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#FoundersFriday With Juan Castro From Writefull

21st October 2016
By Suze Kundu


We are very excited to bring you a new interview for our #FoundersFriday blog series! If you’ve missed our previous posts, Founders Friday is a forum  in which we interview the founders of different scholarly communication businesses, asking them to share their advice for others and their perspective on the industry as a whole.

For this edition, we have interviewed Juan Castro (@_jpcastrog_ ), Co-Founder of Writefull. Writefull promises to help users write with more confidence by allowing them to check words and phrases against databases of correct language, such as Google Scholar and Google Books. Writefull is one of two other companies (Simiary and Etalia) to be recently awardedDigital Science Catalyst Grant!

Steve Scott, Director of Portfolio Development at Digital Science adds:

“Writefull has the potential to become the everyday tool for researchers in any field. While solutions exist to help users with English grammar, Writefull’s focus on good language usage is what struck us as unique. Extend that to their ability to offer guidance within a specific field of English, such as academic writing, and you have a very powerful offering indeed.”

What is Writefull?

Writefull is an application that helps researchers improve their writing. It does this by comparing the researchers’ writing against databases of correct language.

We’re currently using four language databases:

  • Google Books, containing data from 5+ million books. It currently consists of English books only.
  • Google Web, consisting of data from Web pages that Google has indexed over the years, covering 36 languages.
  • Google Scholar, providing data from academic papers and reports in a wide range of disciplines, covering nine languages.
  • Google News, comprising data from over 4500 news sources worldwide, covering 35 languages.

Writefull is available for the major desktop operating systems including Windows, MacOSX, and Linux.

Researchers can use Writefull in any writing tool – from Microsoft Word to Gmail. They only need to select a piece of text, hit a keyboard short-key, and choose one of Writefull’s options.

Does your software apply to all fields of study? 

Communicating information correctly is vital to the dispersal of knowledge. Writefull helps researchers in all fields because it fetches language data from the multi-disciplinary database, Google Scholar. At this moment, we are working on building language databases for each academic discipline, so in time, Writefull will be able to provide bespoke feedback.

What were you doing before Writefull?

Before Writefull, I was doing a postdoc in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Nottingham, UK.

What is natural Language processing? How is Writefull different from other grammar/language apps?

In a nutshell, Natural Language Processing (NLP) consists of the building of systems that can understand and generate language. NLP is an active area of research with many tasks including: Natural Language Generation/Understanding; Auto summarization; Machine translation and more.

Most grammar/spell checkers use rulesets to assess if a sentence is correct. The problem with this approach is that in many cases there are no clear-cut rules – the use of the comma in English for example. If rules do exist, they fail to assess language usage. That is, a grammar checker would fail to tell you that you don’t say “tall mountains” and “high trees”, but instead “high mountains” and “tall trees”. Writefull tells you this by looking at databases of existing language as an example of what to use.

As the founder of a business, what are you most proud of?

I am most proud of having taken the rewarding, yet often difficult path of becoming an entrepreneur – it’s an extremely fulfilling endeavour!

How will the Catalyst Grant help further your vision?

The Catalyst Grant will enable us to create language databases for specific academic disciplines. This means that we will be able to offer researchers language feedback tailored to their area of research.

As a young start-up, what advice would you give those who have an idea?

I would suggest building a prototype and launching it as soon as possible; then get feedback from real users. An easy way to get some initial traction is by appearing on sites like Betalist. Once you have some repeat users, you should then reach out to them and find out how they use your app, why they use it, and how it can be improved – start applying what you’ve learned straight away. From that point, you should iterate and start thinking about how you could generate revenue.

Where do you see Writefull in five years?

In five years time, we would like to be the everyday writing tool for researchers throughout the world!

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