Anyone who writes has unpleasant run-ins with word processors. Most have built-in grammar or spell checking software, but they’re often more a courtesy than a useful tool. Relying solely on their edits is ill-advised. Sure, it helps us catch typos, but even then the suggestions are strictly limited to what is prepackaged into the in-program database.
While most spell checkers usually only consider whether what you typed is actually a word, Grammarly’s software algorithm takes context into consideration. We’ll break down some of the services offered by the Grammarly premium version and free version to find out if they do indeed live up to the hype.
For spell checking, most word processors have a dictionary with common terms bundled, but proper terminology (such as words specific to the medical or culinary fields) will often be flagged as “misspelled” and marked with the dreaded red-squiggly line.
The available grammar checkers are often 2x times worse. They can only function algorithmically, so if you’re writing with a bit of personal flare or if your sentence structure doesn’t quite abide standard academic formatting, you’ll likely see a considerable amount of green underlines. This is where 3rd-party applications come in – to solve these two common writer’s woes.
One such program is Grammarly. Grammarly prides itself as the “world’s most accurate grammar checker.” Their home page claims a user base of over 10 million and they reliably show up in the top 10 search results for “grammar checkers.” But how good are they?
How Does Grammarly Work?
Grammarly is a grammar checker for “anyone who writes and wants to improve his or her writing – students, bloggers, writers, and professionals.” It can be installed as a free-browser extension, an add-in for Microsoft Office, or as a stand-alone application that is capable of proofreading whole files (for iOS, Android or Windows). All forms automatically update, so you’ll not have to worry about whether you’re on the latest version.
Using it is simple enough; you can either copy-paste the excerpt or drag the file to the application. If it’s on your browser, it will scan the input fields for you and mark any areas that seem like potential spelling or grammatical errors. This comes in handy, especially for bloggers. Who wants to go through the hassle (or embarrassment) of uploading a well thought out blog post only to find that you missed an apostrophe here and there or used “too” instead of “to”? Being able to identify whether one form or another would be most appropriate is an ability that Grammarly is especially proud of – this is even available with their free version.
What Sets Them Apart
With the free version, the company claims that it only corrects “critical” spelling mistakes or grammar mistakes. However, this is much more precise than the usual auto-correct. An example would be “lets” versus “let’s.” Regardless of the usage, if the spelling is technically correct, most checkers won’t mark it for review. Grammarly is actually able to detect whether the form of a word is appropriate (to an extent), and goes so far as to offer suggestions and case examples within the accompanying error cards. These error cards also elaborate on some of the grammar rules, so it’s a useful tool for those wanting to improve their writing overall.
Grammarly also considers exceptions to the rules. They claim to scan for “more than 150 common and advanced grammar rules,” that number changes to “over 400” for the premium version. Though it is significantly more capable than most checkers, this type of proofreading is still limited by factors such as programming and its (constantly updating) database. In English, there is an exception to nearly every rule in place.
There are also individual writing styles and a wide array of sentence construction possibilities, making it impossible to program around all of these factors perfectly. However, in cases such as these, the error cards they provide link to a forum where you can post specific questions. Grammarly has amassed a vast network of users, professionals and enthusiasts over the years, so you’re sure to find a related answer or get one to your specific question.
If you don’t have time to double-check or are not confident in your ability to discern how best to edit what the application has marked as a mistake, you should consider their paid services. This would make it possible for you to send your document or excerpt to “professional proofreaders” who will review all of the issues as well as correct them for you. Grammarly offers monthly, quarterly and annual plans, so you can avail of their services as needed.
Customize based on your writing profile
Of course, not all of us are looking to get the same genre of paper edited, so Grammarly offers multiple options to establish the tone, and likely educational background, of the proofreader (this is a Grammarly Premium feature). You have your choice between 6 document types: General (the default), Academic, Business, Technical, Creative and Casual. This will affect the guidelines by which the assigned proofreader edits your work.
The allowable sentence structures, types of transitions, contractions and even fine details like diction would be affected by your choice. For example, when submitting a paper as a Creative or Casual piece, beginning a sentence with “and” would be permissible. However, if it were to be submitted as a Business or Academic document, the proofreader would mark it as a mistake and offer alternative, more appropriate phrasing. The names should be fairly self-explanatory, but if you’d like further elaboration, you can find more details about each category here.
The beauty of being able to establish the document type with their paid services is that you would have a live person going through and editing your paper with the correct mindset. You wouldn’t have to worry about considering the proofreader’s own writing preferences or personality coming through the corrections. It essentially relieves you of the burden of having to go through your edits to make sure it still sounds like you and that your points come across the way intended, saving you loads of time and effort. This makes it a very viable investment for anyone whose livelihood hinges on their writing.
A Top-Down Review Summation
Pros- Grammarly’s free services encourage active consideration of one’s writing and provide explanations of the grammar rules possibly in play. The suggestions offered are based on a degree of context, which is a big step up from most spelling and grammar checkers. Their database is updated frequently, meaning that the application is constantly being improved upon. It’s a great learning tool for those interested in improving their writing overall. And if you choose to invest in their live proofreader services, it becomes even more of a reliable time-saver. Providing users with 6 different document types to choose from is an incredible improvement from most paid proofreading services.
Cons- The free version is available for integration on browsers and word processors directly, but unless you’ve decided to pay for one of their live “professional proofreaders,” you will still run into the occasional false error or sub-optimal suggestion. Language is a cornerstone of humanity and far too dynamic to be thoroughly condensed into code. The bottom line is that relying solely on the corrections offered (by the free version), without any further consideration, will not guarantee a perfectly polished document.
Until applications being integrated with AI become a norm, no pre-programmed proofreader will ever compare to human editing. However, Grammarly claims to regularly take the time to improve on the abilities of their free proofreader and also make it available where you need it most. Even the free version can be a powerful tool if you take the edits for what they are – suggestions.