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LLM Support for “Clarity” in Creative and Scholarly Writing

If you’re using grammar and spell checkers, you’re already using LLM-enhanced algorithms whether you want it or not. You can argue whether that counts as “AI use” that needs to be disclosed—I’d say it doesn’t. They’re not doing a better or worse job than dedicated grammar and spell checkers did before.

But let’s look at the next step up: “AI enhanced” spell and grammar checkers that promise to “clarify” your text, make it “more concise,” and similar. Now, the “clear and concise” cudgel has been used—but rarely substantiated beyond the most obviously overcooked examples—since Strunk & White inflicted modern history’s most terrible style guide on English speakers. So I became curious, and I experimented with this “clarify” feature a lot. You really can’t say all it ever does is make your text as bland and uninteresting as (in)humanly possible; it also often suggests “stylish” substitutions with results reminiscent of using more flowery expressions at a dinner conversation after the third martini.

But I actually use that feature from time to time, and not only for its entertainment value!

What I use it for is to check if the original meaning of a complex sentence is retained in the “clarifying” suggestions. If yes, then everything’s fine, nothing needs to be changed and I can move on. If not, then there’s obviously some potential for confusion or misunderstanding there, so I need to go back to my sentence or paragraph to remedy that.

Which is actually not different from the way I work with copyedited manuscripts that came back from the publisher. Whenever the copy editor suggests a rewrite “for clarity,” that rewrite is almost invariably completely wrong. But it’s really helpful, because now I see the potential for confusion and misunderstanding and can rewrite that sentence or paragraph on my own.

Thus, checking whether “AI” correctly understands your complex sentence or paragraph is—I think—a perfectly legitimate use for creative or scholarly writing. Relying on and click-approving such suggestions, however, seems to me neither legitimate nor helpful in these domains.

For other domains, well, go ahead! This “clarify” feature can certainly assist you in squeezing the last drop of personal identity from your business emails.