Grammarly Review – Absolutely Useless or a Second Pair of Eyes?

Grammarly-reviewedLast week I wrote that the many Grammarly Adsense ads, which kept popping up for a couple of weeks, had been effective at last. My curiosity for the product was piqued. Whenever a software or service offers a free trial I start using it before I read any reviews. After all, it is free, and I rather go into the test as unbiased as possible. I have never heard of Grammarly before, so it was a clean slate for me.

First impression

On their website, you see the big headline “The World’s Best Grammar Checker” and the suggestion to paste your text into a text field, to get it checked by Grammarly.

Grammarly-page1-2-800

I am fully aware that modesty and sales don’t go well together, but such claims don’t increase credibility when references are missing. I think keeping it at “…Most Accurate Online Grammar Checker” as it says in the meta description would have fully sufficed.

Unfortunately, you get your results only by signing up for the 7-day trial. I know it is not a new tactic and absolutely legal, but at this point also having to select a plan and enter one’s credit card information just creates a queasy feeling. For these cases, I always use a low limit credit card. Please, never use your debit card!

There are a couple examples for great software, I have tested without having to give away my credit card information.  I don’t think it is a smart business move these days as it probably deters many from testing and thus eventually buying the product. Why not get the people hooked on your product, and then have them pay for it when they want to continue to use it past the trial period? I am pretty sure more people would use it then. Good examples are Market Samurai, with a no credit card asked 7 day trial or Scrivener, for which you even have 30 usage days to test it.

 

Layout

A nice and simple design always gets me hooked. Grammarly’s layout is definitely simple and functional. Just how I like it. However, some links at the bottom to access support, the Grammarly blog (or the blog for students), the handbook, or the Grammarly Thesaurus wouldn’t have ruined the look and could have added a lot of good information within easy reach. Because you are always being redirected from Grammarly.com to the app (see screenshot) when you are logged in, these are not easy to find without logging out.

Grammarly-online-editor

What is included

Grammarly Lite

Please note, you can always use the free browser extension (available for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari). To activate it you have to enter your email-address, which seems odd at first. But since you can add certain words to the dictionary, logging in with the email-address helps when using different computers.

When active, Grammarly Lite is an instant online spellchecker that also helps you with some punctuation and grammar (e.g. article use) errors. If you double-click on a word it also presents you with its synonyms.

Grammarly Online editor

This is the main program (see image under layout). Here,you can upload or copy-paste the text you want to get checked by Grammarly.

The check itself comes in three parts

A) Spelling and Grammar
According to the company more than 250 types of grammatical errors are checked.

B) Plagiarism
The text is checked against more than 8 billion web pages (according to Grammarly) for its originality

C) Enhancement
Offers you context-based vocabulary suggestions to improve your text

MS-Office add-in

A simple add-in, which allows you to use Grammarly directly within Word.

 

The Test

Grammarly Lite

I only tested the Chrome extension, which was no problem to install.  The extension worked on every page with a text form, e.g. Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I’ve been testing it for over a week now and never had a problem. I actually got quite used to it and will keep it installed for sure. Especially the synonym suggestions are really handy when you are in search of better words. The extension offers for sure much more than the Chrome built-in spell check.

Grammarly Online editor

This is the main part of the paid service. I am writing quite much, and I am  also reviewing a lot of written material on a weekly basis. Thus, it was easy to feed the Grammarly engine with a good load of test material.

Before I continue with my review, I want to make you aware of some pretty devastating Grammarly reviews : Grammarly doesn’t do all it claims to do (no timestamp, 2011/2012, ) and Grammarly, revisited (Aug 2012). These two reviews are absolutely correct, and to be honest I would likely not have touched Grammarly it if I had read them prior to testing it. I also ran a couple of the phrases that were listed in the reviews and still only few have been flagged by the current Grammarly version.

However, here is where my use and my expectations are different, I guess. First of all, I try to read every text I’ve written at least once before it leaves my desk or computer. There is no reason that will ever change.

When I review material written by others, I am mostly concerned about the content; grammar and spelling come second. This means every error Grammarly finds is an error I would have missed.

That having said, I am quite satisfied with Grammarly. Here is what I tested:

  • a 786 word review I wrote about a scientific paper (online editor),
  • a 9379 report (word plugin),
  • fifteen emails I wrote, which all were longer than one paragraph (>1500 words, online editor),
  • my post from last week about Adense and AdChoices (896 words, online editor).

I am pretty sure getting into every single error would not only take forever, but also be very, very boring to read. So I spare you that. I also want to note that am not a linguist and hence don’t want to go too much into detail of what Grammarly missed. However, there were some obvious examples I should mention.

The Bad

Clearly, Grammarly is not perfect. there are still many missed errors. Just as for the Microsoft spellchecker, typos that are actual words are frequently missed, like when writing “form” instead of “from” or as happened in last week’s post:

“One if the deliberate design and conceptual choices I made for Darn Office…”

Admittedly, a program that is all about grammar should have noticed that.

The same is with capitalization errors, which were missed two times. For example here “Focus on statistics would have been expected…

There were other missed errors. You can have a look at the above mentioned reviews if you want details about what Grammarly can miss.

The Good

I don’t consider too many flags necessarily bad. For example, in many cases when Grammarly criticized some longish sentences for the wrong reasons – they were correct, but difficult to understand (not only for Grammarly) – I realized that shortening them would help the reader.

Missing articles (a, an, the) were a big problem in the report I reviewed. Grammarly found more than 50 errors and let me correct them quickly with just a click. The report also contained many errors in the use of ‘were’ and ‘was’ (15x) and more than 45 punctuation errors. Not having to type anything, saved me a lot of time right there.

Grammarly also detected overall (all documents combined) more than 50 grammar/spelling errors I have missed. Among them were a couple that were a positive surprise, like “Carlsbad, CA” for “Calsbad, CA“, “affected” for “affects”, “gradual” instead of “gradually” , “values” for “vales”, etc.

So in terms of the error correction, I was pretty happy.

Grammarly also noticed when I had copied a paragraph directly from Wikipedia in one of  my emails. To test the plagiarism check further, I had Grammarly look up several pieces from random scientific publications. Shorter single sentences often remained unrecognized, but as soon as it was at least one sentence and a fragment of the next,  all of the original publications were found.  This is an extremely useful function for me.

You may think that I could have just pasted the sentences into Google, but the great part is that it also detects plagiarism if only a small paragraph within a much larger text is copied. I would get a “.. is too large to process” error in Google”.

The plagiarism detection alone is absolutely useful for me.

At last the enhancement function, which proofed to be a really nice gimmick. For example in the paragraph above, about the errors it suggested to replace ‘big problem” with “significant problem, “many errors” with “several errors”, or “application of” instead of “use of”. Overall, not all suggestions are applicable for every situation, but more often than not they were viable options. It’s an easy way to replace words which are used too repetitive or to find synonyms in general.

Add-in

The installation of the add-in worked without any problems. You need to log in with your account details to use the add-in, which also means that for the check you’ll need a standing internet connection. The check itself has the same quality and options like the online editor. The almost 10,000 word report took a while to be processed (~1 min) and while the Grammarly sidebar was open Word was a bit sluggish. Hence, it makes sense to run the corrections and then close the sidebar again for longer documents. A couple of pages were not a problem.

 

The Final Verdict

The Free part (Grammarly Lite)

Easy to install, works great and if you don’t like, it is also easy to uninstall. Like I wrote above, I already got very much used to it and don’t want to miss it. Therefore, an absolute recommendation.

The paid service

Personally, I am quite happy with Grammarly. Does it replace a professional editor/proof reader made of flesh and blood? No, definitively not. But I also don’t pay a professional proofreader to go over my everyday writing. Do I consider Grammarly useful? Absolutely yes!

I benefit from Grammarly through many aspects (grammar/spell check, plagiarism check, word suggestions), which make my life much easier. At the end of the day, it helps me get rid of more errors than I would without it. Grammarly is definitively a second pair of eyes for me.

However, you may have a different experience based on your personal or professional uses and thus not everyone may consider it useful. I can definitively recommend testing it to build your own opinion.

 

 

I hope this Grammarly review was useful for you. If so and of course also if not, please consider leaving a comment below. Your opinion matters!
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