Monday, July 8, 2013

Automated Online Proofreaders: Are They Worth It?

For those of you who read one of my previous posts (found here), at the end I vented some frustration after attempting to gain access to a seven day free trial of the online proofreader, Grammarly. I had to give my credit card details. Like that was going to happen. Well, the makers of Grammarly contacted me and gave me two weeks risk-free access. My confidence in their program rose. So I gave it a go.

The layout is clean and easy to understand. I didn't need to read long instructions to know how to get started. Win.

For some reason, the copy/paste function to get the text into the program wasn't working. Not being technical, I have no idea why. Perhaps it was my browser? However, I also had the option to upload my text, or drag the text file into the program. Easy. Another win.

There are a number of levels of checking the program can go through. The default is General and is rather formal, advising me to avoid my casual use of personal pronouns and contractions. The levels also included Academic, Business, Technical, Creative, and Casual. Casual is a far more forgiving setting and even let me get away with fragmented sentences. Woot.

I can't help comparing Grammarly to Microsoft Word's grammar checker, which has become somewhat intelligent. Word picks up many foobahs, even many correctly spelt words in incorrect places. However, it didn't pick up a mistake I'd made in a previous post. I'd written: World War Z, staring Brad Pitt. Grammarly picked up 'staring' and gave me a few suggestions to replace it, with 'starring' at the top of the list. Impressive. After a quick test, Grammarly is also better at picking up comma placement mistakes than Word.

Is Grammarly infallible? No. It gave me a few suggestions that were incorrect. For example, I'd written in this post: Weigh it, understand where it's coming from… and Grammarly tried to tell me the pronoun 'it' doesn't agree with the verb 'understand'. It took me a while to work out that Grammarly thought I was saying something like, 'It understand where it's coming from'. Grammarly failed to read my sentence properly.

Grammarly will also pick up some things it's simply programmed to pick up. For example, I used 'your' in a sentence and Grammarly suggested I may need to change it to 'you're'. This lack of intelligence became a bit of a time waster as I had to sort through them all.

Wishlist
  • I think I'd like to see Grammarly use more often an example of my incorrect sentences written correctly. It does this only sometimes. 
  • I'd also like an option to adjust what Grammarly looks for, rather than having to use their premade settings. For example, I'd like it to ignore my fragmented sentences, but pick up passive voice. While there is an ignore button, it will only ignore each instance of a 'mistake' it's picked up. If I want to ignore every instance of that same mistake, I have to use a dropdown list which is an extra click. This seems a little silly when there's plenty of room for an 'ignore all' button next to the 'ignore' button. Time is short and I don't want to be wasting it sorting through all the rules.
  • Grammarly didn't recognise that I had two different spellings of the word 'colour' in the same paragraph. I used both the American spelling and the British, so I think I'd also like to see a setting added which specifies which English you want checked.

From Grammarly: Grammarly is best used as a "second set of eyes" for your writing as opposed to a replacement for a professional proofreader. I'd agree with that assessment.

So overall, are automated online proofreading tools worth it?
  • I might have some skill with editing other people's work, but I'm often blind to my own mistakes, so that 'second set of eyes' is kinda handy.
  • They are mighty expensive for an online service but cheaper than a professional editor. Note, Grammarly is cheaper than AutoCrit
  • They can be used as a learning tool for someone who doesn't feel confident with all those tricksy grammar rules. If this is done, then I'd advise using an official grammar guide along with the online tool, just to make sure those automated responses are correct.
  • As indicated in my previous point, they do take up a lot of extra time because of the need to sort through all the suggestions which aren't always correct.
  • It comes down to your individual needs. I think they are worth it if you're writing lots of articles regularly, or pieces like query letters where correct grammar is essential.
Have you ever used an automated online proofreading tool? Would you?

72 comments:

  1. I tried Grammarly recently as well, and my experience (and opinion) was similar to yours. I couldn't get copy-and-paste to work either, so they clearly need to address this. The software also produced far too many 'false alarms' to be worthwhile or cost-effective for me. To be fair, I had similar issues with WhiteSmoke (I haven't tried AutoCrit). Personally, I prefer PerfectIt. This is basically a consistency checker, so less ambitious than Grammarly. It produces a lot less false alarms and is easier to customize, though. And it would definitely have picked up on color/colour!

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    1. I haven't tried WhiteSmoke or Perfectit. AutoCrit is pretty good but very expensive.

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  2. Not being able to copy and paste would bug me. That it missed the two spellings of color is a red flag.
    A custom setting would be nice. If every user could individualize it, that would be a big selling point.
    Think I'll just stick to Word and my critique partners for now.

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  3. I've only used Microsoft Word's spelling and grammar check. The other day when I did spellcheck, it suggested I go from "There's no music," to "There am no music."

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    1. lol, and you didn't change it???? ;)

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  4. I don't think I would use one. I have many books that give that same information and my critique partner is pretty good in that area!

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  5. Don't know if automated s/w could get it done better than some human. They do possess grammar rules...but writing isn't all about that!!

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  6. I played around with the free version of SmartEdit. Nice idea but it found every instance of a commonly misspelled word and suggested the other spelling - whether it had been used correctly in the first place or not. Time waster.

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  7. This is a great review of Grammarly's program. I agree a custom setting would work best for most fiction writers. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Thanks for providing feedback on your experience with Grammarly. Automated checks are and can be helpful, but there's something about a second set of eyes-that-can-roll-heavenward that is nice to have. So I can appreciate the automated proofreaders, just prefer a human who can talk smack back to me lol!

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    1. You have a point! Talking smack back is an important requirement ;)

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  9. Ooh - this is new! Thank you!!! I rely heavily on word's grammar auto checking - and love that they do offer ways on re-writing my sentences - but I'm still none the wiser and keep making the same mistakes! LOL! Take care
    x

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  10. Wonderful article, Lyn, and something to think about. You answered any questions I may have had, because I'm also prone to using fragments when they work or other grammatically incorrect phrases in prose, but a computer program may not be savvy to that aspect of speech.

    How did Grammarly contact you? I don't want to use CC info either until I check it out.

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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    1. They contacted me via email. You can read about it at the end of this post:
      Why Your Writing will Never be Perfect

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  11. Thanks for such a helpful review! I haven't tried any of these programs, though heaven knows I need to, so it's good to know what it's like!

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  12. Interesting. I'm impressed with the company giving you that risk free trial after the other post. Good on them.

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  13. Very interesting! Although if someone is truly poor at grammar, then the site's suggestions wouldn't help and might just be more confusing. There's no substitute for a real person! They're more expensive, but worth it. :)

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    1. That's why I suggest checking eveything. It would certainly be a good learning experience--if the writer had the time.

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  14. Grammarly pointed out too many of my mistakes which were actually not mistakes. One thing I liked about it, it showed that I tend to use the passive voice and extra long sentences.

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  15. Like you said it's a good 'second pair of eyes' for those needing help with grammatical errors. Still sounds like a good program though not a replacement for the human component.

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  16. we hate them dirty little contractions more than we hate them dirty little Hobbitses :)

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    1. oh my gosh, my own comments on my own blog are going to spam... I think Blogger got something wrong.

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    2. methinks Blogger has gone a bit ill :( I've had my own comments disappear after I already post them in recent days and they also took down my site for two hours on Sunday because somebody wanted to hack into it :(

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  17. I like examples, too. It makes the correction immediately clear.

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    1. They do offer general examples to every grammar rule they discuss, but the examples aren't always relevant to the sentence I'd written.

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  18. I have used inline editors. I thought they were very helpful. I.do have a human carbon based editor too. But why not take advantage of an online editor thats free or at least will do a few chapters for free.

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    1. There's no substitute for skilled carbon-based editors :)

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  19. I think computerised grammar checkers have still got quite a long way to go before I'd be willing to shell out some cash. Not quite good enough yet in my experience.

    mood

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  20. Great post! I enjoyed your review very much. :)

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  21. Yeah, not sure I'd pay for a computer program to check my work. I already battle with Word on a regular basis, and I've got a crit partner who's actually pretty good with the grammar, and he's free! Um, so far. :D

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    1. Critique partners are really great, but they don't always catch everything.

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  22. Nice to read of your experience, Lynda. They keep bugging me to answer them. So far, I haven't. I don't think I'll try it. That's what I pay my editor for. I'd pay a human for proofreading, which may be in my budget soon... a second pair of eyes.

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  23. Oh, I remember that Grammerly thing. It smelled like a scam, but maybe they're not so sneaky. A risk-free trial that's actually risk-free is a good idea.

    It's interesting to hear about it. None of the drawbacks seem like deal breakers, but I don't think I need to use it. I'm not quite at the level where my writing output needs that second set of eyes. Good to hear that there's options.

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  24. I can't say I've ever tried anything other than Word's grammar checker and have found that to be reasonably good most of the time. It probably wouldn't hurt to run something like Grammerly over it though - no matter how many times I go over something yourself, I always find more mistakes. This might help cut down on that.

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    1. Yep, I think that's the whole point of Grammarly. And it does pick up more than Word.

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  25. Never used one... I rely on Microsoft spelling for small things. I do use sites that reveal how many times I've used a certain word in a chapter, which is great, as I always have a few words I tend to repeat.

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  26. Thanks for the assessment. I have a friend who was asking about Grammarly and I directed her to your post. I'll direct her back now that you've completed your research

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  27. Thanks for this; I was just looking at this program.

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  28. Lynda: As a former English teacher, my grammar should be sufficient. However, as an author, I learned not to think about it when I write. I proofread my work, double check it with Microsoft when I have finished, and unless I am self-publishing, my work is always professionally edited.

    You seem to write beautifully. In a changing world where everyone butchers the King's English, is there a reason why you dwell on this? Just interested. Cheers!

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    1. That's an interesting question. I do love the English language and the joy of a well formed sentence. While story comes first, and should always come first, grammar is still important to know.

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  29. Not so sure about a full length novel being put through it. I think you're right, if you write articles and stuff, it would be a great tool.

    I'm a former English teacher, but I'm completely blind to my own mistakes as well.

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  30. These automated programs are very interesting,I'd love to see if it works really well for running entire novels through it. It might be of great use for self-publishing, too.
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  31. Thanks for this, Lynda! I got the same trial offer, and I haven't had the chance to try it out yet. But at this point, I doubt that I will. It doesn't honestly sound as if it is doing any more than Word can do if you use the grammar checker and turn on all the options. :(

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    1. well, it does pick a few more things than Word's grammar check can.

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  32. Thanks for your review. I think I'll wait longer for an editing program. I believe some of these programs are more geared toward academic writing rather than fiction.

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  34. I read your posts with much interest. I agree online editing software like Grammarly isn't infallible, and will make you spend more time "correcting the corrections" it imposes on your piece. I tried copy-pasting an excerpt from an audio-visual script I made for a pharma company a few years back, and was very surprised to see some of the modifications Grammarly wanted -- or needed -- to do.

    Yes, there were fragments, dangling phrases that lend style and emotion to the article. But some of the sentences were absolutely squeaky clean, having gone through rigid proofing by a few of the best. Yet Grammarly didn't think so.

    I'd be fascinated to see how pages from books by Ludlum, Brown or Clancy would fare under this sort of automation.

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    1. There will always be a level that any automated program won't be able to reach. There are no absolute replacements for the human factor, only tools that can help.

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  35. I'm not into online editing programs. I do use MS Word's check, but mostly I rely on my own eyes and my betas!

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  36. I've used Autocrit in the past and found it helpful. Haven't tried Grammarly.

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  37. This is an example of a technology that, if widely-employed, might eventually hamper rather than enhance our capacity for composing clean text. A bit like people at a cash register who can no longer make change when 'the system' goes down.

    This is my gut response.

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    1. I have to agree. It's not something that should be relied on, but it's still good as an extra helping hand.

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  38. With my editing, Lynda, I don't trust any online proofreading. I use google to check. And keep my Chicago Manual of Style handy. I also use The Elements of Style. And a Merriam Webster automated digital dictionary.

    Nas

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  39. Yes, excellent review Lynda. I've trialled several now and haven't bought any as I've never been completely happy.

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  40. Various programs are useful, but I find that nothing replaces the human element. I use a lot of varied words in my work that most edit programs flag as incorrect even though I've found them in the dictionary. Also, editing programs are helpful with grammar, but won't tell you that a major plot line in your story needs to be changed:)

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  41. Interesting, Lynda! I hadn't even heard of this until earlier this week. I'm sure there are some writers out there that this would benefit greatly, but I don't think I'd ever use a program like this. Though responding to Mark's comment above me, if it could tell me which plot thread isn't working, I'd definitely sign up! ;-)

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  42. As I said earlier, I've been using Grammarly Lite for ages, which is free of charge and plenty for me. I am someone who turns off the spelling and grammar checker in Word as it is so often incorrect. I see these programmes as very good for someone for whom English is a Second Language and they are very unconfident with the English language. (It is interesting that my Grammarly lite has underlined 'Grammarly' as misspelt, 'programmes' as misspelt (which I guess is not American) and they want 'misspelt' to be 'miss spelt'. Never heard of her, lol. All in fun.

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    1. You've never heard of Miss Spelt? She's the one at the back of the classroom punching holes in her papers with her pencil... don't mess with Miss Spelt ;)

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  43. Great review, Lynda. I'd heard of Grammarly before but didn't know if it was any good.

    Jai

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  44. I'm trying to decide between Autocrit and Grammarly. The only thing is Autocrit is actually cheaper for a year $117 (or $77 a year for 8000 word chunks) vs Grammarly $139 a yr.

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  45. I'm using Autocrit now. I've used a program called Editor by Serenity Software. I liked Editor because it seemed easier to work with as far as working with word docs.
    What I found odd in Autocrit and maybe it goes for all online editing programs, is that its advice is questionable. I mean basically all they're doing is advising you to change this or that. I ran an old story published a long time ago via literary magazine, and it was well edited--through Autocrit and it found all kinds of so called problems. So now I'm not sure of the validity or reliability of such programs.

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    1. yep, they can't yet be relied on 100%, but perhaps that's a good thing.

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  46. I think automatic checkers can help find things we miss, but it's not a good idea to rely on them too heavily.

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  47. Nope, never used one. Would I? Sure. Who doesn't need another set of eyes for easily skipped mistakes. Would I pay to use said service? Hm. It would have to be pretty darn awesome.

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  48. This is a new program! Thanks for introducing this.

    www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

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  49. Hi Lyn. I just wanted to say that I greatly enjoyed reading your previous post on "Faith"; it was very well written.

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  50. Very interesting, Lynda. (Would Grammarly turn this into 'Very interesting Lynda, ...?) I remember the first time I heard about automatic proofreaders. It must have been, what, 1990 I think it was. Pre-internet. It's all too clear that machines need much more input for them to be able to even scratch the surface of that complex thing called language. My guess is it'll take them another 50 years or so.

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    1. lol, Grammarly is mostly good, so no, it wouldn't change your first sentence ... unless you were calling me interesting? ;)

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  51. This is one of the proofreaders that I have not tried just yet. I use Copyscape and it works just fine for the things that I need it for. Thank you for posting this review and letting everyone know how the software worked for you.


    Psychologist Doctorate

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I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.