Some of the best journalists I’ve worked with can’t write for Tofu. They can string together phrases so elegant that Keira Knightley would wear them, but their spelling, grammar and punctuation is wild. They could really do with Grammarly.
As its name suggests, Grammarly is a writing aid – it will stick thick red lines under words or phrases that it feels you could improve, much like an omnipresent English teacher.
It comes in various guises, the one I’m most fond of being the plugin for the Google Chrome browser, which now means all my blog posts, social media utterances and online form submissions are all scrupulously checked in real-time(ish) before they’re published. Consequently, if there’s a typo or crime against grammer in this blog post, it’s Grammarly’s fault, not mine. (And, yes, it did put a red line under that typo – I was just testing to see if you’re still awake).
The thing I like most about Grammarly is its correction system. When it spots an error, such as the errant ‘grammer’ above, it underlines it and keeps a running score of errors found in the bottom-right corner of the editing window. You can either deal with the typo immediately by hovering over the word and choosing from the suggested corrections, or wait until you’ve finished your brain dump and deal with all the corrections in one go once you’ve finished.
If you click on that little red number in the bottom corner, a new editing window opens, where you can focus on just the words and quickly apply any suggested corrections with a simple click. It’s deliciously slick, doesn’t get in the way of your writing and, unlike Microsoft Word, it doesn’t auto-correct ‘mistakes’, avoiding that screen-punching situation where an odd word or brand name is repeatedly corrected to what Microsoft thinks it should be instead of what you actually intended to type. If I want to deliberately misspell grammar, I bloody well can.
It’s not only grammar, spelling and punctuation errors that Grammarly is on the lookout for. If you repeat a word several times in the same paragraph or passage of text, Grammarly will warn that you’ve got the vocabulary of a five-year-old (it’s a little more polite) and suggest alternatives that make your copy less monotonous. If you’re prepared to pay for the Premium version (and we’ll come to that later) you’ll be warned of ‘Advanced Issues’ such as ‘wordy sentences’, ‘passive voice misuse’ and ‘comma misuse within clauses’. The stuff that readers who write letters in green Biro ink will write in to complain about.
Grammarly for Office
Given how well I’ve got on with Grammarly in the browser over the past few weeks, I decided to give its Outlook and Microsoft Word plugins a bash earlier this week. Alas, they’re somewhat hamstrung.
The Outlook plugin works from a dedicated pane, but if like me you have the Reading Pane open on the right-hand side of your Outlook inbox, Grammarly can’t operate. You have to open a new window when writing replies etc, which is a bit of a pane. (Yes, it underlined that deliberate pun too.)
Word is even worse. There’s no in-copy spell/grammar-checking because Word has that covered and doesn’t allow third-party apps to stamp on its toes. Grammarly is forced to operate in a side pane once more, but even if you can live with two different apps running the rule over your dropped apostrophes, with Grammarly activated you cannot use the Undo (Ctrl-Z) command, which is a showstopper as far as I’m concerned. If I accidentally delete a paragraph of copy, I want to be able to reinstate it, not bash the whole lot out again.
So how much do you have to pay for the Premium service? It’s at this point you might want to consider how attached you are to your kidneys, as you may need to eBay one first. Grammarly Premium – including 250 different types of check, customised corrections for different types of document (blogs, essays etc) and 24/7 support – costs $29.95 per month, or $139.95 for the year. That’s a stonking sum that even makes a professional writer such as me (stop sniggering) start hyperventilating into a brown paper bag.
That said, the plugins for Chrome and Microsoft Office are free to install and do a fine job of hunting out the glaring errors. If you spend any length of time bashing sentences into WordPress or the like, I’d install the browser plugin without hesitation. And if you become the next Martin Amis, you might be able to afford the £100 for the advanced stuff, too.