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Review: Free Grammarly as a pro writing tool

Posted Apr 29, 2019 by Paul Wallis
Grammarly has been presented to the market in a range of ways, from a sort of safety belt for writing to an all-purpose, do-everything option. For pro writers, the bar is higher, and the demands are far more diverse.
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SAUL LOEB, AFP/File
Background
I will say in all fairness that Grammarly does have a lot of positives, and almost no negatives. I started using it with a very high level of skepticism. I was interested, but prior experience with text checking software was almost universally mediocre. I was pretty sure that Grammarly would be more of the same.
To explain – I write across a huge bandwidth of different types of commercial writing jobs, journalism, writing books, and other writing tasks. I write with briefs that sometimes contain as many as six words, in some cases, and a very wide range of different subjects. You can see why something like Grammarly might need to prove its value to me as a working option. I’m talking about commercial value, dollars, and efficiency, so I needed a lot of convincing.
Starting up
I got the free download, which is pretty comprehensive for a freebie. The first thing I put in for checking was a commercial website. These websites range from the incredibly simple to quite eclectic, and text does have to be perfect.
The process is:
Load: Easy, you get a basic screen to enter text.
Goal setting dialog box: You set your goals for Intent, Audience, Style, Emotion and Domain, all pretty self-explanatory. (Stick to the default settings when you start, you need to see how the goals function works)
Enter text: You’ll see a rippling field of lines on the page next to your content after you add your text. This is the auto processing, and even if it’s a lot of text, it’ll be fast. We very time-conscious commercial writers don’t need a major opera production; we need fast results, so that’s a serious positive.
Corrections: You’ll get a list of corrections. Click on the top of the list, and you’ll see the text highlighted. Read the correction in context with your text. Most of the corrections will be OK, correct as required.
After checking you’ll get a list of “alerts” with incidence counts, including:
• Word choice
• Wordy sentences
• Weak or uncertain language
Passive voice misuse
Intricate text
Don’t get too upset about these issues. Some things have to be written in such a way, and that’s all there is to it.
• Word choice, for example, is always debatable. Too debatable, in fact, for simplistic analysis. Think of it as a neutral opinion, and don’t take it personally.
• Wordy sentences can be quite arbitrary. Some forms of expression do need to go beyond The Cat Sat On The Mat, y’know.
• Weak or uncertain language is always interesting, and something to argue with if you can be bothered.
• Passive voice is a very much contested topic in writing, and I have a tale of a blog written in 98% passive voice, which scored a 100% readability result on the Flesch scale. (Passive voice is also “narrative”, rather useful in so many forms of writing, notably journalism. News is strangely not entirely comprised of active sentences except on some news sites.)
• Intricate text is more than just a matter of opinion and can be a meaningful criticism.
The first check was very quick indeed. A list of errors appeared. I made the natural mistake of trying to correct on the Grammarly screen, to discover that the text returned in a different format. Did a quick Undo, and learned to go through the text systematically, point by point.
Grammarly isn’t always right, but it’s right about 90% of the time. It doesn’t recognize some types of usage, notably contracted expressions, which is forgivable. Actually, sticking to conventional usage does have the advantage of giving you a comparison.
The big plus in this very basic function is that you can choose your expression or the Grammarly version. That’s good for editing, and also gets you focusing on your writing options.
Please note, very important: You don’t have to apply Grammarly corrections. You can take or leave them. I do however suggest you assess each correction to see if the Grammarly version reads better, or expresses more than your original, just on principle.
One thing I soon learned to appreciate was that Grammarly is nothing like one of those damn style guides which straitjackets your writing. Many style guides restrict flow and continuity and can be difficult to work with at any time, on any subject, and any format.
Talking about formatting – Grammarly turns out to be much more open-minded than many style guides can ever be. It will read anything, and give you an unbiased response.
I’ve said this before, but it obviously needs repeating –
• Nobody reads anything, particularly online, with a style guide in hand.
• Nobody’s really looking for tiny errors or some stupid grammar bitching session about modern usage.
• At the business end, the value of content is what’s delivered, and how it’s delivered is either a positive or negative, regardless of style or text niceties.
• People read for information and enjoyment and hopefully not for mere pedantry practice.
For pure raw content writing, Grammarly is fine. The emphasis is on practical writing and accessibility to a reliable checking tool, and it works very well in those roles.
Anyway…
I’ve been getting promo feedback from Grammarly, too:
• More productive than 99% of Grammarly users. (Good for me.)
• 71% more accurate (may not include some issues)
• More unique words than 99% of users. (My obsessively enforced writing style is to avoid repetition, formula writing, and stock phrases.)
• Grammarly Premium found 258 additional advanced mistakes. (Me? Oh, pshaw.)
• The best feedback was “No issues” on a check of a massive document of about 5000+ words. I was expecting a virtual editing epic and I got “no issues”. Good to see, after hours of work on that particularly uncooperative text.
Try it. If you’re a pro writer, I think you may appreciate Grammarly as a working tool that doesn’t get in the way. Technical, academic and grant writers may need Premium, but for core writing, the free download is good.