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Monday, June 24, 2013

My Review of Grammarly Automated Proofreading and Grammar-Checking Service

Grammarly is a service that promises to help improve your written English. Their website says it corrects up to 10 times more mistakes than popular word processors. Other features they highlight include...
  • Instant proofreading
  • Instantly find and correct over 250 types of grammatical mistakes
  • Context-optimized vocabulary suggestions
  • Improve word choice with context-optimized vocabulary suggestions
  • Plagiarism detector
  • Avoid plagiarism by checking your texts against over 8 billion web pages
The producers of Grammarly were kind enough to grant me one month's trial access to their service so I could review it, so here's what I found...

First, you can use Grammarly in various ways. Once you are logged in to the website, you can either copy and paste text for checking, or you can choose a file from your computer and upload it. Copy-and paste didn't work for me for some reason (maybe browser related), so I uploaded documents for checking instead.

There is also an option to download a Grammarly plug-in for Microsoft Office, which allows you to check documents within Word by clicking on a button in the main menu. For testing purposes I stuck with the online checker, but I did test the plug-in as well and it appeared to work as described.

Once you have uploaded or (maybe) copy and pasted your document, Grammarly gives you a choice of six stylistic options: general, business, academic, creative, technical, and casual. It wasn't that easy to decide which category would be best for the type of writing I do, so I started with the general category (which is also the default).

Click on Start Review, and Grammarly begins its analysis. For a typical 1500-word article, I found this took about 30 seconds to complete.

You are then presented with the results of the analysis. For a sample article about crowdfunding websites that I had recently submitted to a client, it listed 99 issues, which I found a bit depressing. I've copied the summary list below.

As always, you should be able to view a larger version of the image above by clicking on it.

Clicking on any item in the list will show you all the issues in that particular category one by one, or you can click on 'Next' to see the issues in the order in which they occur within your document. As an example, here is the full explanation of the issue that Grammarly found with respect to 'Use of Articles'.

As you can see, you can have long or short explanations. The sample above is a short one. The longer ones typically go into more detail and have more examples to illustrate the points made.

In the example above, as I appreciate it is not too easy to see it in the screen capture, the sentence where the issue was identified was as follows:

That got you too many perks to list here, but included a co-producer credit and chance to appear in the film, eight seats at the cast and crew premiere, assorted Frank Sidebottom memorabilia, and so on.

Grammarly felt that perhaps there should be an article ('a' or 'the') before 'chance'. That would not be incorrect, of course - but as an 'a' has already been used in front of 'co-producer credit', I felt there was no need to include it in front of chance as well. I chose to elide it for the sake of conciseness, in other words.

Going through the other issues identified, I actually found very few I would have wanted to incorporate, and some that were obviously wrong. Take this one, for example...

Grammarly wants to change 'Don't rely on Kickstarter alone' to 'Doesn't rely on Kickstarter alone', which is clearly incorrect. This sort of thing is just a waste of time, I'm afraid.

On the other hand - and to be fair to Grammarly - some of the issues the software highlighted did make me think. While it didn't find anything that was clearly and unambiguously 'wrong', it did find one or two instances where I had to admit there was room for improvement. Take this one, for example...

The sentence in question is 'If your project does not get enough pledges there is no charge'. While I don't agree that this is definitely incorrect (in British English), I can see that the sentence might work better with a comma after 'pledges'. That is especially so because the following sentence does have a comma after the introductory clause ('If it does, you will pay a fee of around 10 percent of the money raised.').

Thirty-three of the issues identified by Grammarly with my sample article concerned stylistic issues. This turned out to be mainly due to the informality of the tone, the use of 'you' to address readers, and the use of contractions such as 'can't' and 'won't'. This is in keeping with the style of the newsletter I was writing for, however, and I wouldn't therefore have wanted to change it.

I did, as a matter of interest, try analyzing the document again with the 'casual' style selected instead, and no such issues were then identified. So I guess that if your own style is predominantly informal, this might be a better option to go with!

My test article didn't have any deliberate mistakes in it, so I did try it as well with some other articles I had seeded with errors. Grammarly did pretty well at picking up spelling mistakes, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) didn't flag up the use of 'form' where it should have been 'from' (e.g. in the phrase 'a refund form the bank'). I was, though, quite impressed that it spotted the incorrect use of 'frictional' and suggested the correct word in context, which was 'fractional'.

Overall, I'm on the fence about Grammarly. As a professional freelance writer, I found it produced too many time-wasting 'false alerts' to be of value to me in my regular work, where time is of course money!

In a way, though, I think my experience serves to highlight the fact that no automated service can ever replace the attention of a skilled proofreader and editor. Grammarly themselves admit this, and say their service should be regarded as simply 'another pair of eyes'. If you have the time and patience to go through all the 'issues' it identifies, you are likely to find some some genuine opportunities to improve your work, among a lot of other items that are probably best ignored.

Grammarly is sold on a subscription basis. You can try it free of charge for seven days, but you will have to provide payment information before you can access your free trial. If you decide it's not for you, you can cancel your membership within seven days and you will not then be charged. I can see why Grammarly do this, though personally I would be happier if they provided a 'no-strings' trial, maybe just for three days, before requesting your credit-card number.

If you have any comments or questions about Grammarly, please post them below and I will do my best to answer them. Thank you again to Grammarly for giving me the opportunity to review their service.

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Anonymous Susan B Weiner, CFA said...

In my experience, false alarms are a big problem with all forms of software that check spelling and grammar.

I like PerfectIt software for helping me identify and fix inconsistent hyphenation and excess spaces. But that may not be enough to win over many users.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Susan. I like PerfectIt also - I reviewed it a while ago in this post:

PerfectIt is less ambitious than Grammarly - it is mainly a consistency checker and doesn't even have a built-in spellchecker. That does mean it produces a lot less false alarms, though.

9:14 PM  
Blogger JustMe said...

As an author, I find Grammarly quite useful - especially in pointing out where alternate wording would improve a sentence.

However, personally, I like to use a combination of Grammarly & WhiteSmoke.

While neither of them is perfect, one of the two usually finds what the other has overlooked.

Not be mention, unlike Grammarly, which requires a yearly subscription, with WhiteSmoke one can purchase a lifetime subscription.

WhiteSmoke also tends to place their product on sale, sometimes up to 50% off, at least a couple times a year.

2:26 PM  
Blogger J said...

I think the days of people paying large amounts of money for an automated proofreader are over. I recommend checking out PaperRater for a free tool that's just as good.

10:30 PM  

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