon Musk is right, the doomsday preppers will be called preppes and will be having the last laugh!
Given these two options (human editing vs. machine editing) to make corrections in your important document, which option will you choose?
Reference Sources for Human vs. Computer Word Correction in Digital Documents: