If Lincoln Had Used a Computer.
1. The ad for a software program caught my eye. It said, "Write better in 30 days or your money back."
2. I'm familiar with computer programs that correct spelling through the use of built-in dictionaries. But the ad for this program said that it would correct "stylistic errors".
3. Style. That's a big part of what writing is about. So I stopped by the computer store to give it a test run. I wanted to see what the program would say about one of my favorite pieces of writing.
4. I typed it into the computer. Then the computer printed out a critique. Here it is:
5. Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. [Long sentences can be difficult to read and understand. Consider revising so that no more than one complete thought is expressed in each sentence. Passive voice: "are created." Consider using active. Usually a paragraph should have more than one sentence.]
6. Now we are engaged [Passive voice: "are engaged." Consider using active. See "Help" key for more information.] in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met [Passive voice: "are met." Consider using active.] on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicated a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that [Delete doubled word.] nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
7. But, [Use "But" sparingly to start a sentence.] in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember [An adjective "long" is usually not followed by a verb "remember." You may need to use an adverbial form of "long" or a comma before "remember. "] what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather [This word usually adds little and should be omitted.] to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which ["That" is almost always preferred in this situation. If you really mean "which," then it usually needs to be preceded by a comma, See "Help" key for more information.] they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather [This word usually adds little and should be omitted.] for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us: that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly revolve that these dead [Usually "these" should be followed by a plural noun.] shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
8. That's something. As often as I've read this speech, getting a lump in my throat every time. I've never detected one stylistic problem, much less 13. Shows how little I know.
9. But I suppose we really shouldn't expect anything better from someone who grew up in a log cabin, hoofed to a oneroom Schoolhouse and never made it to college.
10. We might remember, though, that Abe Lincoln was at a stylistic disadvantage when he wrote his Gettysburg Address. The poor guy didn't have a "Help" key to push.