I've been using Grammarly for Chrome for a couple of months now. It is a free cut-down version that works in the browser to check any writing you do on the web. In fact, this blog post is being checked even as I type. The subscription version of Grammarly is far too expensive for me but I've found that the online version can be used by simply pasting text into the online document. It seems to work well even though I can't use any but the basic features.
So, I've been a bit nervous using Grammarly because I simply have no experience with it until now. I'm a fair proofreader but I'll be the first to admit I suck at commas. It was always getting me in trouble in college. One professor got annoyed. He was a jerk in every way anyhow, so I sort of didn't care, which was probably not the best attitude. It was my first year and he was my first and only experience with a Jerk Prof.
Anyway, when I saw that Randy Ingermanson had reviewed Grammarly, I was really glad. He covered many of the things I was concerned about and his findings supported my own. Namely, that Grammarly is adequate but can't take the place of live editing.
His generous reprint policy means I can share it with you.
Craft: Test Driving Grammarly
A couple of weeks ago, one of the folks at Grammarly.com e-mailed me to offer a free test-drive of their tool.
Grammarly is an online tool that lets you check your writing for various writing problems.
I have some friends who use Grammarly, but I didn’t know much about the tool. I thought it would be worth testing. In the worst case, I’d waste a couple of hours and find it useless. In the best case, it would be useful.
So I agreed to do a test-drive, and the Grammarly people set me up with a free account for two weeks.
I’ve done some testing, and this article is a report on the results.
After logging in to my account on the Grammarly Website, I looked around to see what I get. There are several pieces to the tool:
The main site, where you can paste in a section of text and see results online.
An extension to the Chrome web browser that lets you use Grammarly when writing anything on the Web—for example in Gmail or on your blog. I didn’t test this.
An add-in for Microsoft Office that you can use in Word and Outlook on Windows. I write on a Mac, so I couldn’t test this.
All my tests were done directly on the Website by pasting in blocks of text. I normally write in Scrivener, where it’s natural to work with small sections of text.
The Organization Article
In my first test, I pasted in the Organization article from this e-zine.
Within a few seconds, Grammarly had analyzed the text for spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and style. (These are the default tests you can run. There are others you can turn on manually.)
Grammarly caught a few places where my text had two spaces between words. It also caught some missing commas and made some suggestions on wording choices and other suggestions.
I didn’t take all the suggestions, but I at least considered them.
Then I noticed that you can also turn on a plagiarism checker, so I did that. Grammarly flagged four phrases, ranging in length from 8 to 11 words, with links to articles on the web where these phrases appeared.
Of course, the phrases weren’t plagiarized. But none of them seemed like very fresh writing, either. If I found a lot of these phrases, I’d probably want to buff up the writing. But my opinion is that it’s not necessary to be totally original in every single sentence you write.
Then I saw that there’s also a vocabulary enhancement option, so I turned that on. Grammarly suggested that the word “constantly” is often overused. This may be true, but it seemed to work in the sentence, so I left it unchanged.
Then I noticed that you can set the type of document you’re writing. I set mine to be “Article/blog post”. Grammarly flagged another couple of phrases as “unoriginal text”.
At this point, there were no more tests I could run, and my score for the article stood at 100, so that was the end of it.
My initial reaction at this point was that Grammarly can be quite useful in helping me fix my commas, and it can help me catch other minor issues, such as wording. And it might be useful in catching trite phrases and lazy writing.
Chapter One of a Book
In my second test, I pasted in the first chapter of a book I published last year, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.
As the final stage in writing the book, I hired a professional proofreader (my daughter Carolyn) to review the document. I kept the before-and-after versions of the text, so I thought it would be worth comparing Grammarly’s work with that of a talented human proofreader.
The results were very interesting.
Grammarly flagged some missing commas that Carolyn passed by. Carolyn changed some that Grammarly allowed. I’m no authority on commas, but it seemed to me that they were about even.
Grammarly made a number of suggestions on wording choices. I rejected most of these, but there was one passive phrase that I would probably change if I were editing the book right now.
This particular chapter was short, and neither Carolyn nor Grammarly had very many changes flagged.
I decided to try testing the whole book in Grammarly. I knew that this task took Carolyn about eleven hours. How fast would Grammarly do it?
I clicked the Upload button in Grammarly and selected my original Word document.
A few seconds later, it gave me an error message saying that the file was too big—that it could only accept 20 pages at a time.
That was a disappointment but not a disaster, because I usually write in Scrivener, where it’s normal to keep each scene in a separate chunk of text.
Chapter Two of a Book
I pasted in the second chapter into Grammarly and ran the default set of tests and the plagiarism and vocabulary enhancement tests. This time, things got more interesting.
Grammarly pointed out a number of phrases of “unoriginal text.” Again, these were 8 to 11 words, and my judgment was that none of these were so trite that they needed changing.
Grammarly also pointed out some overused words, such as “actually.” If I were editing this manuscript, I’d probably change a couple of these.
Grammarly also caught a weak adjective and pointed out a word choice that I’d probably change now.
Grammarly suggested that I change the word “coauthor” to “co-author”. Carolyn had allowed this word. As far as I can tell, either is correct.
Grammarly made some suggestions that I rejected. A number of these were in dialogue. For example, Grammarly flagged a very long sentence for “wordiness.” This is correct; the sentence was wildly wordy. But that was intentional. It was a point in the dialogue where my character Goldilocks was confused and nervous, so she started gabbling.
Grammarly also caught an “overused” word that I would delete if I were editing now. It caught a hyphenation error and a spelling error, both of which Carolyn had also found.
Grammarly suggested some changes that were incorrect. In my opinion, every automated system is going to do that. You should never blindly accept the suggestions of any tool. The point of a tool is to catch possible problems so you can think about them. It’s better for the tool to incorrectly flag non-errors than to incorrectly miss actual errors.
Grammarly did miss some actual errors, and it’s worth noting these.
The story has a major character named Goldilocks and another named Baby Bear. At one point, I typed “Baby” instead of “Baby Bear.” At another, I typed “Baby Brother.” Carolyn caught both of these errors. Grammarly missed them both. I’d have been shocked if Grammarly caught them.
In another case, I made a blunder in a sentence of dialogue, leaving out the comma and the word “said”. Carolyn caught this. Grammarly missed it.
First Scene of New Book
As my final test, I loaded in the first scene of a book I’m currently working on. I’ve not yet run this past a human proofreader. Grammarly analyzed it pretty quickly.
As a result of Grammarly’s analysis, I’ve made the following changes:
I added in a missing comma.
I changed a passive construction to a more active one.
I corrected the phrase “any more” to “anymore.” I didn’t know the difference before. Now I do. Grammarly explained it.
I noticed that “really” is overused, and removed a couple of them.
I changed a preposition to a better one that Grammarly suggested. I had already been uncomfortable with this sentence, but couldn’t quite think why. Grammarly told me why.
I corrected “teen-age” to “teenaged”. I didn’t know the hyphen was incorrect.
Grammarly is currently showing me a few other overused words that I still need to tweak.
I’m not a bad proofreader, and I catch most typos myself. But I’m not perfect, so my policy is to hire a proofreader before publishing.
It’s clear to me that Grammarly is no substitute for a human proofreader. (The Grammarly representative made this point to me, also.)
However, Grammarly is clearly catching a substantial fraction of my typos. It’s showing me overused words and none-too-original phrases, which is something I don’t expect my proofreader to do.
My judgment is that Grammarly makes a nice second pair of eyes that will help me deliver a cleaner manuscript to my proofreader.
So my plan is to buy a subscription after my free trial version runs out. I’ll try it in my work for the next few months and then reevaluate to see if it’s worth it to me long-term.
(No, Grammarly isn’t offering me a free permanent subscription or any other incentive. In particular, I have no affiliate arrangement with them. The only thing they’ve given me is a free two week trial run, with no obligation on me to do anything.)
How much does Grammarly cost? The prices are shown here:
Monthly: $29.95 per month
Quarterly: $59.95 per quarter
Annual: $139.95 per year
That’s a bit pricey, probably too much for many authors. It’s a question of how much quality is worth to you. My goal is perfection. I know that’s impossible, but I keep trying anyway.
PS: After writing this article, I checked it with Grammarly. Grammarly flagged 79 issues, of which I chose to fix 11.
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 12,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.