Anyone who writes online or in a word processor has likely gotten used to the inevitable squiggly line denoting a misspelled word or clumsy phrase. But what if you use a word that’s loaded, a phrase that’s too formal or not formal enough, or refer to a group of people in an outdated way? Writer is a service that watches as you type, flagging language that doesn’t match up with your style guide and values, and it just raised $5M to scale up.
Both people and the companies they work for want to improve the way they write, but not just in terms of grammar and spelling. If a company says it’s inclusive, but the language in its press releases or internal blogs are peppered with anachronism and bias, it suggests their concern only goes so far.
“Companies are hungry to put actions behind their words,” said Writer founder and CEO May Habib. “They want to be able to tell a consistent story to their users everywhere that they’re interacting with them. What Writer does is let people know when they’re using insensitive language, or things that could be considered negative, and let companies set brand guidelines.”
Right off the bat let us admit that there is a whiff of the sinister about the idea of a company dictating how its employees speak, though that’s nothing new when it comes to content and official communications. But this isn’t about controlling speech for power — it’s about recognizing that we are all flawed communicators and could use a hand keeping ourselves honest. Less thought police and more a well-informed angel sitting on your shoulder whispering things like, “Hey. Are you sure you want to describe that lawyer as ‘exotic’?” There are tons of slip-ups we all make along those lines, less obvious but no less potentially offensive. It’s important in public communications, among other things, to refer to a group by the term they prefer, not the first one that pops into your head; Writer has up-to-date libraries of this information sourced from the communities themselves. Some phrases may have become politically loaded in the last couple years, but you’re not aware; No problem, it has alternatives. You want to avoid unnecessarily gendered language, great, but everyone slips up now and then; Writer can spot it — or make the connection with previous pronouns to make sure you don’t, for example, gender an anonymous source.
Accusations of “political correctness” will dog the service, but as Habib put it: “This is beyond politics; This is about respect for people who live a certain way, or are a certain way, and prefer to use certain terms. We’re trying to help companies create communities of belonging.” And as we’ve seen over and over again in tech, there is often a serious disconnect between the stated aspiration of a company and how people are treated within them. Just using the right words is a pretty low bar to start with, honestly. Writer isn’t just a growing blacklist of […]