Grammar and Spelling Apps: Why You Shouldn't Rely on Them
I’ll be the first to admit that spell check is a writer’s best friend during the writing process. When your fingers are moving fast in that frenzy of getting words and ideas down, even the most experienced wordsmiths make basic mistakes.
Even for editors like myself, spelling and grammar software can be a good backup or tool to indicate any areas of concern to pay special attention to in a client’s work. And, when I’m off the clock, it can be a great way to ensure that no embarrassing errors are used when communicating with friends and family (it’d be hard to live that down!).
That being said, many people conflate a report that says there are zero errors in one’s writing with a satisfactory and thorough edit. And, with more and more advanced apps on the market these days promising to take your writing to the next level, it can be tempting to become reliant on these tools.
We must acknowledge the strengths of these grammar and spelling apps first.
If English isn’t your first language, these tools can be a great way to helps strengthen their grasp and learn more nuanced ways of using the language. Grammarly, for example, gives the user reasons for any suggested edits, identifies any overused words and can help suggest better phrasing.
Grammarly’s CEO himself has said that the app is intended to be a “coach, not a crutch.”
In general, these apps are great for everyday communications, whether for professional or personal online writing. For small or quick tasks — an email to a colleague, a homework task or post on social media— having a second pair of (virtual) eyes to doublecheck your work is invaluable. But for longer, more intensive (and more high stakes) work, a grammar and spelling app may not be enough to get you the results you need.
I’ve outlined five reasons why you shouldn’t (solely) rely on grammar and spelling apps for proofreading your writing:
They don’t catch all the errors
A 2017 experiment by the Grammarist found that Grammarly only picked up 72% of errors that it encountered. An article published the year after noted that, when entering sentences that were used as examples in Grammarly ads, the software didn’t pick up the mistakes and that the suggestions being given were an overcorrection that didn’t “reflect the ways we really write.”
While the AI has admittedly gotten better in the last couple of years, it is still a work in progress. In a review published just three months ago, the author noted that the app “may try to ‘shoehorn’ your writing into what it thinks is correct” and listed missed errors as a con for the software.
Even the most devoted Grammarly users concede that, when it comes to the accuracy of human proofreading, Grammarly can’t compete.
Even if you spell a word right, it can still be incorrect and fly under the radar of your spelling and grammar checker.
There’s the traditional example — there, their and they’re — but there are also a bunch of words that are commonly mistaken (and missed by automatic proofreaders).
· Affect and Effect
· Lay and Lie
· Farther and Further
· Fewer and Less
· That and Which
· Insuring and Ensuring
(For more examples, and the differences between them, make sure you keep an eye out for my next post!)
Copyediting and proofreading by an actual editor will help you make sure that all the words used in your work are intentional and effective.
A series of case studies conducted by Servicescape, comparing Grammarly to a human editor for different types of writing projects, found that academic editing was especially impacted in terms of the quality of the edit. Not only did the software not pick up certain errors, but it was clear that the human proofreader could provide more useful advice regarding the actual content and how the ideas were communicated.
A human proofreader and editor often has background knowledge in a range of fields and can provide helpful guidance that better shapes your work for the intended audience.
They only consider what you’ve written — not what you meant to write
An automatic proofreader is great at refining what’s already on the page, but what about what’s not?
What you say and what you mean can be two separate things — only a human knows the difference and is capable of asking. A good editor can help when you are struggling to convey exactly what you want to say in a sentence, fleshing out any points or arguments and pointing out areas where you may need a little more information for the reader.
Good writing is more than just good spelling and grammar
Good writing is about communicating with your reader — whether they are a potential customer of your business, a stakeholder, a marker of your academic work, or the audience of a fiction/non-fiction text.
While apps are getting better at communicating tone and considering word choice, the overall structure of your work is something that only an editor can assist you with. The copyediting and content editing that really makes your work shine and stand out is still beyond the capabilities of grammar and spelling apps.
If you’re producing professional or marketing material for your business that will be read by a number of people, an essay or thesis that will make or break your grade, or a manuscript you want to send out to the world, you need more than a spelling and grammar app.
For those of you relying on god-old-fashioned Word to type up your work, here are just some of the ‘errors’ I encountered with the spelling and grammar checker while writing this blog:
For the best results, you need an experienced editor who can work with you to refine your writing and elevate your work, not just eliminate errors.
Want to find out more about what an editor can do for your project? Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you with a complimentary quote and consultation!