I Was Wrong About Grammar Apps. Here’s What I Think Now.

A man with headphones in the dark. An overlay title says: Can grammar apps improve your writing?

I learn new things every day. Sometimes I fill a gap, and other times I replace entire belief systems.

Today I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m taking back what I said about not liking grammar apps like Grammarly or Hemingway, because I’d decided to give them a go and found that they weren’t as bad as I made them out to be.

But don’t hold me to anything though, because who knows if I’ll change my mind again? For now, let’s just start with the new pros and cons I’ve discovered since using said apps.

Pro 1: It’s an unbiased review of your work

What I like about these apps is the way they present the data. Am I using too many adjectives or qualifiers? Overusing redundant phrases? Abusing ten-dollar words? These apps will let you know without malice or joy.

You know it doesn’t come from a place of bias, like some editors are wont to do. Instead, this is just straightforward feedback.

That’s good because if left to my own devices, I tend to cram too much into one sentence and end up spoiling the reading experience.

Which is why it pays to look under the hood of my articles. After all, isn’t it my responsibility to make you comfortable? And like Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

You’d think a self-declared professional wouldn’t need an app to show him the problem areas of his work. Thing is, I sometimes get too attached to my darlings, and it helps to have an impartial party show me which ones I can kill.

Pro 2: I get a free sub-editor

One thing I miss about working in a traditional publishing house is the presence of a sub-editor. This person’s job is to line-edit and fact-check (to see if a quote is attributable to Nathaniel Hawthorne, for instance).

It’s an important role, because even at the news desk—where an article goes through multiple approvals before print—mistakes still get immortalised in the papers.

So what hope does a one-person blog have to remain typo-free? This is where Grammarly comes in. It catches the mistakes I typically overlook, like a rogue ‘of’ or a misused homonym.

As confident as I am in my craft, I have to say that I mess up more often than not, and while these grammar apps won’t help me with factchecking, it’s still nice to know that someone—or something—is around to be my second pair of eyes.

Pro 3: I get a free Premium subscription

The good thing about having worked with so many editors is that I can now look at Grammarly’s highlights and guess what needs to be changed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not that skilled. I’ve just built a knack for having options on the fly, a defence mechanism to appease my bosses from the days of yore.

So while Grammarly recommends that I pay for the extra feedback, I’ve found the existence of these yellow highlights alone to be a useful feature.

Most times, the suggestions are irrelevant, but I’ve made many stylistic rewrites thanks to these highlights, and have liked my work more for it.

Screenshot of Stuart's newsletter being evaluated

No need for further explanation. The yellow lines alone are valuable enough.

Con 1: You need to know your style first

The thing about these apps’ suggestions is that they’re exactly that: suggestions. They don’t care about your voice, nor do they adhere to your company’s house style. And then there are the suggestions that clash directly with your style.

I personally find Grammarly to be prejudiced against commas. But as long as you know what you’re going for, you don’t need to follow the instructions to a tee.

Because I like commas. I’ll, even, use them, to channel, my inner, Christopher Walken, and the, grammar apps, will hate you for it.

But ultimately, writing is about getting a message across, and sometimes that message requires non-traditional uses of the language. So if we’re to take the apps’ suggestions as set in stone, then we could be missing out on the true beauty of the written word.

Con 2: You could become lazy

While I’ve mentioned how grammar apps can substitute sub-editors, there’s also the danger of being too dependent on them. I’ve found that I tend to care less about grammar when I know I’ll be running my draft through Grammarly.

To get an idea of how this feels, try writing an important document with spellcheck turned off. Notice how you pore over every potential misspelling (my usual suspects are ‘Philippines’ and ‘manoeuvre’).

Now turn spellcheck back on and see how careless you get with your spelling. The red squiggly line will always be there to help, right? That’s how I feel when drafting with Grammarly.

On the flip side, is that really a con? Those of you who subscribe to the ‘shitty first draft’ method might not even care. So it’s not really a dealbreaker for me.

Con 3: It slows down the creative process

One of my biggest gripes with Google Docs is that it can’t handle novel-length manuscripts without taking two seconds to delete one word. The WordPress editor does this too. Now imagine adding Grammarly or Hemingway to that bloat.

Editing entire manuscripts becomes unfeasible, unless you want to work in chunks. As if editing wasn’t cumbersome enough already.

I personally need my word processors and peripherals to be as responsive as possible. Even split-second lags can turn into unbridled rage when compounded over thousands of words.

Bukowski was an alcoholic, but I’d bet good money he’d have drank himself to death sooner had he had to deal with grammar apps and laggy word processors.

A sloth

Google Docs’ spirit animal. Photo: Nikolas Noonan

Tip 1: Best to play by ear

Now we get to the best practices of using these apps. And the first tip I have is to write for the ear as much as you do for the eyes.

Sometimes a sentence would still sound wrong despite being grammatically correct. That’s when you have to trust your ear instead of your eyes. Which is why developing your voice before relying on these apps is important.

How do you develop your voice and start trusting your own ear? That’s a question many a writer has asked, yet none can reliably answer, save for the hackneyed ‘just write’.

What, you thought a grammar app was the solution to all your writing problems? Ha.

I can offer you some good news though: ‘Just write’ really works. You think I know what it takes to be traditionally published? Not by a long stretch. I just wrote a lot and sent out enough manuscripts.

Do that enough and you’ll get to infuse your own voice with the calculated precision from the apps.

Tip 2: You still need to do the work

Here’s my writing process when using grammar apps:

  1. Vomit my first draft
  2. Polish it the best I can
  3. Run it through the programmes
  4. Let the piece stew for a day or two
  5. Polish it on my own once more

It’s imperative that you personally go through your post after subjecting it to Grammarly’s judgement though. Because there will be things you can improve on. So don’t let the apps be the final part of the workflow.

Tip 3: Use the tech to grow your craft

The good thing about Grammarly is that it provides explanations alongside its suggestions. This allows you to notice recurring patterns in your drafts, such as the overuse of ‘actually’ or your dependence on wordy phrases.

Knowing your tics will allow you to slowly phase them out, turning you into a better writer at the drafting level. On the editing front, you’ll also be encouraged to rewrite sentences that you’d have normally ignored.

Just remember that you’re ultimately trying to get your point across, and grammatical accuracy isn’t the be-all and end-all of that goal.

Grammar Apps Code - Joshua Aragon

Just because something’s algorithm-based doesn’t mean it won’t help your art. Photo: Joshua Aragon

Should you use these apps?

At the end of the day, you need to do you. Choose whatever makes you happy. There is no ‘one way’ to write, after all.

So when it comes to expressing yourself, you should have your pick from the many ways to approach the art, with or without external help. After all, successful and sucky singers both exist, with or without autotune.

As for me? I may have softened my stance on grammar apps, but my message remains true: your story should always come before the details.

And if I hvae to get taht ponit arcoss wtih a wohle snenetce flul of typos, tehn so be it.


Know what’s better than grammar apps? The newsletter. No grammar checks needed there, as all you’ll need to do is to relax and get exclusive content in your inbox. You’ll also get a free guide on how to grow your WordPress audience, so do join in the fun!

70 thoughts on “I Was Wrong About Grammar Apps. Here’s What I Think Now.

  1. I tried using Grammarly for awhile, but I found it too annoying. How dare this AI think it’s smarter than an English teacher? Hah! JK, I’m not that kind of teacher. I think it was all the ads and its tendency to dislike names that made it annoying to me. I also found it to be aggressively picky with commas. This was a few years ago, though, so I should probably give it another try.

    Like

    • AI is so powerful now. I’m really curious what this will mean for writers a few years down the road. Anyhoo, you don’t have to use Grammarly. So many people do just fine without it. But I do wonder what you think about it after years of not doing so!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hah, I might give it a try. I’m sure it’s improved since I first had it; it’s definitely worth exploring. I like the “shitty first draft” concept for my students, but I always find myself correcting my grammar and organization while I write. Maybe a program like that could help me relax more in the drafting process.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I quite literally just started using Grammarly for my posts and while it definitely doesn’t get the final say in all things (“No,” I frequently have to tell it, “that’s funny BECAUSE it’s dumb and wrong”), I do have to admit it’s been very helpful in like, clarification-by-subtraction and other areas where my brain wrongly insists that more words are better

    Liked by 1 person

    • Totally agreed. These apps work great if the goal is to simplify. Sometimes that’s what I’m going for, and Grammarly plus Hemingway come together to produce super-streamlined work. How we wield them is up to us, and I’m glad you shared your use cases with me!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dashing and detailed blog Stuart. The message I got here was that as a Writer you need to know how to use these Grammar apps from time to time although they are not to be followed to the Tee.

    I love the way you dished out the prons and tips here and giving me your sincere Feedback about using the Grammar app

    The sub editor and the part of writing for the ear really got to me, I think I should try doing that in my blog. As for editing, I do perform proofreading in my blog posts every time before I hit publish, this just makes the blog neat and readable

    Trust me Grammar apps do help because they are like a guide that help correct you and they are a second eye supervisor that will warn you if your post is filled with errors both spelling and grammar.

    Happy Holidays Stuart and great advice on writing as always💯👏👏

    Like

    • Yeah, I’d go so far as to say that writing for the ear is what I do exclusively these days. Just going for rhythms and feel instead of producing grammatically correct sentences just for the sake of it.

      And yes, grammar apps are especially useful if you deal with a lot of words on the daily and just need a quick quality control run to give your eyes a little rest. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello 👋 I have never used editing apps, but use spell checkers in Microsoft word from time to time, as well as googled the spellings of similar words in the UK/US…..especially words that use ‘s’ or ‘z’….like organise and organize….this still confuses me lol

    Like

    • Lol, the UK/US ones that sometimes get me are ‘instill’ or ‘instil’ (or any word with double Ls). Fun fact: one UK word I refuse to use is ‘focussed’. ‘Focused’ just looks prettier. If you ever use Google Docs, I have to say that their editors are much better at spotting mistakes. Thanks for stopping by as always!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. An honest, fun, and informative read, Stuart.
    I like and agree, ” I may have softened my stance on grammar apps, but my message remains true: your story should always come before the details.”
    I am lucky I have my patient and qualified daughter as my editor-in-chief. But I feel guilty to keep bugging her to read my writing often as she has her own busy life.
    So, I suggested Grammarly! My daughter was not too enthusiastic, although she uses some in her editing-friendly in her line of work. But I managed to convince her and installed Grammarly. My style is to pour down everything in writing that comes from my heart without stopping. So, there are many spelling and grammatical mistakes. I tend to omit definite and indefinite articles in my writing often. So, I seek Grammarly’s help. Though I take Grammarly’s suggestions seriously, I put my foot down where my usage of English (as in English) sayings, proverbs, and English spellings is concerned.
    I suppose I am a bit of a rebel. To the annoyance of the bold, red-lettered” Correctness” of the AP!

    Like

    • Ha, we gotta show these apps who’s boss sometimes. And after a while, we’ll start to see patterns that we can totally ignore. I’m always told that my UK variants of spelling are wrong, but those I leave unaddressed. Ultimately, these apps are an extension of ourselves, and it’s up to us how to best use them in our work. Thanks for sharing how you use these apps in your life!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for writing this article. I have my own blog, The Good Plate, and I also write for clients. For some of my clients, English is a second language, and I have one client who is dyslexic. Grammarly comes in very handy. I have the paid version and although I’m a good writer, sometimes a little extra help comes in handy. However, their price is rather steep, and I’ve been looking into alternatives. If I find something fabulous, I’ll post back here and let you know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so cool that tech can be an equaliser, and help get more people into the craft, regardless of their limitations.

      And yeah, thanks to this experience, I’m more open to tools that may seem unnecessary at first glance, so definitely let me know if you come across any handy ones!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love you might change your mind yet again Stu!
    I agree!

    I just downloaded Microsoft word cuz my google docs that converts it and is saved to a PDF crashed someones computer.
    Some of these spelling ones and I’m not sure which one is so rote and drives me crazy. Every time i say “have to” it changes it to “must”.

    I guess the moral of the story is “can’t live with them and can’t live without them”. God if I know.

    Best tip ever and great post so thanks “Vomit my first draft”

    Stew on the rest is how I’ve been feeling as of late! 😜

    Like

    • Gah, yes. Changing ‘have to’ to ‘must’ isn’t that big of a deal, but if it keeps happening over and over, it can become rather tedious. Like a pebble in your shoe kinda thing.

      That’s weird that the PDF would do that though. I find other features of Google Docs pretty handy, like the format conversion. Their grammar checker is also more advanced than Microsoft’s I have to say.

      And as always, thanks for stopping by, Cindy!

      Like

  8. I tend to type my drafts on Microsoft Word, which comes with a reasonable editor overview. This can help to iron out some mistakes I may have missed. I might try some of the apps you mention here, Stuart, so thank you for the reviews. I get what you mean about commas. Every time I pick up a book written by a grammar expert they all seem to have a different opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah. The worst are the ones who only have one way to do things. Language is too vast to be contained in any sort of pigeonhole. I like to judge the ‘quality’ of a work by the feelings or thoughts they set in motion.

      I actually think Google Docs’ grammar checker is pretty solid. Too bad it can’t handle larger files.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The best apps employ AI, but none are perfect, just like the people who edit professionally. As you pointed out, these tools highlight issues and show “potential” solutions, educating writers with every use. I replaced Grammarly with ProWritingAid because it integrates with Scrivener. Eons ago, I ignored spelling and grammar in school, so now the app allows me to focus on story instead of worrying about embarrassing errors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like how tech is freeing us from the ‘grunt work’, which allows us to move on to the higher-level tasks. I wonder how that creative process will change as a whole once AI gets smart enough to recommend entire sentences, with context.

      What we have now is already pretty decent in terms of AI, and I’m interested to see if that helps my storytelling brain!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m hoping the AI arc trends toward helpful instead of the dystopian view the media promotes, the one ending in the oblivion of all human endeavors. However, it wouldn’t surprise me to see regulations requiring labels for anything AI enhanced or created.

        Like

  10. Good points. Love, the, inner, Walken sentence. And, of course, the last one.

    I tend to think, “I’m a professional editor, so I know everything!” But there is the off time when I have to double check some grammatical thing, so who knows? Maybe I’d learn a thing or two from one of these sites also.

    Like

    • I love that you love the sentences that I loved writing the most :P

      I used to think the same. “Pssh, Grammarly? I am Grammarly.”

      Then I made the mistake of using it and realised I could spend more time on things that really matter. Am curious to see how it goes if you decide to give it a try!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Truly the most fun sentences, so is it any wonder?

        “I am Grammarly.” OMG, I’ll bet I’ve said that to myself too.

        I’ll bet I would spend too much time deciding whether or not I do or should agree with its suggestions. Hmm. But the part about pointing out pet phrases to be minimized or darlings to be killed sounds valid.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I also use Grammarly regularly. Of course, it’s imperfect and sometimes misinterprets words or phrases, so I still have to approve or ignore each suggestion. One curious thing is I will get close to a clean draft (according to Grammarly), and then overnight, it will mysteriously make other recommendations the next time I open it up.

    Like

    • That’s an interesting observation. I think I’ll need to reenter my edited articles to see if Grammarly decides to make additional changes. Maybe that’s how they get people to be dependent on their software—by making it seem as though there are tons of changes to do each time.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Very, very much agree with this post! Online grammar tools should never be taken entirely at their word, but they’ve helped me identify a lot of my biggest grammar challenges. It’s helped my shitty first drafts (the method I ascribe to) become more and more coherent, which in turn makes my second drafts easier to write. All hail the yellow Grammarly Premium squiggles and may they never make me pay to catch some of those unnecessary commas or passive verbs!

    Like

    • This is why I’m still optimistic about AI and writing. There has been a lot of talk about AI encroaching into creative territory, but I feel that a conductor always needs to be present, and while these tools can help us with the mechanical aspect of writing, it’s still up to us humans to put for a final product. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Cyndy!

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Thanks for this. Call me old school but I have never used a grammar app, nor do I really want to. Honestly, I even take spell check with a grain of salt. You have, however, piqued my curiosity to the point where I might play around with a grammar app at some point, when I have the time and patience.

    Oh, and I share your love of commas. 😀

    Like

    • I used to tell people that I didn’t need Grammarly because I was Grammarly, lol.

      Then I tried that and the Hemingway App, and realised that I could get the grunt work done quicker so that I’d have more time to better polish my work.

      Am curious to know what you think if you ever try it! You might hate how it deals with commas, though :P

      Liked by 2 people

  14. I hadn’t been using any grammar checkers but with my latest software update on my phone, it’s now part of the autocorrect. I think its useful and can pick up on slips. But I also agree with your comments, Stuart, that people need to have some basic writing skills so they know what’s appropriate etc. I see too many students use electronic writing aids but don’t have the knowledge, experience or skills to know if the suggested solutions are correct or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel like technological advances frees up more time from the grunt work, allowing us to do more high-level tasks. And these tools are part of the equation. But yeah, there needs to be someone capable at the helm of it, because simply following a machine’s suggestions 100% of the time will only result in stilted work. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Brenda!

      Liked by 2 people

    • For sure! The final edits definitely have to be carried out by us humans, especially when it comes to style and flow. These apps can’t differentiate nouns either, so that’s another problem to be mindful of. Thanks for sharing, Danny!

      Liked by 2 people

  15. I’m really resistant to the idea of the grammar apps but it could be helpful just to see what things get flagged that I can easily fix. I just know I’m gonna hate the suggestions. Like how I bet it would flag “gonna.” I slightly disagree that you need to just write to learn how to write by ear–I think extensive reading of skilled writers is necessary for this. Anyways, great balanced post!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I love how thorough this post is! I’ve been using Grammarly (free) for a few years now and I’ve found it really valuable. I’m pretty skilled at editing my own stuff but it catches all of the silly things I miss and helps me realise which mistakes I make most often. I actually never thought about the lag because I edit in chunks anyway, so I just copy and paste things into Grammarly chapter by chapter (or by pages/sections, depending on what it is) and then make the changes back on the document. That’s probably weird but I’ve got the system down now so it works well for me 😂 Thanks for another great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love reading how you’ve adapted the workflow into your creative process. And yes, it’s the silly mistakes that we often overlook, so much so that I’ve stopped judging other writers for making them. Like typing ‘of’ twice doesn’t seem as bad to me as typing ‘it’s’ instead of ‘its’. Thanks for sharing, btw!

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Have you tried Quillbot’s grammar tool yet? Very pro commas :)..I tend to use grammar tools occasionally but sometimes the sheer perfection of the end result doesn’t feel authentic so I leave my comma-less run-on sentence there in all its glory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I sometimes feel like this is what makes the ‘soul’ behind the work. Aiming for perfection only leaves things looking sterile.

      And I feel there are two types of writing mistakes. One is the honest typo, and the other is a flagrant disregard of the language. I’m cool with the former and don’t mind these typos anymore, to be frank. Good thing Grammarly helps with that, lol.

      I might just check out Quillbot now. Thanks!

      Liked by 2 people

  18. This is what I like to call character development. And people who say that only happens in stories are idiots, and are not worth talking to.

    I might give Grammarly another chance, maybe they improved the accessibility? For now, my process is like this: Write the document offline because I hate online editors; Put the text in the online editor of writer.com, often in chunks because it can’t handle the full text at once; go over it again after this process is done; Go to the WordPress HTML editor, because that one is the best for me personally, edit the article with headings and links, and then hit publish.

    If I’m forced to use Google Docs then this quote will describe my future:

    “Bukowski was an alcoholic, but I’d bet good money he’d have drank himself to death sooner had he had to deal with grammar apps and laggy word processors.”

    About quotes: How do you find these quotes for your articles, Stuart? Do you search them or do you just remember them?

    Also, if you’re writing by an ear, you can always ask a blind guy like me. I’ll let you know your writing sounds good to me or not, as using a screen reader for hearing text has tuned my ears nicely for that kind of thing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Regarding the quotes thing, I kinda remember the gist of them when I read them. Then while writing, I’ll get the idea to add a quote or two that’s swirling in my mind. I won’t remember said quotes until I write or think about something related to them though, so if you were to ask me to recite some quotes now, I’d be at a loss.

      But then I write about how we have the power to control our actions, and quote from the poem Invictus comes to mind: “I am the captain of my soul.”

      What’s left is to google the quote to make sure I got it right.

      I love the fact that you write by ear by default. Sighted writers have always recommended reading aloud, but using a screen reader must have a different feel to it. Like Hetty, I might start asking you if anything sounds wrong.

      And thanks for sharing about your creative process!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I resisted it too, but it’s always great to maintain an open mind, am I right? Of course, I don’t really care for proper grammar in other parts of my life, but it’s good to have a second pair of eyes when it does matter.

      Liked by 2 people

    • The next thing you know, I’ll be wrong again and denounce all grammar apps :P

      But yeah, I think tech is here to stay, and that we’re in an exciting time where creative work is concerned, and I’m interested to see how it will change the way we do things.

      Thanks for your kind words, JYP!

      Liked by 2 people

  19. I’ve been using Grammarly as a keyboard for quite some time now and I do admit to loving it. It reduces the stress of going through a text/write-up and need to pay attention to every word since it underlines grammatical errors and typos. And, it speeds up my editing process with its easily accessible synonyms. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Stuart.

    Liked by 1 person

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