Grammarly is an online review tool for checking the grammar in your written work. Think of Microsoft Word's spelling and Grammar checker, but with a focus on the green wiggly lines and a better explanation of why they are there. It's been rated by Top Ten Reviews as gold and is influencing discussions around the importance of grammar in careers.
So, I decided to take it for a quick spin.
- Loading your text is easy. You can import word files, copy text or type directly into the review box.
- Press the 'Start Review' button and you can choose the context of your writing: for example business, academic or casual.
- Once the check has run, which takes a minute or so, you will be presented with something similar to the image above, listing the different types of grammar and writing errors and highlighting them in red, in the text.
- You can run through the errors, one by one, choosing to change or ignore, with each grammar rule explained as you go.
- Then either copy your text back out or download it. If you have uploaded a Word document, then downloading the altered version will reapply any formatting that you had in the original document, and will show your changes as comments by Grammarly.
Why we like Grammarly
There is no question that Grammarly is a lot more thorough that anything you will find in Word's grammar checker. It can pick out commonly confused words, like 'its' and 'it's' or 'affect' and effect'. It also explains either in long or short form (your choice) what the grammar rule is that you have potentially broken.
Grammarly is very simple and intuitive to use. It runs in your internet browser, so there is nothing to download, and the features are kept to a minimum, so as to stay focused on its core function.
You also have the opportunity to learn with Grammarly. Every time you review a document it tracks the type and frequency of errors to build up a picture of your weaknesses. On your dashboard, you can see an average score for your work, and access a personalised handbook with detailed explanations of the grammar rules that you personally get wrong most often. (Apparently I have an issue with commas.)
That said, there are some pretty serious cons to Grammarly. There is a download available for a plugin for Microsoft Word, but I couldn't review it because there's no version available for Word for Mac. For business users, this won't often be a problem, but as a tool for professional writers I am surprised they have not catered to the Apple market - after all, the MacBook Air is often cited as the must-have tool for writers.
The reviewing itself is very thorough, but you need to have a pretty good grasp of grammar and structure to decipher the explanations and then decide if they are actually applicable to your writing. The error spotting is sometimes speculative, meaning there is still quite a bit of work to be done on your part.
Grammarly does not spot all misuses of correctly spelt, but misplaced words, and sometimes does not recognise poorly constructed sentences. For the passage below, the only error highlighted was a suggestion that starting a sentence with 'but' might not be appropriate in formal documents:
The lady went to the bus stop, and it was really interesting. I don't think I've ever seen anything as interesting at that for a really long time. But what they most interesting thing was, was a bag of chips next to her.
Should you buy Grammarly?
For professional and formal documents, the detailed grammar check is good. For professional writers who are a little rusty on the finer points, it's definitely informative and will help polish their work.
For business users reviewing memos, reports or emails, there would be a sliding scale of effectiveness. As evidenced by the passage above, a certain quality of writing is expected, and anything below that will not really be improved by this tool.
Finally, the question of cost. There is a monthly subscription that ranges from $29.95/month if you pay monthly, to $11.66/month if you are willing to pay one year up front. (That's about £20 and £8 respectively).
Is it worth it? I'm not so sure. If you struggle with grammar then perhaps a course or a book is a better idea. Learn the basics rather than relying on an algorithm to correct them for you. If you're pretty confident, but still make errors on the finer points, then it really comes down to how much value you think there is in getting them right.