The Proof is in the Spell-Checker

Scientific terms such as "hematopoietic" and "chemokine" are not found in the native spell-check program included with standard word processing software; as a result, red squiggly lines appear throughout scientific documents, drawing the writer's attention away from the task of writing and toward words that were spelled correctly in the first place. While it's certainly possible to add each term individually to the dictionary, to do so would be time-consuming and tedious. To solve this problem

Sep 2, 2002
Aileen Constans

Scientific terms such as "hematopoietic" and "chemokine" are not found in the native spell-check program included with standard word processing software; as a result, red squiggly lines appear throughout scientific documents, drawing the writer's attention away from the task of writing and toward words that were spelled correctly in the first place. While it's certainly possible to add each term individually to the dictionary, to do so would be time-consuming and tedious. To solve this problem, Portland, Ore.-based SCISOFT has developed software that significantly streamlines preparation of scientific manuscripts.

SCISOFT's sciPROOF™ works directly with Microsoft Word® 2000, adding more than 200,000 technical, scientific, medical, and chemical terms to the basic spell-check program, and providing the user with other tools for scientific writing such as style checks and glossaries. Whereas some programs require that the user cut and paste documents from their word processor, sciPROOF integrates seamlessly with Word. "We didn't want to make any big changes that would inconvenience the user. Everyone pretty much knows how to spell-check--we just added layers to that," says Thomas Perrin, president of SCISOFT. As a result, sciPROOF's spell-check interface is virtually identical to Word's.

Unique to sciPROOF is a style function that automates standard scientific notation, such as the formatting of genus and species names, and the use of Greek letters, symbols, and acronyms such as DNA and PCR. For example, if a user types in "escherichia coli," the software will suggest proper capitalization and italicization.

Additionally, the software features a drop-down glossary that includes terms defined by the National Library of Medicine; in fact, sciPROOF allows the user to highlight a term directly in the text and search PubMed for articles containing that term without having to leave the page. Users can also customize the program by adding their own specialized terms, definitions, and notations, as well as Internet links to references or other resources.

Perrin says that Version 1.0 of the software will soon be commercially available; subsequent versions will include formatting capabilities for references and journal manuscripts. Perrin explains that the main goal of the software is to adapt conventional word processing programs to the unique needs of the life scientist. "The biggest problem [with standard word processing software] was that a lot of time was wasted on the tedious and necessary tasks of writing ... we're trying to remove all of those to increase your precision but also to give you more time to do your experiments." SCISOFT offers a free demo version of the software on its Web site.

--Aileen Constans