The ESL Assistant, the MSR Natural Language Processing Group's prototype proofing tool for people who write English as a second or foreign language, has been given a makeover. Visitors to the site at http://www.eslassistant.com will now see a page that looks something like this:

New UI

The new user interface requires Microsoft Silverlight™. Visitors to the page are prompted to download Silverlight if it isn't already installed on their machines.   

The new UI was developed and implemented in collaboration with members of the Office Global Experience Platform (with especial thanks to Kate Kelly and Jesus Barrera Ramos) and the MSR Dev Team (Rob Gruen, Jim St. George and Santosh Balasubramiam). Those of us on the ESL Assistant team had received a lot of feedback to the effect that users found the old UI confusing, especially the way it presented raw search results, so we have tried to present the information to users in a more intuitively informative, focused fashion. 

In the new UI, we have tried to limit the amount of English text that non-native-speaking users need to wade through in order to evaluate the suggestions. A user who hovers their mouse over a proposed correction now sees a small set of examples selected from the search results returned by Bing. (Users who wish to review all the Bing results can still do so by clicking on the link at the bottom of the dropdown panel.)  An interactive pie chart shows the approximate ratios with which the different suggestion strings can be found in the Bing index. These changes should make it easier for users to digest the information on the page and to determine whether the suggestions are appropriate in the context of their writing.  The evidence so far suggests that non-native-speaking users are actually quite good at making the right choices on the basis of the search data, even when when our initial suggestions are wrong, so we hope that the new UI will make this task even easier.

Development of the error detection modules is ongoing: as in the past, improvements will be continue to pushed up onto our servers, usually without fanfare, as they become ready for deployment.  We recommend that users run their text through the grammar checker and speller in Word before seeing if the ESL Assistant can catch any additional problems.

The ESL Assistant team has found it extremely gratifying to see the steadily growing number of return visitors who regularly avail themselves of the service. We hope everyone will like the new look and send us their feedback.