We take a look at Grammarly, an app designed to improve your writing
What is Grammarly? Have you ever tried to spell something in Microsoft Word but found that spell checker couldn’t figure out what you’re trying to say? Have you then resorted to using Google search, where you can just mash in some letters which vaguely resemble the word you’re going for? Google has no problem guessing the word that you have in mind because, unlike Microsoft Word, it draws from a live and ever-growing database of equally lazy and illiterate search queries.
In this respect, Grammarly works in a similar way to Google. It analyses what you write via its online algorithm rather than relying on an offline set of rules that you get on Word or the spellcheck that’s built into your browser.
Grammarly has two sets of checks; a basic set and a premium set. As the name might suggest, the premium checks require a paid subscription.
We spent a couple of months trialling both the basic and premium versions of Grammarly to see if they have value for people who write for the web.
The Office Add-ons
Grammarly comes in two forms; browser extensions, and plugins for Microsoft Office (Word and Outlook). The office plugins were very disappointing.
The plugin makes Outlook take much longer to load. It does not work when writing an email unless you “pop-out” the email into a separate window, and shockingly the plugin removes your ability to undo mistakes!
Similarly, in Word you can expect a lengthier load time and your ability to undo mistakes becomes much more limited. We lost about an hours worth of writing because of this, so we strongly recommend you DO NOT install the Grammarly plugins for Microsoft Office, at least until the kinks have been worked out.
The Chrome & Firefox Extensions
The extension for the Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox browsers are where Grammarly really comes into its own. The service offers basic spell check in most areas where you type and a more comprehensive breakdown in a simple and easy to use pop-up window. Grammarly claims that the free service offers 150 critical grammar and spelling errors, and, while it does make the odd mistake, it is clearly far superior to the bog standard checks that are done with Google Chrome’s built in spell check (we didn’t test Firefox).
The premium service
The premium service costs $37.95 per month, although we were offered an annual discount of 50% after using the free version for a few weeks. In addition to the basic checks, the premium service claims:
- 100+ additional advanced grammar and spelling checks
- Vocabulary enhancement suggestions
- Genre-specific writing style checks
- Plagiarism detector that checks more than 8 billion web pages
The plagiarism detector isn’t perfect (it missed a whole paragraph from their own homepage, but picked up the above list) it is useful and does list the sites where sections of text are similar.
Grammarly makes mistakes, which isn’t so terrible in itself, however, the fact that there isn’t a button to report a questionable error means that the app cannot learn and improve from its 3 million+ users.
The service is good at suggesting synonyms when you’ve used the same word repetitively, but the synonyms aren’t generated based on other words that you’ve used, so you will often find yourself changing a word based on its suggestion, only to find that word being flagged too!
Although the Microsoft Office plugins should be avoided at all cost, we do recommend that you give the free browser extension a try as it works very well. The premium service is more comprehensive, although unless writing is your primary vocation, Grammarly premium probably won’t add enough value to justify the cost.