Jun 19, 2007

The future of: Spell Checking

November 17th, 2006

Spell checking is in serious need of improvement! I’m currently writing this in OpenOffice.org Writer, so I’ll use it as an example. Say I add the word “macronutrient” to the standard custom dictionary. After adding the word, none of the obvious variations are recognized; I have to add “macronutrients” (plural), “macronutrient’s” (possessive), “Macronutrient” (capital), “Macronutrients’ ” (capital plural possesive), and so on individually. It’s a pain in the butt!!! How hard could it be to apply a little grammatical logic? At a bare minimum, OpenOffice ought to be able to ignore “s” and ” ’s” at the end of a word, and accept capitalized words at the beginning of sentences. Ideally, whenever I add a word to the dictionary, OpenOffice would let me choose what part of speech the word is (noun, verb, adjective, adverb) and use that information to determine that “Macronutrients’ ” is logical, but not “macronutriented”.

The best idea would be to ask users, whenever they add a word to their custom dictionaries, whether the word ought to be part of the standard dictionary. If they say yes, a message would be sent to the folks who write the OpenOffice spelling dictionary, so they could double check the word’s authenticity and quickly add it to the main dictionary. That way the main dictionary would improve over time.

What spell checking OUGHT to be like NOW:

But let’s consider spell check at the global level. Spelling dictionaries ought to be shared between all the applications on your computer: word processors, email clients, web browsers, text editors, etc. Switching between dictionaries or enabling combinations of dictionaries should be a piece of cake. For instance, I’d like to have an “Email slang” dictionary that is applied only to emails and forum postings, containing words such as “lol”, “iirc”, and “rtfm”. However, I ought to be able to switch that dictionary off quickly if I’m writing a formal email.

Advanced ideas for Spell Checking in the future

In the future, I’d love to see more “project based” spell checking. I’d love to have custom dictionaries specifically for certain subjects, such as chemistry or biology, and to be able to specify in my Chemistry and Biology document templates that those dictionaries ought to be applied when spell checking documents made from these templates. Or if I’m writing an essay about The Ramayana, it would be nice if my word processor could downloaded a dictionary of character and place names to supplement the spell check. For materials whose copyright has expired, word processors could download the entire e-text to help correct quotations. Auto-completion could be a huge boon, too. Imagine I’m writing a report on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I type:

“You don’t know about me without you have read

and a balloon appears, saying

“… a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” [Complete Quote] [More Sentences]

Such a feature would allow users to quickly and accurately quote large portions of text. It could be especially helpful if you knew how a quote started, but not what page it was on.

Think about it. The next time some tells you spell checking has reached it’s potential, reply “Nay! we have not yet begun to spell check!”

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