May 122016

[Ed. Note: Here at the News we’re suckers for listicles, so we’re pleased to bring you the first of a two-part list of tips for using the editorial tool Acrolinx.]

Acrolinx is a language, grammar, and terminology checker that runs as a plugin in most XML editors. You write your content, you choose Acrolinx from the menu, and you get a report of the potential flags associated with the content, such as missing serial commas or use of the passive voice. You can also add your own checks.

Screenshot of sample Acrolinx sidebarAcrolinx GmbH

The Acrolinx sidebar

We started using Acrolinx at my company, MathWorks, about a year ago. While it took time to overcome implementation challenges and get writers to fully integrate the tool into their workflow, we have started to see positive results. Writing quality and consistency have gone up, new writers are internalizing our company styles more quickly, and overall, writers and editors have more time to focus on substantive content issues.

If you’re considering using Acrolinx for your company, keep these tips in mind to make sure your implementation goes smoothly.

Don’t make fixes mandatory

When you first implement Acrolinx, let writers know that Acrolinx is designed to help them. They’re not being graded on the number of flags they receive, and they’re not expected to blindly address every flag. Critical thinking about the content still applies. For example, if the tool flags a sentence for using passive voice, but passive voice is appropriate in that case, then the writer should feel confident in ignoring the flag.

Let writers determine how to integrate Acrolinx into their workflow

All writers work a little differently. Some prefer to run Acrolinx only after writing a whole help topic. Others prefer to run Acrolinx after they write one section, or even just a few sentences. As long as writers are running the tool, leave it up to them on how to use it.

The more flexibility you give writers in implementing Acrolinx, the more buy-in you get. The rules that Acrolinx applies are common sense, so writers tend to appreciate rather than resent the flags they receive. Eventually, writers internalize the rules and get fewer flags to begin with.

Understand the limitations of Acrolinx

By learning the strengths and weaknesses of Acrolinx, you gain a better understanding of what the tool can and can’t check for you. For example, Acrolinx can’t tell you when your information is inaccurate or harmful to the user. It checks the syntax of a sentence, not its content. For example, this sentence raises no Acrolinx flags:

To get your toast from the toaster, use a knife or fork.

Also, Acrolinx can’t fix your paragraphs, because it operates at the sentence level. As soon as it reviews one sentence, it forgets it and moves on to the next one. You can have a whole paragraph of Acrolinx approved sentences that don’t add up to a coherent idea.

Have a team in place to address issues

Having a dedicated Acrolinx team in place is essential for a smooth implementation. Good candidates for the team include writers, editors, content strategists, or anyone else who interacts with the tool. The team can troubleshoot issues writers are having, and they can refine or add rules based on suggestions from writers and editors.

When you first implement Acrolinx, the team members also act as advocates for the tool and can help writers see its benefits. After implementation, they can explore new features to further improve the tool.

About the Author

Headshot of Will Tripp

Will Tripp

Will Tripp is a technical editor at MathWorks in Natick, MA. Will has a BA in English from the University of New Hampshire, an MA in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College, and a certificate in Technical Writing from Middlesex Community College. He has more than 15 years of professional writing and editing experience.