How to be an instant grammar maven: a review of Grammarly

Let’s face it, none of us are perfect when it comes to spelling and grammar.  Although many word processing programs such as MS Word come with built in grammar and spell-checkers, they tend to be pretty simple and often hilariously wrong.  In an ideal world, you’d always write with a partner, checking each other’s spelling and grammar errors. Many people do just that, but it’s not a practical option for frequent postings like blogs, proposals, or even short stories if you’re writing these regularly.  Grammarly isn’t meant to substitute for a full-on edit, and certainly won’t suffice for a big piece of writing like a novel, which requires a professional proofreader, line and copy editor, but it’s perfect for blog posts, book reviews, emails and other quick pieces of writing, and is also a good first pass for anything longer and more complex.

Using it couldn’t be simpler.  You just go to the Grammarly website, drop your text into the box and click on “check your text”.  Within a few minutes (really!), the system goes through your text for a whole range of common grammatical errors including such things as sentence fragments, double negatives, mis-use of subordinate clauses, mis-matched tenses, run-on sentences (my personal issue), and lots more that you’ve probably forgotten since you studied grammar at school.  Of course, it also picks up spelling errors and does other clever things like checking your work for originality. It will even show you where the original is from if you’ve inadvertently lifted someone else’s work. I can think of a few infamous authors who should have used that feature. 

Some of the corrections are quite subtle and instead of just finding errors, Grammarly provides suggested solutions.  For example, in the first draft of this blog post, Grammarly found an instance where I’d used ‘and’ twice, and there were a number of suggestions for enhancing the work with better words and synonym suggestions, one of which was to change “it’s excellent and quite perfect” to just “quite perfect”. Some of my sentences were tagged as ‘wordy’ and suggestions were made for removing extraneous words like “really”. 

You can choose from a range of checking options including general, business, academic, Technical Creative, and Casual, each of which changes the overall heuristics, the synonyms suggested and the amount of rigour applied.   You can paste in your text online, or download a version for MS Office, which  allows you to check through a document with a single click on the “Check” box.  As someone who tends to write quickly and rather sloppily, and then mentally fix my own errors when I proofread, Grammarly is a reputation saver.  I use it now for almost everything I write, and the result is a lot less embarrassing errors, and better copy.  Best of all, Grammarly keeps track of your errors and creates a personal writing handbook that you can use to become a better writer.  Just review your handbook to see the errors you tend to keep repeating and you can make a conscious effort to eliminate them, learn about the parts of grammar usage that keep tripping you up, and improve your overall skills.  

As the premium version of Grammarly is a subscription based product, it’s not particularly cheap.  Annual subscriptions run around $140, or $30 a month, but if you use it to check everything you write, the per unit price is pretty reasonable.  Saving your reputation from embarrassing grammar mistakes (I’ve certainly made a few doozies) especially in such things as query letters, and ultimately improving your English is priceless.  You can take a free trial of the premium version at the Grammarlysite and can also get hold of Grammarly Lite, which will check anything you write on the internet (including your social media posts) for free.  

My PhotoMagdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.

11 comments:

  1. Hey,

    Looks like a great resource. Love your illustration showing that commas DO matter!

    Thanks so much.

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  2. I've been thinking about signing up for Grammarly - it could be such a helpful tool.

    We all make mistakes, it'd be great to have a tool to use, aside from your own proofing.

    And, I love the 'comma' illustration.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Sounds really good Magdalena. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Magdalena, what great information! I think it's worth the investment.

    Thank-you!

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  5. Maggie, for those who really hate most anything to do with grammar I suggest June Casagrande's Grammer Snobs Are Great Big Meanies. It's funny and it helps people distinguish between style choices and rules. Your visitors may also be interested it my The Frugal Editor which helps them choose certain style choices over others--especially if they're the author of books. Those choices shouldn't necessarily be made based on what we prefer. http://budurl.com/TheFrugalEditor

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  6. PS: Keep in mind that some things these services alert you to work fine as alerts but may be wrong in terms of your writing. Example: If you write dialogue, people talk in fragments and you may have a character who does a lot of that. When a program identifies a fragment, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's wrong. Unless you're writing a high school essay. (-:

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  7. I'd never heard of this program, but it sounds like it could be quite helpful--a bit pricey though... Thanks for sharing the information, Maggie.

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  8. Thanks Maggie--really valuable info. Don't know how often I have had to trap and whisk out errors from Internet communications. Sounds like an excellent time-saver too.

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  9. Thanks Maggie--interesting resource

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  10. Thanks Maggie--interesting resource

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  11. Great post, Maggie. This resource sounds like a great help, especially for someone relying on the thin and threadbare Strunk and White Elements of Style and bookmarked-beyond-belief Chicago Manual of Style! You've helped me take a second look!

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