Text reviews for software

When users find spelling and grammar errors in your software, your credibility takes a hit. But apparently very few software projects review the text their software displays. I imagine the ones that do review their text use a combination of two leaky methods: asking execution testers to take note of prose errors, and requiring that all text displayed to users be stored in a string table.

There are a couple problems with asking execution testers to be copy editors. First, they’re not copy editors. They may not recognize a grammatical error when they see it. Second, they only see the text that their path through the software exposes. Messages displayed to the user under unusual circumstances slip through testing.

String tables are a good idea. They can be reviewed by a professional editor. (Or translator, if you’re application is internationalized.) But it’s difficult to make sure that every string the user might see is in the string table. When you need to add a few quick lines of error-handling code, it’s so easy to just include the text right there in the code rather than adding an entry to the string table. After all, you say to yourself, the code’s probably not going to run anyway.

My solution was to write a script that extracts all the quoted text from a source tree so it can be reviewed separately. The script tries to only pick out strings that a user could see, filtering out, for example, code quoted inside code. Doing this perfectly would be very hard, but by tolerating a small error rate, the problem can be solved quickly in a few lines of code. I’ve used this script for years. Nearly every time I run it I discover potentially embarrassing errors.

In addition to helping with copy editing, an extract of all the string literals in a project gives an interesting perspective on the source code. For example, it could help uncover security risks such as SQL injection vulnerabilities.

I’ve posted an article on CodeProject along with the script I wrote.

PowerShell Script for Reviewing Text Shown to Users

The script on CodeProject is written for Microsoft’s PowerShell. If anyone would like a Perl version of the script, just let me know. I first wrote the script in Perl, but then moved it to PowerShell as my team was moving to PowerShell for all administrative scripting.