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TECH TALK: Using AI to improve your writing

Here’s how to use software to proof and edit your writing.

Editor’s note: Besides following developments in tech, our author is also a musical composer (Juilliard-trained), He has provided a musical composition for you to listen to while reading this column. This piece is called “Writing Assistant.”

 

Want a writing assistant?

Say you are a writer, or just that you have to write something but do not write professionally. In such cases, as I have personally discovered, proofreading is necessary. But most of us do not have someone to proofread our work for us. So, what can we do about it? After all, we do need a way to find and correct our mistakes.

We can go back and read what we have written a few more times, but that doesn’t always work because our brains fix the errors as we read them. You can get a friend or a family member, or a colleague to read what you have written, and I have tried this, but this is a big ask if you write a lot or if your document is long.

One thing that does help a lot is to have a reader speak your words out loud. And this reader can be either a human or a computer program.

Both Apple and Microsoft products have built-in text-to-speech converters. This enables your computer read back to you what you have written. But the quality of the default readers that come with the system are limited. In the Mac, the default voice can only accommodate a megabyte or two of information. However, there are many better voices that you can download to your operating system for free.

Here’s how you do it on a Mac:

  • On your Mac, choose Apple menu > System Settings, then click Accessibility in the sidebar. (You may need to scroll down.)
  • Click Spoken Content on the right.
  • Click the “System Voice” pop-up menu, then choose a voice.

My favorite Apple voice right now is named Evan and consumes more than 200 MB of information, making it 100 times better than the default that comes with the operating system . But there are many different voices. You can try them all.

Since I use Apple products, I am less familiar with the software for Windows. Through Google, I found the following instructions for activating the default software that’s built into Windows 10.

  • Click on Language in the left sidebar. Make sure the language you want to use is available.
  • Under Voices, click on the Pick a Voice drop-down menu and choose the voice you prefer. You can preview the voices and can also set your rate of speed.

I’m sure there are plenty of other options—also free‑for Windows.

If you are willing to spend some money for a better assist, I recommend a program called Speechify.  While not free, it is genuinely excellent. It is also much easier to use than the free options, so worth the investment if you plan to use it a lot.

There is also a spelling and grammar checker called Grammarly, which provides useful feedback about more than typos, spelling, and grammar. It even makes suggestions about how to improve your text. I am a poor speller and a not-very-good typist, so I find Grammarly to be beneficial. And there is another program called Hemingway These text-to-speech converters do have capabilities that could be considered AI-related, but I doubt they are based on large language models. So far, you are not having a conversation with an AI but simply letting a computer read to you, which tightens up your prose to make it more concise.

This image was created by Howard Lieberman with the assistance of DALL-E-2, an AI software program.

A full-blown LLM (large language model) AI can do much more.

These text-to-speech converters do not really use Artificial Intelligence. Although they do have capabilities that could be considered AI-related, they are based on large language models (LLMs). When you use them, you are not having a conversation with an AI but simply letting a computer read to you, But, if you do want to use an LLM AI program, such as the ones I described in my last column, there are a number of other tasks you can ask it to do. For example, you can ask an LLM AI to condense your 1500-word copy to an 800-word column. You can request changes in tone, formality, credibility, and more.

To show you how these LLM AI programs work, I went back to the same four programs I talked about in my last column—ChatGPT, Gemini by Google, Claude by Anthropic, and Microsoft Copilot. I asked them each the same question: “If I want to use you as a profreader, how would that work?

Here are their four answers in their own words and yes, they really can do these things. You’ll note that Gemini seems limited at the moment, but I expect that to change soon. And, by the way, you can have these LLMs speak their answers to you using their built in text-to-speech functions.

1. Chat GPT

“Using ChatGPT as a proofreader can be quite straightforward. You can simply input the text you want to be proofread, whether it’s an essay, article, email, or any other written content, and then review the suggestions and corrections provided by ChatGPT. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

    • Input your text: Copy and paste the text you want to be proofread into the chat window.
    • Ask fo proofreading: You can ask ChatGPT something like, “Could you please proofread this for me?” or “Can you check for any errors in this text?”
    • Review suggestions: ChatGPT will analyze the text and provide suggestions for improvements, including grammar corrections, spelling fixes, stylistic enhancements, and more.
    • Incorporate changes: Review the suggestions provided by ChatGPT and incorporate any changes or corrections you agree with into your text.
    • Ask for clarification: If you’re unsure about any of the suggestions or want further explanation, feel free to ask ChatGPT for clarification.
    • Repeat if necessary: If you have multiple sections of text or additional documents to proofread, you can repeat the process by providing each piece of text separately.
    • Final review: Once you’ve made all the necessary changes, give your text a final review to ensure everything is polished and error-free.

Using ChatGPT as a proofreader can be a convenient way to catch errors and improve the overall quality of your written work. However, it’s essential to remember that while ChatGPT can provide helpful suggestions, it’s not infallible, so it’s always a good idea to use your judgment and consider additional proofreading methods for important documents.”

2. Gemini by Google

“Unfortunately, directly using Gemini for proofreading within its current capabilities isn’t possible. However, there are workarounds you can leverage to get some assistance:

Google Docs Integration: While Gemini itself doesn’t offer proofreading features; it integrates with Google Docs. Here’s the process:

    • Open your document in Google Docs.
    • Click “Proofread this document” in the top right corner. A panel on the right side will appear with suggestions for spelling, grammar, and style. This utilizes Google’s AI, likely based on some aspects of Gemini, to identify potential issues.

Copy and Paste Approach: While less convenient, you can copy sections of your text and paste them into the chat with me (Gemini). I can then analyze them for grammatical errors, typos, and awkward phrasing. Keep in mind that this method might not catch context-dependent issues or stylistic inconsistencies throughout your entire document. For comprehensive proofreading, including flow, clarity, and adherence to specific styles, it might be better to consider human proofreading services or explore online grammar checkers with
more advanced features.”

This image was created by Howard Lieberman with the assistance of DALL-E-2, an AI software program.

3. Claude by Anthropic

“I’d be happy to proofread texts for you while being very careful not to reproduce any copyrighted material. Here’s how we could proceed:

You can provide me with the text you need to proofread. This can be something you’ve written yourself, like an essay, article, story, etc., or it could be general business/professional writing, like reports, emails, presentations, and so on.

I will carefully review the text and provide feedback on grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, clarity, flow, structure and any other areas that could use improvement.

I can suggest revisions and edits directly in the text using markup or track changes. Or I can provide my feedback as separate comments/notes.

I will not reproduce the full text of copyrighted material like lyrics, book excerpts, news articles, etc. However, I can summarize the content and point out any areas of concern regarding proper attribution, quotes, citations, etc.

My role is solely to proofread and edit, not to reproduce entire copyrighted works, rewrite software code, or make minor changes to bypass copyright.

The key is that you provide me with the specific text(s) you need proofread. I will apply my editing skills while ensuring I do not reproduce or plagiarize any protected third-party content. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

4. Microsoft Copilot

“Using Copilot Pro as a proofreader is quite straightforward. You can simply provide the text you’d like to have proofread, and I’ll review it for any grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation issues, and overall clarity. Here’s how it would work:

    • Submit Your Text: Paste the text you want proofread into the chat.
    • Review: I’ll go through the text, checking for errors and suggesting corrections.
    • Feedback: I’ll provide you with the corrected text, highlighting the changes made.
    • Revision: If you have any specific concerns or areas you want me to focus on, let me know, and I can tailor the proofreading to your needs.

Feel free to share a piece of text, and I’ll be happy to help you proofread it!”

As I said in my last column, these programs are all free. You can easily open an account and start experimenting.

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