Sunday, April 10, 2016

TESOL Session report

Leverett, T. (2016, Apr.). For better or worse: Grammar technology and the ESL writer. Internet Fair Classics, TESOL International, Baltimore, MD, USA.

Frankly, I had trouble dealing with this PC they gave me, and I was a little nervous. It shouldn't be that hard to find this weblog, and find the Ginger teaser, and find the Grammarly teaser, but I found only one out of three, the second one, and had to wing it from there. I write it up to nerves, and to the fact that when I got there I found I was BYOD (bring your own device) and hadn't remembered being told that; I'd left my device at home. Perhaps it was true that they had told me I was BYOD, and I didn't even know what that meant. But the result was that, as I sat down to the computer, I was shaking a little, and having trouble finding what I wanted.

I typed things into the Ginger window and noticed, even as I was there, that it gave different responses sometimes, even to the same sentences. Grammarly wouldn't even offer me a free window, perhaps because they sensed I was in the TESOL EV. The surprising thing about this session was that a number of people had come specifically to hear me, and/or grab my handout, and so I had much more of a crowd than the people I'm ordinarily able to just draw in. And I had these bright purple handouts, so there was no question about who was hanging around listening to me, or trying to read the handouts. I have to admit, the purple nature of them made them hard to read (I had requested pink, and they were, in fact, a kind of pink)...but, this year, I left this weblog's url off of the handout (an imperfect situation), so I'm linking to it from a number of other places, and I hope that this weblog can remain as the center of my research and writing.

One thing that is happening is that Google docs is forcing me off of the site; or rather, SIU is forcing me off of it. Perhaps people have been abusing the siu domain, I don't know, but for whatever reason, I need new sites for my google docs. That will be this month's project, a general reorganization. All my writing in this area is somewhat haphazard, I admit, and needs to be roped in and organized.

There is a general growing consensus in the world of writing that technology plays an increasing role in the production of student writing and the development of their learning. I found nobody who would dispute that it's increasingly important; that it influences both their writing and their learning; that it's difficult to find out what technology they've been using and how, exactly, they relate and respond to it; and that we owe it to our students to figure out where it has set them back so that we can respond accordingly. I found some people who pressed me until I admitted that in fact, there was no question that it was good in many ways, and that it taught them real stuff and saved us a lot of trouble. When they pressed me more, to find out if it was more trouble than it was worth, for example, I wouldn't commit. Who knows how many errors it has already corrected, so that we get the impression our students are fluent? Who knows what it has taught them successfully, so that they get it right every time, now? As I've pointed out, we are left looking at students who in many cases have had ongoing relationships with technology for years - so, if they have no confidence now, or are unable to place commas successfully, we might blame technology, sure. But is it so bad? People are still becoming fluent; they're just taking a different path.

I feel like I know more about Grammarly and Ginger now; I also know more about Word grammar-check. We investigate these and comment on them as forces of nature, that bend student writing one way or the other. It's a complicated world, and the grammar engines are putting their mark on the language. Feel free to comment.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

practice paragraph, including common errors

Everyday I wake up and read a news. Usually I read it on my phone. Anther hand, some times I use my computer. Recently I read about Donald Trump. Some times a newspaper discuses him. He is defiantly in the news alot. He has all ready won many election.

In my case, I don't like him. Reading about him, the stories let me mad. This morning I retrived four articles from one web site. That website had many opions. Another hand, some web side have only one opinions. Recently Facebook provides a variety of opinion. I like read every thing. Although I don't have time.

Grammarly reviews

You would think that I, who fashions myself as a critical reviewer of grammar software, would just shell out the $30/mo. that a company like Grammarly charges for its service, but I don't. I hate when companies simply get in the habit of taking money out of your account, even if I have let them; and besides, I don't really need it, though I'm sure you can tell from reading even this far that I could use a few pointers.

Instead, I read carefully all online reviews. I use their free service on the assumption that they'll put their best foot forward and show you how much they can do, right away (I'm not sure if this is necessarily true). And finally, I'm honest with my students, so that I know which ones use Grammarly all the time, and I critically review the papers they write (Grammarly didn't catch this?).

On the online review front, one of the biggest ones came out in 2011, by the Grammarist weblog. In fact I was unable to find an actual date of publication on the review (this is a bad sign, but quite common) but inferred from the comments that it was published around then. The Grammarist weblog was quite stinging, but because it was careful and accurate, and covered a wide variety of errors, I read it carefully. Most of the comments addressed Grammarly's bad business ethics: not announcing its terms before it collects your information, installing a free plugin that's worthless until you actually pay your money, taking payments without warning, etc. Personally, I doubt Grammarly has done much about these, and I also suspect that these people had nowhere else to complain, so they took the trouble to register with Grammarist, just in order to complain about bad business practices. But they were legion; there are lots of complaints about them.

Grammarist noticed that a wide range of contextual spelling errors (such as its/it's, there/their/they're, your/you're, all ready/already) went uncorrected. All passives were noticed and discouraged, even if they were necessary or advisable. Dangling modifiers, redundancies, etc. went unnoticed. They gave credit when Grammarly did well, but they disliked it and requested that they stop being able to advertise themselves on the Grammarist weblog. (As a sidebar, I'll point out the Grammarly is a very aggressive online advertiser - you type anything including the word "grammar" into Google, and Grammarly's paid ad will be there waiting for you. So it's no surprise that it tried to get a reputable grammar website to allow it to advertise itself, for a price, of course). 

Careful reading of the comments pointed out a few other things, though. One was that, within a year or two, Grammarly had read the review, and worked on many of the problems it had pointed out. This is one thing a huge budget can do for Grammarly. It has people scanning the reviews (hello!) and responding to the errors people point out. If it is at all possible to fix them, using the technology and programming skills that Grammarly has at hand, they'll do it. At least, with their budget, they are capable of doing it, because they had millions in startup funds, and were able to jump-start a business that at least tried to manage such things.

But to get back to the review's main point, Grammarly advertises itself as the most accurate in the market; as correcting your errors and offering helpful reasons why they're wrong; as picking out the contextual misspellings; and checking for plagiarism as well. And they felt that Grammarly had not done this properly, and was therefore guilty of fraudulent advertising.

The comments by and large agreed that it was fraudulent, but more in its business practices than its grammar practices. It's a given in this field that the consumers don't know grammar, and are thus at a disadvantage when it comes to evaluating a grammar-checking service. And this applies double to international (ESL) students, who are not only unfamiliar with grammatical nuance, but also unfamiliar with shill online installation scams, or proper ways of getting revenge against such companies. The vast majority of complaints were by American writers, but some of them were quite serious consumers, submitting entire manuscripts, and as some pointed out, a service doesn't have to be right 100% of the time to be useful in at least getting you to check things that they consider could be reworded.

To our students, services like Grammarly have left the impression that passive voice is simply wrong (even when their advisors demand it); that when in doubt present tense is always best (in recent days, X become common, says one student who uses Grammarly); and that all other things the teacher points out must be simple harping, since it went under Grammarly's radar successfully. To be fair, I have no idea what they really think (why should they tell me everything?), but, I can tell you that there is still a fair amount of bad writing out there.

As for the plagiarism checking service, I'll say this: it's popular with students. They are scared to death of plagiarism, and they don't really know how to avoid it, and if something will offer them, with any accuracy at all, to point it out, they are more than grateful. Both Grammarist and the commenters pointed out that the Grammarly service was flawed, but if somebody can get a computer to take 3-6 words at a time, from every line, run each chunk through the computer database repeatedly, and simply report to the writer the times it comes up with a hit, that's more than I'm doing for them, and, presumably, it's catching at least the most egregious cases. This is an entirely separate issue from pointing out that disparate is different from desperate or affect is generally a verb, while effect is generally a noun (with a whole host of exceptions). And I believe that some think the entire service is worth its $30/month, in spite of any negative reviews.

One thing I yearn for is what many commenters have pointed out: what you want to do is line it up with other grammar software, and see which one wins. Ginger comes to mind; people like Ginger as the underdog in this matchup (not having millions in startup money) - which of these errors is Ginger catching that Grammarly is not? Are they on to each other's tricks, in terms of being able to program in some "catches" that the other has figured out? I know they are both watching Word grammar-check (the Ubiquitous, the King of all Grammar-checks) trying to do for their customers at least what Word can do. What I don't know is when they figured out how hard definately/defiantly was for people, and how to guess people's intentions by how close they got to it when they first typed it in. Our students, remember, are far more likely to get the vowels wrong, and have their first spelling be way off base, not even close to definitely. When these programs can get close to figuring out our students' intentions, I, like Grammarist, will be closer to actually recommending them.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Data at hand

This year I had a breakthrough in that I took a novel approach to my own class, and got unusual feedback. I had maintained for years that students used a variety of technologies in the process of writing; that they often misunderstood or misused feedback from those technologies; that they very rarely wanted to share what they'd learned with us, because of feelings that we, teachers, wouldn't approve the use of them; and, we were in a jam, to some degree, trying to figure out where their writing had "gone bad" with a lack of information about the processes that had misled them to such a degree.

So, this term, in the process of trying to get them to explore and use a concordance, I required them to write an essay about the technologies they use and their frustrations or successes with any particular one. The concordance was a chapter of its own, since it detected that fifteen of us were accessing it at once, and shut down demanding money; thus leaving me to say to the students, in effect, write about anything; if you have trouble accessing the concordance, you can write about that trouble, or write about any other technological aid that you use. One student actually wrote about, and recommended, Grammarly.

This was interesting to me because Grammarly is the biggest, and most prominent, of grammar-checker services that influence student writing (outside of Word itself, which is the god of technological grammatical intervention in student writing). Grammarly, by securing startup funding, got a wide enough user base to actually explore what works and what doesn't, and got a head start on other grammar checkers by simple virtue of being able to employ more full-time programmers. But its intervention, as is the case with most grammar-checkers, is not perfect.

From my own point of view, this development is ideal, because now I know for sure that certain grammatical patterns are a product of Grammarly's intervention; or, at least, that Grammarly was unable to correct or revise some of them. I would not criticize or admonish this student; I leave to them the choice of using what tools, when, and teach them, ultimately, to manage each, with the awareness that none of them are perfect. This is especially true of the Word software, which is speaking to the writer in green or in red, constantly, whether one asks for it or not, unless the writer is conscious, assertive and deliberate enough to gut the program and disable the service. One can never underestimate the subconscious effect of a red line that, in essence, tells you that you've spelled your own name wrong, but will also remind you of anything that doesn't match up well with its concept of what constitutes a "word." I start out with my students by telling them that you have to make friends with such a voice, and know when it's giving unhelpful advice, and know, if possible, why. They are tools, and like your hammer, they are not useful in every situation.

To unravel why student writing appears the way it does, one has to have a clear picture of the technological influences on it, and the reasons students choose what they do, in the process of negotiation with technological advice. I think it is possible to gather technological clues, so that, for example, I can say to a student: I suspect you use Grammarly; or, I suspect you responded to Spell-check in the process of coming up with this spelling. These clues will help us open the door. The goal is a clear and accurate picture of the influences that change their writing. Those influences are not always bad, but when they are bad, they are bad in such a way that often makes their writing harder to read, and ultimately does them a disservice. The proper management of these systems will help them make better writing, thus stalling until they make better writing naturally; that is the ultimate goal. One cannot simply ostrich oneself to the technological influences of the modern world, though I suppose, in principle, one could prohibit them, and then pretend that what is written, was actually created by the student himself/herself.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

defiantly true, continued

Two things have happened since my last post.

First, defiantly true is one of my favorite cupertinos, because very little can be defiantly true, unless it can be defiant, and at the same time, true. One poor woman in the writing lab had written it three times, and they were all in sentences such as That was defiantly a hard time for me, sentences in which it would be impossible for a time to be defiant, although it could of course be a hard time.

But this is what I figured out. Somebody claimed that you could adjust the Word grammar-check software to catch more contextual errors, cupertinos, times in which you needed there and wrote their for example. I didn't believe them, but I went looking for it, deep in the bowels of a Microsoft Word grammar-check at the computer station where I was working. What I found was a list of "change-to" words - such that any time you wrote cutsomer, it would change it to customer. They were clearly sensitive to words like that because they were trying to please the business world; if they had their finger on the pulse of the ESL world, they would have changed costumer to customer but in fact costumer is a word and that's why Word allows ESL students to get away with it.

Well in any event they added definately to this list and had it changed to definitely, and that's what accounts for the lower percentage of defiantly cupertinos that we are seeing these days. To American students, the biggest hazard was putting a single a in the word at the wrong time; but, the common error was fixed at some point, within Word. What remains are the other versions of the word, which cannot be interpreted as easily on the part of the computer, and thus remain in cupertino-land.

My poor American student either had an old version of Word, or, was typing something less typical. In any case, like most, she settled for defiantly, because it looked OK.

Whitesmoke malware

Someone told me to put "whitesmoke malware" into google and see what popped up. I haven't done it yet, but I will. Whitesmoke is a grammar program that has been around for a while. But the two biggest claims against it are fairly harsh. The first is that they give you a lifetime subscription, then come after you later for more money. Can this be true? Don't people have contracts?

But the second is, you can't uninstall it. It leaves pieces of itself in your hard-drive, making it very difficult to remove, and you feel like you have this foreign intruder in your computer, always, and it's kind of like having malaria, only maybe the PC version. This is insidious, and I'm glad I'm not in the business. It was apparently not the best grammar software anyway.

Concordance assignment

The results are in on my concordance assignment, and I would like to share them. I started with 14 high-level graduate writers and I introduced the concordance (Brigham Young's Corpus) in the computer lab; as part of that introduction, we were frozen out of BYU's concordance because too many computers were pinging their search from a single room. In a bad mood about being essentially locked out of a useful service, I encouraged them to write whatever they wanted about whether the concordance could be useful to them as a writer. If you have three reasons why you hate it, I told them, fine, just be clear, and write an organized essay from your own point of view, from your heart.

Many of them, knowing that I liked the concordance and wanted it to be useful to them, dutifully wrote about ways it was useful, and even mirrored back to me the ways I'd said that it could be useful. They told me how they used it to distinguish insist/persist, in the contrary/on the contrary, etc. One maintained that it was good for discovering how idioms were used (i. e. raining cats and dogs). They said it was good for finding prepositions (interested in vs. interested by), finding synonyms, etc. By far the majority of points they made were positive; it was useful, it could be used for various problems that the writer had, etc. Whether they were saying this to please me or not, that's what they said.

However, some were more adventurous, and pointed out either other tools they used, or pointed out why they would prefer not to mess with BYU's corpus. One was a usability expert and pointed out that it wasn't very usable. Several admitted to being confused by its layout and admitted to being unable to figure out how to get what they wanted. Many were put off by the way it shut us down in class, or the way it kept hocking them for donations.

One interesting paragraph was written by a woman who had a simple job; she'd been told by a graduate assistant to look up "rose up" as in "I rose up my hand." Presumably she would find that rose was intransitive; thus you would raise your hand, whereas the sun rose, or other things rose, though perhaps they didn't rise up. In any case she claimed she got lots of sentences, but nothing helpful. It occurred to me that she wasn't really looking at it grammatically; in other words, she never really said, wait, it's never followed by a verb. She saw sentences, formless, meaningless, cut off from everything; it didn't speak to her.

She was one of the people who pointed out other tools that could be used. There were many - ranging from Google, to Grammarly, to a Chinese vocabulary site - and they talked freely about them.

The ironic thing is that the concordance was not developed as an ESL tool. It's simply a tool, used by lots of people for lots of things, and it delivers the facts, in other words, the occurrences of any given word or structure. That's what I like about it; it's distinctly non-commercial, not directed at ESL; it's just a machine that has the facts. I'm kind of new to the concordance-based learning game, but it's very interesting, and it seems to me that if you like the facts, and are used to the facts, and drive your life toward scientific accuracy, you'd want this with your words as well as, say, your health. You would find the facts useful, and you'd figure out how to use them to your advantage. I'll see how many of my students can actually do this.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Grammarly, Ginger, Word Grammar-check, and wife

Evans, Dean (n.d.). Proofreading test: my wife vs. Grammarly vs. Ginger vs. After The Deadline vs. Microsoft Word 2010. GoodContentCo. Available 2-16 from:

There are things I like about this and things I don't. One is his simple approach: line them up, apply a certain block of text to each, and see what happens. This is what I do, knowing full well that ESL students' problems are to some degree different from the average native speaker writer, and that the free boxes that each offer as teasers often provide the best grammatical advice available on the market, only for 600-word texts, i.e. it's limited to a little bit at a time.

So he applies his text, with three spelling errors, three grammatical errors, and two factual errors. I don't see how you can expect a computer to pick up a factual error; for example, was it called Apple Co. or Apple Corps? Who would know or even look it up? But both Grammarly and Ginger failed to pick up an its/it's error, and I think this is crucial - now I know from the comments that this article was written before 2013, but I also know that even today the its/it's problem is considered one of the biggest out there. You have to get that one, and it's not that hard.

Well, it's hard enough that I myself couldn't program it into a computer, but I could program something in that told the writer: if you are using it's, are you sure you mean it is or it has?

One reason I mention this is that my wife is an academic, a sociology professor, with very high standards for her (fairly high-level, graduate, mostly native-speaker) writers. And she has, in a fit of frustration, just made an assignment that essentially told her writers, no more of this its/it's crap. No more cupertinos. This is formal academic English. Quit with the lousy writing.

Now these are students who are basically on the market for these programs. The internationals get a kind of break in this picture but, basically, they have some of the same problems, often a few more, but at the same time (compared to the native speakers) they have been learning for many years, and if you give them an opportunity to learn they will. The problem is that these programs don't teach. In some cases they un-teach. Usually they just imperiously pronounce. But if they can't even pick up its/it's, we're in big trouble.

The other common ones are there/their/they're and too/to/two which I figured native speakers never got wrong, boy was I wrong about that. The increased frequency of these kinds of errors is alarming, in my book. What, does Autocorrect just remove that extra "o" (making too into to) every time, just for fun?

Back to this guy's methodical comparison. I'm especially impressed by the comments, and may print them out just to see what people have said. They've had at least three years to pipe up; his article has finally reached the point of prominence where if you mention similar grammar programs in one breath, Google will at least pick up on it and put it up there. But three or four years is a long time; a lot has happened since then.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Autocorrect - Does it work? Do we need it?

Need it? How could we live without it?
Grammar Base - a new free online grammar check service.

This was new to me, so I opened it up. It provides free grammar advice online, and seems to pop up early when you are looking for grammar advice. So you type stuff in there, and it tells you: Passive. Misspelling. etc. etc. This implies, to me, that Passive is in the same class as misspelling. How is a student to know? The big sign says: Passive!

Oh well. 

defiantly true

This was one of my favorite cupertinos, because, for us readers, imagining that something could be defiantly true was kind of an interesting stretch. No, the writer usually meant definitely, and by virtue of typing an a in there somewhere, was diverted into a different word by a computer spell-check which takes vowels to be very important. I think the computer spell-check figures that native speakers usually know the vowels and are more likely stuck on the consonants, i.e. whether to have two of them. Internationals are very likely, or at least more likely, stuck on the vowels. Look at the trouble they have finding and spelling words like obviously.

One thing I'd like to say about this one, is that it's pretty limited in its time frame. Just as cupertino itself was only a cupertino during the early days of spell-check, defiantly as a cupertino for definitely occupies a limited time frame. By that I mean that the makers of spell-check noticed that it was a problem, took steps to ensure that those who intended definitely got it, and made spell-check just a little more sensitive so they could be sure people got what they wanted. In other words, it was a success story for spell-check, more or less. It's not over yet; one still sees defiantly. Not everyone got the 2014 update, or whichever one it was that improved it. Not everyone is thoroughly updated, thoroughly all the time. And that's one of the variables one has to deal with. 

Office Word 2013, update 2014

I try to keep track of this stuff. You'd think I'd have something useful to say, but no, not yet. Here is the site for the July 8, 2014 update. Is this where they got onto defiantly? More soon.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Changeling problems

I'm beginning to name my posts after the things I see. This was one of the best. I'm considering writing a book, and making this the title. The problem is that as I start writing, I get diverted into various aspects of the problem. In my last post, see below, there's a good example. I started writing about how a grammar-check's misleading advice causes an egregious error (see title), but by the time I'm done I've moved on to another problem - that from the reader's point of view the error is not always in the same place where the problem occurred.

So all my writing is like that - dazzlingly distracting and unfocused. I've written volumes about what these little machines do to language as we know it, and every time I get started on one thing they do, I notice another thing happening simultaneously, as in the situation above. This is happening all the time. So my new solution is to name the chapters after the errors themselves, thus limiting myself to talking about the problems as they occur.

"Changeling problems" is what is known as a cupertino, which can be described as good word, wrong place. A student wanted to use "challenging." but through misspelling and inappropriate use of spell-check, was diverted into a word that she really didn't mean or want. Ironically sometimes we like these words; they put a new meaning twist on a situation, as this one does. Sometimes we pick them up and use them for other purposes, as I will do with this one.

He, who hesitates is lost

The title of this post is an example of one of the problems that annoys me the most. I feel like I've done good hard teaching to convince my students that when they put a comma into an adjective clause (such as "who hesitates" they must put a comma on both sides of the clause, and, they should do this only when the clause is truly unnecessary information (not needed for the listener/reader to know who). In this case it is necessary information - only those who hesitate are lost - but what has happened? Grammar check has underlined He and who, and politely suggested to the writer that when you use who (or where or which) you really need a comma. This is poor advice. When you need a comma, you need to use a more formal who, where or which, but that's not the same. As you can see from the example above, sometimes you use who and you really shouldn't have a comma.

OK, so the student takes some bad advice, and puts a single comma before who as in the case above. What have we lost? Can I claim that the student has been untaught? Mistaught? Temporarily misled? Made to look like someone who doesn't have a clue about the clause in its entirety?

In fact, I think the situation is quite murky. I have no idea what these students know, or believe (I've seen this several times, with American students as well), and I suspect that all of the above are somewhat true. Students act on murky advice but can't be untaught something they learned with true confidence, i.e. if they really knew what they really wanted they wouldn't go following that grammar-check's flawed advice. Here are some other examples:

The city, where you go to school is important.
Pick the answer, which suits you best and put it in the blank.
The person, who you should talk to is over in admissions.

I find myself more irritated by the omission of the second comma, because I find that our expansive eagerness to find that your sentence is acceptable, and draw meaning from it, allows me to accept the first comma. When I get to the first one, I find it's possible, even though from a more global perspective we can see that it was placed there wrongly, based on wrong advice, and probably doesn't belong there given the writer's meaning. But I read right through that first one, and place blame on the writer for omitting the second one, and my blame is misplaced. The grammar teacher in me is circling a spot in the sentence that is not where the incident occurred. And this brings yet another complication.

phone devices

Rooney, B. (2010, December 29). Apps we use: Word Lens [iOS]. Wall Street Journal. Available 2-16 from

You might ask why I'm referencing something six years old. It's actually a question. Sometime last year a student showed me this, and showed me how one could put one's phone up against any sign, and, given that one had the appropriate phone and languages loaded, one could get the sign translated immediately. I talked about this a little, here, because I was interested in what it offered and what it would do to the language learning world.

According to this article Google acquired Quest Visual in May 2014 and has now incorporated this feature into its Google Translate app.

So this reference really is a documented history of the development of a phone app that ultimately will be very important, I believe. What they describe, basically, is that you can tell your phone to translate anything, and it will. With some exceptions, of course.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hewett, Beth L. (2015, November/December). A Review of WriteLab. WLN, A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship 40:34.

WriteLab is interesting software in that it tries to tackle stylistic problems with students' writing rather than technical problems. So, whereas a lot of international students would like to come into a writing lab and say, "just correct the grammar!", this software will be just like the tutor, and say, essentially, "Let's discuss clarity," or cohesion, logic, concision, or emphasis. The software has its own ways of deciding when you need one more than the other, or how it should go about giving you advice. It appears to me that this software presents a number of questions to the writer (such as "what effect do you think this (repetition) has on the reader?") - questions which, if the writer could answer them correctly, would clearly prevented their being in this situation in the first place. I am reminded of front-wheel trucks in mud, for some reason. I think my own students would last about ten minutes on WriteLab.

Ms. Hewitt likes the program, feels that it is in line with Writing Lab principles, and that it doesn't really threaten to take away the job of the Writing Tutor, who can basically ask the same questions, but then provide answers of some kind or another, after the writer gives the blank look caused by being aware that you have lost track of, or have no clue about, the effect your writing has on a reader. In my experience, good writers are hungry for advice about such things. And, it's not always clear; I am a native speaker, and am not sure myself what effect repetition, for example, has on other native speakers. I doubt the writing tutors here, in the variety we employ, would all give the same answer, or even similar ones.

This review reminds me of a couple of issues. First, I'll be the first to admit that such concerns as clarity, cohesion, logic, concision, or emphasis are, globally, more important than simple grammar concerns. I have no problem with a writing lab focusing on them and saying to the student, basically, this is what's unclear, and this is how you could make it better. These things are better done personally, face-to-face, and Ms. Hewett is right in saying "Fear not" - the tutor is not going to be replaced by this computer at this moment.

But the grammatical issues are in an entirely different class; it's almost like they occupy a world of their own, and our students are well aware of this. A student who has all of the issues above, and yet has no grammatical "mistakes" is in an entirely different class that a student who has even one of the issues above, and has at least one grammatical issue. Students tend to focus on the grammatical; they want it fixed, they want it right, and they're aware that the other stuff is somewhat personal and they'll have to be in the right mood to even listen to what you have to say about it.

The impulse to use technology to address these issues is worldwide; it's kind of like the urge to get married, or the urge to pass the TOEFL. We get an image of what's "right," and we seek it. We especially resent the feeling that technology is misinterpreting what we're doing, or leading us down the wrong path toward what's "right" (Ms. Hewett calls these "unhelpful digressive paths") - nobody has time to sort out helpful from unhelpful. She says something interesting - "students' primary revision operations are surface meaning-preserving deletions to write more concisely and substitutions of active for passive-voice constructions" (p. 12). I've gone on and on, for example, about how machines tend to discourage passive and offer active constructions as almost always preferable. Students are well trained to "seek" active alternatives, so as to go with the flow - but the advice given by the computer (in response to a sentence, "Lincoln was assassinated...." WriteLab said, "You might experiment with using a verb more descriptive than was to explain the action in this sentence. The verb was lacks detail or specificity: it could describe almost any action."

If I were to give such advice to my international students, I would be run out of the business, I should hope.