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How to use grammar and spell checkers for government use

There are two things to pay attention to while using any grammar and spell checker: security and retrievability

Officers on computers.JPG

As a rule of thumb, government workers should use software-based or add-in-based checkers and avoid any cloud-based companies unless the program is using a secured web service like AWS GovCloud.


This article is part of a series, Report Writing for a New Generation: Merging Technology with Traditional Techniques, which covers general police report writing skills along with plain English instruction, professional and technical writing best practices, and how technology is changing the way officers write.

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Technology is truly fascinating. Invisible, computer-controlled sets of rules control everything. Searching the internet, traffic control and now police report writing are all controlled and influenced by simple computational rules called algorithms.

The most common algorithms used in police report writing are the ones attached to grammar and spell checkers. But spell checkers are not created equal, and if you work for the government, you must pay close attention to which checker you use.

How grammar and spell checkers work

All grammar and spell checkers use basic computational algorithms to check for errors. These algorithms have been around since the early 1970s, so most are simple. The algorithm will scan the document, then compare it with known texts, like dictionaries and sets of grammar rules. If the checker cannot find the word in the system’s database, then the algorithm will flag it and make suggestions.

Grammar and spell checkers remained basic until 2009 when a company called Grammarly started to use artificial intelligence (AI) to check for context and syntax, not just check for simple spelling mistakes. Soon, other grammar and spell-checking companies started to use similar AI technology to scan for errors and make recommendations. This forced Microsoft to improve its own version of spell check, too. Click here to learn how to set up Microsoft Spell Checker. Now, there are dozens of grammar and spell checkers to choose from.

Be careful with spellcheckers when you work for the government

I have personally and professionally used and tested many grammar and spell checkers. This is not a comparison article, but there are two things a government employee must pay attention to while using any grammar and spell checker: security and retrievability. The system must meet strict government security guidelines and the document should never be retrieved by anyone outside of the government.

But because there are three types of grammar and spell checkers – cloud-based, software/plugin-based, and hybrid – it can be difficult to make sure you reach both standards.

Cloud and web-based

Cloud and web-based checkers use the cloud or web to check for errors and make recommendations. Users upload their documents to the checker, then the checker will scan it and then make its recommendations. The user will then download and save the revised copy.

Government workers should not use cloud or web-based checkers. The security, even though many boast TLS 1.2 protocols and AES-256 encryption (both good security features), are hosted on non-governmental approved servers that do not meet the federal government’s strict digital storage standards. More importantly, sensitive government documents can inadvertently be stored on these servers since the user uploads them directly to the cloud for review.

Software-based and add-in-based

I lumped both types into the same group because they function the same and have similar security features.

For software and plugin-based grammar and spell checkers, the program is downloaded directly onto the user’s computer or the user’s server, then “added in” to the word processor. The user can type their document like normal and use the added-in spell checker instead of the spell checker that came with the word processor. Both StyleWriter and ProWriting Aid are good examples of plugin-based checkers. Microsoft Office Spell Checker is a good example of a software-based checker. These programs are typically very safe because they can be controlled by your city’s IT department and full documents are never uploaded to a non-government server.


Hybrid checkers can use add-ins or the cloud. Grammarly is the most well-known hybrid spell checker which gives the user the choice to use the add-in or the cloud. If you work for the government, never use the cloud service. Just stick with the add-in or extension.

A note about all spell checkers

All spell checkers will collect data. This data, however, is used to improve AI functionality and improve machine learning. The data is usually stored in chunks, not entire pages or documents. The only exception are non-reputable grammar and spell checkers which use keylogger technology that records every keystroke. You can find out how the company stores and manages data by reading its terms and conditions and privacy pages.


Algorithms used in grammar and spell checkers will help with bad report writing by catching most of the small mistakes that can hinder clarity and precision. As a rule of thumb, government workers should use software-based or add-in-based checkers (Microsoft Word, ProWriting Aid, StyleWriter, Grammarly), and avoid any cloud-based companies unless the program is using a secured web service like AWS GovCloud.

NEXT: How to set up spellcheck to proofread your police report

Joshua Lee is an active-duty police sergeant for a municipal police department in Arizona. Before being promoted, Joshua served five years as a patrol officer and six years as a detective with the Organized Crime Section investigating civil asset forfeiture, white-collar financial crime, and cryptocurrency crimes.

Joshua is a money laundering investigations expert witness and consultant for banks, financial institutions, and accountants. He is also an artificial intelligence for government applications advisor and researcher.

Joshua holds a BA in Justice Studies, an MA in Legal Studies, and an MA in Professional Writing. He has earned some of law enforcement’s top certifications, including the ACFE’s Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE), ACAMS Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) and the IAFC’s Certified Cyber Crimes Investigator (CCCI).

Joshua is an adjunct professor at a large national university, and a smaller regional college teaching law, criminal justice, government, technology, writing and English courses.