GRAMMARLY – FULL REVIEW
I’ll start by answering some questions about Grammarly and then move on to discuss what I like and what I don’t like. Remember though, that because Grammarly is a writing tool, this is massively subjective. Writing is a very personal thing. The needs, style and linguistic ability, varies enormously from person to person. This review is based on my use and needs only.
WHAT IS IT?
Wiki to the rescue. “Grammarly is an app that automatically detects potential grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and style mistakes in writing. Grammarly’s algorithms flag potential issues in the text and suggest context-specific corrections for grammar, spelling, wordiness, style, punctuation, and plagiarism.”
In short, it’s not doing much more than a decent word processor has been doing since 1984.
WHY NOT JUST USE MICROSOFT WORD OR PAGES?
These applications have excellent grammar and spelling checks, but they are generally part of the software itself. If you begin working elsewhere, you don’t carry that toolbag with you. Grammarly has interactivity with browsers, phones & operating systems and can, therefore, check a lot of what you type, across supported applications and offer its suggestions. You get the same level of checks whether you’re writing an email in Outlook or Gmail, contacting someone via their website or even writing a message in WhatsApp through the iOS / Android Grammarly keyboard.
IS IT FREE?
It is, but the free version is full of the usual service limitations that are carefully chosen to leave you needing more just at the right (or wrong, depending on which way you look at it) moment. I’ve gone for Premium subscription, so I can offer a fair review and because I was curious about the usefulness of the advanced grammatical and style checks.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
At the time of writing, $140 a year for the Premium subscription. If you pay monthly, it costs quite a bit more.
WHO WOULD USE GRAMMARLY?
In my opinion, Grammarly is for someone with an excellent command of English (in this case) and also some knowledge of linguistics. That might sound counter-intuitive, but there’s a reason why I don’t think this is a tool for someone learning English. The ‘algorithm’ (let’s use that annoying, overused term that means no-one knows what the hell is going on) offers both basic corrections such as spelling, contractions and punctuation as well as reasonably complex style and grammar tips. Without a solid understanding of what you are writing and a feel for the language, you can’t know whether to accept many of the suggestions, never mind filter out those that are blatant errors; and they do exist.
Consider the sentence above. I’m using Grammarly as I write this and it has highlighted the word ‘basic’ because it’s overused. That’s true. However, to replace it with the word ‘primary’ is ridiculous, and this is the only suggested alternative. You can, of course, ignore this, but you have to have a good enough command of the language to know that it just won’t work here.
The Grammarly website has an editor built into it. It’s an online notepad that offers the ultimate Grammarly experience without any reliance on add-ons or additional software. Think Google Docs Lite. I love it, and it’s something that Grammarly should work to improve.
THE WRITER’S ASSISTANT
Without a doubt, the most significant selling point for me is the fact that Grammarly makes you think. It makes a suggestion that you may or may not agree with (depending on the style or intention of your text), but it’s like someone always looking over your shoulder both challenging you and offering suggestions. I consider my English level to be pretty good. I studied languages, so I also understand a little about prepositions, case, tense, passive voice and other linguistic terms. That doesn’t mean that my writing is perfect. Far from it. Grammarly forces me out of my comfort zone and calls out the rubbish. It grabs you and says, “actually, this is a bit s!*t. You really should change this.”
To start with you mentally push back and think you’re right but once you look at your writing, you realise it could do with a revision. It could do with improvements.
To me, Grammarly keeps my writing tight, and sharp. When writing a script for a YouTube video, this is important as the average attention span of viewers is about 3 minutes.
I find that, as an amateur writer (i.e. I write when I need to not for my job), my style can change unless I finish a text in one sitting. Grammarly can help keep track of that because when you set the goals for your text, it observes those rules every time you come back to it. For example, I’ve classed this as a technical text (which it isn’t really, but I figured this was close enough). If I suddenly slip into the passive voice or start including sentences in the future tense (something I will often do :-) ), it highlights it and helps keep my style consistent.
I like the performance statistics because I enjoy that kind of thing. It gives a quick summary of word count, readability and various other scores. Oddly, it scores my writing in the top 1% of anything ever checked with comparable goals. Either I’m an evil genius (I’m not), or these stats are way off.
As mentioned earlier, Grammarly can integrate its help across everything you write. Well, that’s if there’s an add-on, but it does cover a lot of the leading writing software that you are likely to be using on a Mac or PC.
It’s rather expensive. The cost for the Premium plan felt like more than I expected to pay. However, even for me (I don’t write long texts that often) I feel that it’s fair if the ‘writing assistant’ continues to teach me. For those who write every day, I can imagine that this is money well spent if you need a consistent checker across devices. If your content improves only marginally in both readability and SEO terms, the service could pay for itself in no time.
Yes, I love it, but, as I mentioned, it needs work. Currently, I cannot access anything on my phone. The iOS app needs to include the editor. Also, it’s limited to about 600 pixels width on the screen. When working on a modern monitor, this is both unnecessary and frustrating.
INTERNET ACCESS REQUIRED
I’ve nothing against a service that needs permanent internet. I use Google Docs all the time, and a connection is part and parcel. The problem here is that I can’t use this at work (that’s my real job rather than channel work). It would be such a neat addition, but the company security doesn’t allow it in the office or on VPN. This connectivity issue is nothing to do with Grammarly, but it’s worth bearing in mind as you might discover that you can’t use it in one of the main places where it would prove both productive and profitable.
IT’S ALL THE SAME
Having an assistant is great but how much will it stifle your creative flair and natural style. If you’re shuffling words around to accommodate the suggestions from an algorithm, surely something is lost? Is it possible that a lot of internet text will begin to look a touch stale and full of unnecessarily long words? In reality, I doubt it. Again, people asked the same questions in the early 80s. Language doesn’t work like this. I do, however, find myself removing certain words used to emphasise a point because Grammarly considers them ‘unnecessary’. They probably are, but it’s still part of how I make a point, and it’s being lost somewhere down the line. Again, we’re back to the fact that you’ve got to be good at writing and the language to use this tool.
I don’t know how the security side works so I’m playing the part of the paranoid user here. If I’m typing a message into WhatsApp on my phone and Grammarly is checking everything for correctness, it’s phoning home to do this. Does this mean everything I’m typing is somehow also being sent and stored by Grammarly? Also, if they can score my text against all others written in this style, are they keeping just the scores (which makes the comparison arguably useless) or the entire text? Some food for thought there.
THE MISTAKES & COCK-UPS
Simply put, Grammarly gets it wrong. Sometimes it misses the most basic errors it’s cringe-worthy. I have had what I am calling an ‘infinite correction loop’ where an amendment leads to it believing there is now a new mistake which can you can only correct by changing the text back to precisely what it was prior to the change. Some word replacements are ludicrous. If I write ‘the solution is nice and easy’ I would agree that it sounds a little odd and needs refinement but replacing ‘easy’ with ‘smooth’ or ‘comfortable’ is just nonsensical.
LEAVE ME ALONE
Sometimes, it’s just a pain, and you want to be left alone. You dismiss a change, but it’s back to haunt you within minutes. You reject the Oxford Comma, but still, it pesters. In short, it can grow fatiguing after a few hours of writing.
As it stands, I’m enjoying using the tool. The incessant YouTube advertising states (and I paraphrase), “if you write anything you need to get Grammarly.” Well, I would certainly say it’s worth a try. Be aware though that other services do exist, so you may wish to shop around.
Overall, I am finding that my writing contains lots of small errors that so easily go unnoticed. Would the checkers in other software catch them? Maybe, but you need to be in that software, and the system can’t learn to serve you better as Grammarly can.
I also tend to write as I speak. This can work from a style perspective, but it also leads to phrases that are not needed such as tautologies and padding that would provide ‘thinking time’ if I was, for example, chatting informally on a single take to camera. Grammarly is excellent at spotting this fluff.
If there’s one thing it has taught me thus far; it’s that I need to read, re-read and then get someone else to read my text to filter out anything close to the amount that Grammarly manages.
It is a bit expensive, but it can not only save you time in the long run but also improve your writing while forcing you to re-read your text and think about what you’ve put. If this increases your engagement with readers (or viewers in the case of a script), this makes it a very valuable tool.
Watch out for some of those suggestions though and, if you’re a foreign speaker, check your vocabulary because Grammarly could turn an otherwise average text into a confusing and fragmented mess. Like any tool, it only produces top results when in the hands of an already skilled individual.
I’ve paid for a year, so I’m going to see how it develops and whether it continues to teach me new ideas.