I want to preface this first by saying this is an unpaid and unsponsered look into the Grammarly program. This is purely out of curiosity and in my own exploration of the program I hope to help those just as curious as I am. Any programs or sites that can help self-published authors succeed. This is a quick review purely for a look into the program.
One of my greatest struggles is that I suck when it comes to correcting my own grammar. I make no excuses about that and having editors to help me with copy editing is one of the most thankful parts of my writing passion. I’d be a mess without them. But not everyone has editors they can rely on for help and seeking editors can be an awfully expensive endeavor. Now a program I’ve been seeing non-stop ads for called Grammarly caught my attention. At first I thought this was just for emails and social media posts, but looking into it further I realized it could potentially serve as a form of editing help for self published authors as well.
I will be reviewing the service as an individual user as opposed to a business enterprise.
Terms of Service
My purpose in reading through the terms of service agreement is purely for the purpose of intellectual property rights and use as an editing tool for writing. One of my greatest fears as an author is always the ownership of what I have created. The document is not too long to read through so depending on your comfort level I would suggest reading it to help calm any anxiety you may feel. As per usual, you have to agree to the Terms of Service to use the service.
The first hiccup I noticed while reading the Terms of Service was this sentence in all caps: “YOU MAY NOT CHECK MORE THAN 300 DOCUMENTS OR 150,000 WORDS IN ANY 30-DAY PERIOD OR 100 DOCUMENTS OR 50,000 WORDS IN ANY 24-HOUR PERIOD.”
Personally I don’t appreciate the limitation as depending on your written work, it would be difficult to limit yourself to only 150,000 words in a month or 50,000 words in a 24 hour period. I don’t think it’s too crippling of a limitation however. My first book ended up being a little less than 114,000 words however my second book is just over 200,000 words in its current iteration. That might just be an unfortunate issue for fantasy writers, however the limitation of 50,000 words in a 24 hour period is not appealing as it prevents uploading a completed manuscript for review. However this is a limitation of Grammarly as an independent program. Trying to upload a document will result in this error message:
Alternatively it offers an add-on to Microsoft Word for larger files.
Other than the usual message of no liability for stolen or lost work, something important to note is:
“You retain all right, title, and interest in and to your User Content. By uploading or entering any User Content, you give Grammarly (and those it works with) a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free and fully-paid, transferable and sublicensable, perpetual, and irrevocable license to copy, store and use your User Content (and, if you are an Authorized User, your Enterprise Subscriber’s User Content) in connection with the provision of the Software and the Services and to improve the algorithms underlying the Software and the Services.”
You own the intellectual property right of the material, however Grammarly is able to “copy, store and use your User Content” to improve the algorithms underlying the program. The question becomes whether or not you are comfortable with them accessing what you have put on the program or written with the add-on.
Arguably the most important clause for any content creator: “All intellectual property rights in and to the User Content are and shall remain your property, and Grammarly shall acquire no right of ownership with respect to your User Content.”
Free vs Premium
There are two versions of Grammarly currently available, the free version and the premium version. I wanted to get a full picture of what I was working with so I tested both to see what they had to offer.
Regardless of paid or unpaid, the layout for organization and uploading remains the same, clean and easy to manage.
I took a look at the free version first to see what the base value you get from the program is. It may honestly be enough for most people.
The ability to tune how you want your work to be read is pretty cool. The Domain feature is locked behind the premium pricing. Whether or not it creates a substantial difference is what we want to see. But for a free version, I think these settings will work. I’ve uploaded a prologue I’ve since scrapped but in no way edited prior to this article being written:
I uploaded my Microsoft word document without any issues and it appears to display correctly. The rating on the side is interesting to see as it not only checks for errors, but also for Clarity, Engagement and Delivery. However only Correctness and Clarity are available to use as Engagement and Delivery are hidden behind the premium price tag.
Clicking on clarity gave me not only a suggestion for replacement, but also an explanation as to why it would need to be changed. This is very reminiscent of how my editor discusses changes as he copyedits my work. It feels like a nice addition for a free version of the product.
They really want to sell that Premium feature. But is it worth it to pay for?
The current pricing structure for subscription:
For a paid service you’d want it to be more than a glorified Microsoft Word editor. Thankfully it does do a lot more than the free version than I had initially expected:
The difference was quite staggering. Already more grammatical errors are revealed (21 as opposed to the original 14). From what I can see it delivers a better look at Grammar than Microsoft Word manages to do as Word only found 10 errors.
What I found interesting was the “Engagement” analysis in what could be changed. Usually this is what I would comb my writing for to improve by using synonyms, expanding on words, or fleshing out ideas more.
Suggestions like this are helpful. I know for a fact I do overuse the word rather and I don’t see it until I or one of my editors reviewed my work. However, as I was combing through it, I noticed that there is some missed logic in Grammarly’s analysis.
Grammarly suggested I change the word “army” to “command” as it would be more flavorful. However this is proceeding a mistake I had made where I wrote “and” instead of “an”. A human editor would have caught that without issue. When I corrected the “and” to “an” it still kept the suggestion but changed it to “a command” or “a military”.
Even correcting the word “and” doesn’t change the logic of Grammarly to follow the intention I had as the writer. Still the fact that it brings it to your attention is something worth noting. Another example of logic not necessarily working is the word “knowledge”.
In this context “knowledge” is a very specific noun referring to a book. The full sentence is “To think that the knowledge was here, here for her to touch and hold in her very hands, it was breathtaking to say the least.” To replace it with “experience” changes the entire meaning of the sentence.
However I will say the majority of suggestions are actually quite useful. For instance Grammarly analysed the words “watching her carefully” and offered some really good replacement words and even explained the reasoning behind it.
I also noticed that Grammarly has a beta Clarity that I did not see in the free version. The Premium Grammarly gave me a much better explanation as to why it needed to change:
It’s not perfect but I can say it’s not something I would have picked up on in my first read through of the draft. I tend to overuse commas and having that pointed out is pretty helpful.
Another thing I noticed was the Overall Score on the top right. I clicked on it to find a report card for my writing:
The readability score is measured against the Flesch reading-ease test. A quick wikipedia search of the test shows that it was developed under a contract to the US Navy in 1975. Originally developed to indicate how difficult instruction manuals were to read. I’m not sure how valid of a critique rating it is, but it’s still useful to have as a frame of reference.
I tried out the plagiarism tool out of curiosity and hilariously it highlighted half a sentence and said it was similar to a random fan fiction. The sentence fragment in question was “A sigh of relief escaped her as she”. It didn’t select the whole sentence, only these words. While a bit overly enthusiastic, I think this would help more for writing essays with references than writing stories.
It’s not wise to think that an algorithm could ever replace a human’s touch when it comes to something artistic. The meaning conveyed in words can take on so many different meanings that change as the years go by. However I think that what Grammarly offers is a pretty useful tool for anyone who struggles with proofreading their own work or wants suggestions on how to improve.
Would I recommend this to other people? I think I would definitely recommend the free version for people who want general help with grammar issues. Comparing the errors found in Grammarly to Microsoft Word, Grammarly was definitely more thorough and useful for improvement. I would recommend the Premium version for those who either feel they need a lot of help or if they spend a lot of time on creating written content (like I do).