Tuesday, August 25, 2020

I want to love Grammarly

UPDATE: I've been using paid-for Grammarly for almost 3 months now, and in spite of my complaints, I have to say that I like it. I'll leave this post pretty much as I originally wrote it and write a follow-up post when I have time.

I've lived with a bit of a problem almost all my life. I'm a slow reader and a poor speller. I suspect I have a bit of a learning disability.

That's not my problem. If I really do have a learning disability, it is mild; my language abilities are not that far below average. And I'm an engineer, for goodness sake! I'm not expected to have a perfect command of English.

My problem is that I love to write. I've dabbled with fiction, humor, and non-fiction (this blog being a primary outlet). And I want the quality of my writing to be high.

When I had my first exposure to a spell-checker, I was ecstatic! Finally, a tool to save me huge amounts of time. When I first used one that suggested correct spellings, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. But their were still to many thymes that incorrect word choice, usually among homophones, led to mistakes not being caught. I knew that a grammar checker was needed to really get the spelling right.

Microsoft Word, for all the hate that is heaped on it, raised the bar. It catches many problems that "aspell" does not. Word is still not perfect, but it is *good*.

Enter Grammarly. There's a lot about it I really like. For example, instead of just showing you your mistake and offering suggestions, it explains why its a mistake. I.e. it is both an error checker and a learning tool. I'm using the Grammarly editor to enter this blog post, and it found a couple of things that the Firefox checker did not flag.

... But ... did you notice my mistake in the previous paragraph? "...it explains why its a mistake." The "its" needs an apostrophe. Grammarly didn't catch it. Microsoft did. But neither one caught the "thymes" in the prior paragraph. (Interestingly, the Firefox checker does flag "thymes".) Grammar checking is still an inexact science.

But never let perfection be the enemy of good. And there's a lot of good in Grammarly. I really want to love it enough to pay the fee. Why don't I?

My biggest issue is the file size limitation, which does not grow with the paid-for version. I maintain the documentation for our product, and some of those files are pretty big. Way too big, it turns out. I would have to mess with splitting and recombining them. Never mind the annoyance of doing that, the recombining introduces more opportunity for mistakes.

Also, I use a Mac, and Grammarly doesn't integrate with Outlook on Mac. And even the Mac Word plugin is size-limited, although it looks like maybe that limitation would be lifted if I were using Windows instead of Mac.

Also, it doesn't work well with local ".txt" files except through copy-and-paste. (It can read text files, but not write them.)

I'll probably pay for a month's worth just to see what the 11 extra suggestions are for this blog post. Maybe seeing them will change my mind. But I kind of doubt it.


EDIT (19-Sep-2020): I did go ahead and shell out for the pro version. So far it has provided a small improvement. Not sure it's worth the cost yet, but still early days. In most cases, it challenges me on something that probably does deserve a second thought, but I ended up keeping as-is.

3 comments:

John Jacobsen said...

Wouldn't have guessed that writing was a challenge for you, probably because the content tends to be more thoughtful than a lot of the other stuff out there. I was surprised I missed "thymes," myself, while reading, though I was admittedly skimming.

I have found that nothing beats skilled human proofreaders, if you can find them. Just don't believe everything they say :-). I should get other people to read my posts before I send them out. But there is something to be said for the freshness of a blog where the occasional mistake is no biggie (it's a little more shocking on the New York Times, though, sadly, increasingly common).

Steve Ford said...

HA! A man after my wife's heart. She frequently bemoans the lack of proofreading, especially the NYT.

> ... nothing beats skilled human proofreaders ...

That's for sure. It will take a long time (probably not our lifetimes) for any automated tool to catch a fraction of what even an average proofreader can catch.

Steve Ford said...

Actually, I want to modify what I said. It's kind of like a self-driving car. Sure, it will make mistakes that we will shake our heads at. How could it be so stupid? But it will make *different* mistakes than humans. It won't drive while tired or intoxicated. It won't be distracted by a phone call or a child screaming in the back seat.

Grammarly's value is not in replacing proofreaders, it is in helping the proofreaders catch the things that Grammarly's good at, leaving more time for the proofreader to concentrate on what the proofreader is good at.

I just wish I had access to a *good* proofreader to ask questions of. For example, Grammarly didn't like the comma in "Grammarly's value ... proofreaders, it is in ...". It wants it to either be a semicolon or a full stop. I disagree. I think it should be a comma. But do I have years of training and experience in the field to support my opinion? No. It just feels right. I suspect that if I asked 10 professionals, I might get some difference in opinion, but I suspect most would say it doesn't matter that much.