My boss is a bona fide grammar Nazi. I’ve learned all sorts of things from her, like not to hyphenate descriptors when the first adjective ends in ‘ly’. In comparison, I’m a dilettante – I know more than the average Joe Bloggs and I’m quite fanatical about it, but that’s not really saying much, I suppose. I’ve never even seen a Strunk and White, let alone read a copy. It wasn’t until this year that I definitively learned the difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’ and ‘i.e’ vs ‘e.g’. My writing is based on gut; I can write well, though I can’t really explain how or why I do anything in terms of word choice, grammar or sentence structure aside from IT FEELS/LOOKS right. I’d be a terrible teacher in that regard.
Anyway, I recently got the chance to try Grammarly out for free – an editing tool that’s kind of an all-round writing helper (automated proofreader/personal grammar coach, to pinch their slogan) that will pick apart your text and check for plagiarism at the same time. There’s an online version, plus integration with Microsoft Word and Outlook, although if you’re a Mac user you’re out of luck.
You can run Grammarly in several different modes: academic, business, casual, etc. That determines the kind of style you’ll be assessed on (for both work and play, I’m more or less always operating on ‘casual’. If you had to write serious policy reports all day, you’d probably go for a different one). It processes your writing, and spits out a scorecard that rates your piece overall out of 100. It also lists all the issues found in your writing, and takes you through them individually.
Grammarly touts itself as ‘the world’s best grammar checker’, boasting that it corrects up to 10 times more errors than “popular word processors”. It tests for 150-odd types of mistakes as well as offering vocabulary suggestions (and as I said before, running your text to compare it to other material online for potential copy-and-paste jiggery pokery). Your basic spellcheck is included, and other errors it detects include boo-boos of passive voice, punctuation, capitalisation.
Drilling down further, it also picks up often-overlooked things such as repeated words (as as or and and, anyone?) and incorrect usage of correctly spelled words (than vs then). This contextual technology is its real strength and the key differentiator. It’s not unlike Word in that it reiterates general rules with generic examples for each.
It costs $139.95 for a year, $59.95 per quarter or $29.95 a month. And like all good software, it has a free trial period (seven days). Depending on your needs, that might be a worthwhile investment. My take? After having used it, I can’t say I’m a full convert. Its capabilities are definitely more impressive than, say, your built-in Office checker, but I don’t personally need them for what I do, and I can’t see myself ever paying that much for them.
(And no, I didn’t run this post through Grammarly.)