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Linting science prose and the science of prose linting

Michael D. Pacer
University of California, Berkeley

Jordan W. Suchow
University of California, Berkeley

Video: https://youtu.be/S55EFUOu4O0

Abstract

The craft of writing is hard despite the abundance of thoughtful advice available in usage guides and other sources. This is partly a problem of medium: amassing advice is not enough to improve writing. Writing would thus benefit if our collective knowledge about best practices in writing were extracted and transformed into a medium that makes the knowledge more accessible to authors.

We built Proselint, a Python-based linter for English prose that identifies violations of style and usage guidelines. Proselint is open-source software released under the BSD license and is compatible with Pythons 2 and 3. It runs as a command-line utility or as a text-editor plugin. Proselint's modules address redundancy, jargon, illogic, clichés, unidiomatic vocabulary, sexism, inconsistency, misuse of symbols, malapropisms, oxymorons, security gaffes, hedging, apologizing, and pretension. Furthermore, Proselint is extensible, enabling creation of domain-specific modules and implementation of house style guides.

Proselint can be seen as both a language tool for scientists and a tool for language science. On the one hand, Proselint can help scientists communicate their ideas to each other and to the public by improving their writing. On the other hand, scientists can use Proselint to measure language usage, to provide style- and usage-based features for tasks such as authorship identification, and to explore the factors that make a linter useful (e.g., a low false discovery rate).

Keywords

linters, writing tools, copyediting

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