Sometimes it’s not easy being an editor. Every sign or advertisement with a modifier out of place sets your teeth on edge. You have nightmares about a bad verb tense or a typo getting past you and (shudder) going to print. And, if you’re like me, you spend at least 20 minutes a day worrying about how grammar is barely taught in schools today.
But the worst part is that every week, someone comes up with another great tool or online service that threatens to render you obsolete. Last time I wrote, I made the case for why grammar still matters at a time when we can count on Microsoft Word’s spell check feature to spot our misspelled words and fragment sentences. But spell check isn’t the final word in automated proofreading; there are many services online that offer to check your writing for those usual errors and often more stylistic problems, like word choice and sentence structure. Since I’m pretty sure I’ll still have my job when the dust settles (right, guys?), let’s look at a few of these services and compare.
Grammarly is probably the most popular online proofreading service. They think they’re pretty great, and aren’t afraid to say so – you can’t miss the “World’s Best Grammar Checker” headline at the top of their homepage. While I might dispute that (all editors naturally believe themselves to be the world’s best grammar checker), they certainly do well in the endorsement department. According to their site, Grammarly is associated with many major universities, and used by professionals for everything from resumes to white papers. You can give it a try on their homepage, and see some basic results:
As you can see, the text I entered contains one punctuation error, and 3 “Style and Word Choice issues,” which is their catch-all for things that aren’t grammatically wrong but could probably be better constructed.
You may have also noted one of the best features of the Grammarly service – the plagiarism test. If you’re familiar with writing content that will shoot you up the list in Google search results, then you know that duplicate content is the death knell of good rankings. You and your site really can’t live without the ability to instantly check if something you’ve written, or paid someone else to write, is completely original. At CEM we use Copyscape for this, but just make sure you’re getting it somewhere!
You may have also noted that Grammarly is already shooting you down their sales funnel; what you see in the above screenshot is all you can access without paying for a membership, although there is a free 7-day trial you can take advantage of. Grammarly also offers downloadable apps and add-ons that you can use within Microsoft Word, which is pretty cool.
GrammarBase works in a very similar way to Grammarly; enter your text, find out how many mistakes you’ve made, and pay to see the detailed report. Unlike Grammarly, who offer weekly, monthly, or annual subscriptions, GrammarBase charges a one-time fee to edit a piece. So if you’re someone who plans to use the service every day, Grammarly might be a better deal. This is what the service looks like, with a bit of sample text they provided (I can hardly be counted on to write ungrammatically enough to illustrate the features fully):
I like that it spots redundancy and errors of what I would call ‘wordiness.’ Since so many of us in the content writing field have an eye on the word count, extra words are not that rare, but rarely add any value to your content. GrammarBase also checks for plagiarism, so you’ll be able to verify that the writing is original and thus valuable to your Google search result rankings.
If you’re a fan of free services (and who isn’t) then PaperRater is probably your best bet. You can get a completely free report analysing your text within a few seconds, and honestly it’s a lot more comprehensive than Grammarly and GrammarBase in terms of the technical stuff.
It is geared a little more toward academic writing in that you can select what level of education you’re writing for and then compare with the standard of quality for that level; however you can also check just about anything, and select what type of writing it is – blog, letter, etc. I checked an email.
On the left is my checked text, and on the right are the options for reviewing your results. Clicking on each title will open up a window describing how your writing did in the scan, and what you can improve. It’s nice that you can choose what to view, particularly if you’re just interested in grammar and mechanics, but don’t especially care how your vocabulary stacks up. And it really is completely free!
So, am I out of a job? I don’t think so. These services might be just right for you if your volume doesn’t merit hiring an editor, but you still care to have a second opinion. And you can’t beat them on speed – it takes me a lot longer to edit a blog than it takes an automated checker! But luckily for me, there are things that these online grammar checkers can’t really help with. My editorial purpose isn’t just to check for mistakes; I also need to ensure that our writers use the right voice for the client, make effective arguments or interesting points, and don’t go overboard, or underboard (can one go underboard?) with keywords. Luckily for me again, our writers are stellar and make my job pretty easy, but it’s still good for someone to give it a second opinion. If you’re thinking about investing in a Grammarly subscription, or another online grammar checker, you might want to read this piece on The Economist’s amazing language blog, Johnson.
And, if this whole process gives you a bit of a headache, why not in-source your content writing to us? A top-notch editorial hand is included in the price of any content we do here at CEM – nothing makes it back to a client’s desk without passing under the discerning eyes of myself or my equally-critical co-editor, Kimberlee.
Have you used any of the above services? How do you ensure that your content is error-free?
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