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Friday, July 03, 2009

VocabGrabber: A Free Tool for Improving Your Writing

I've reviewed a few paid-for writing products recently, so I thought today I'd feature a free service.

VocabGrabber is a web-based tool for writers and editors. It aims to help you identify words that are over-used in a piece of text and suggests possible alternatives for them.

VocabGrabber is free to use, although it also links to ThinkMap Visual Thesaurus, which is a paid-for service. Using it is simplicity itself. Just copy and paste your text for analysis (up to a hefty 200,000 characters) into the box and click on Grab Vocabulary.

Almost immediately, the text will be analysed and a 'tag cloud' will be displayed, with the words found most often displayed largest. Here's an example using my recent blog review of the PerfectIt proofreading software.

You can change the display to a list if you prefer by clicking on the 'List View' icon on the left of the VocabGrabber screen. This will produce a list of all 'Relevant' words found in the document, along with the number of times they are found. ('Relevant' words are words less commonly used in English that are likely to be of particular relevance to that document, excluding common words like 'and' or 'then'.)

The list shows the number of times each word is repeated. Highlighting any word ('software' in the example) will bring up a dictionary definition, a diagram showing words of similar meaning, and copies of usages from the text itself. If you click on any item in the list, it will take you to a more detailed page showing related words from the ThinkMap Visual Thesaurus. As mentioned, the latter service is not free, but you do get a few free trials to see how it works.

As the screengrab above shows, VocabGrabber found a lot of uses of the words 'document' (11) and 'software' (8). There isn't really much alternative to 'document' in the post concerned, but if I was editing it now, I might try to use another word in place of some of those 'software' usages ('program', for example).

Overall, VocabGrabber offers a handy service for writers and editors. It's useful for identifying any words that may be over-used in a document (making it read poorly and look amateurish). The alternate suggestions from the free service are a bit limited, so if you find the site helpful you might perhaps want to consider subscribing to the companion Visual Thesaurus service (which is reasonably priced at $19.95 a year for the online version).

Even if you don't want to part with any money, however, VocabGrabber is worth a place on your Favorites list as a quick tool for checking you're not over-using certain words and expressions without realising it.

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