Sunday, July 7, 2013

Grammarly (A Review)

Hi everyone! This post is a week late, and my blog now has a different color scheme, but everything else should be the same. I'll still try to deliver a weekly article relating to the DIY self-publishing indie writer, and hopefully indirectly convince a few people to try my book (soon to be books, as in plural, hint, hint).

If you're wondering about the color scheme change, I received some feedback regarding the difficult-to-read white text on dark background and decided to do something about it. I also realized that with my book being titled Crimson & Cream, using those colors on my blog and web page may not be a bad idea. As in, Duh! Why didn't I think of that a year ago?

And if you're wondering what happened to last week's post, between the day job, updating my blog and website, the Independence Day holiday, and making some graphics for my Comic-Con tee-shirt (see image at bottom), I missed my self-imposed deadline (and I do feel a bit guilty about it).

So with all that out of the way, let's get started on the meat of today's post: Grammarly. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to receive a free two-week test drive of Grammarly's premium account. Grammarly, if you don't recall, is an automated proofreader and personal grammar coach.

I'll start with the bad, because some of these 'turn-offs' may dissuade you from going further. First off, Grammarly is not a free service, and their website requires you to fill out the sign-up page (including your e-mail) before pricing options are revealed. You have the choice to pay for your subscription by the month ($29.95), the quarter ($59.59), or annually ($139.95 USD), although Grammarly does offer a 7-day free trial for you to try their service at no cost.

To use Grammarly, you paste text into their web page and click 'start review.' You are then offered the choice to select the type of writing style: general, business, academic, technical, creative, or casual. I checked the 'creative' option, since I was using a chapter from my upcoming novel Mirrors & Mist (Book Two of The Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy) for the test drive.

Grammarly provides the option to check for plagiarism (it took about a minute to scan my 3,300-word chapter). After confirming my text was original, I began the actual checking of my text (this also took roughly a minute to process 3,300 words on my two-year-old PC with cable internet). Grammarly inspects your text against the following categories, offering advice and solutions in either long or short form (depending on your preference):

  • Article usage,
  • Pronoun agreement,
  • Adjectives and adverbs,
  • Confusing modifiers,
  • Verb form use,
  • Punctuation within a sentence,
  • Spelling, and
  • Commonly confused words.
The best way I can describe Grammarly is to compare it to the Microsoft Word Spelling and Grammar Check tool. Similar to Word, Grammarly checks your document from start to finish, with a pop-up window offering you suggestions on detected problems. Obviously, Grammarly appeared more robust and in-depth than the Word editor.

Similar to Word, the pop-up window gives you the option of ignoring one or all of a certain type of problem. With potential spelling errors, you also have the option of adding words to your personal dictionary, so they are no longer flagged as misspelled. The add-to-dictionary option is a big help for fantasy writing, as more than half of my red flags were in this category, courtesy of my plethora of made-up names and places.

The pop-up windows also contain the following prompt: Have questions? Ask the community. If you choose, your question will be posted to Grammarly Answers — a community-driven quality-assurance website for English grammar and usage. I didn't test this option, but it is a potentially helpful component of Grammarly's portfolio.

In addition to the text checking and plagiarism tools, Grammarly also has a synonym function that suggests alternative word choices to enhance your vocabulary. This works similar to an auto-thesaurus, finding words suitable for potentially better alternatives.

Grammarly also provides members with a dashboard page that tracks your personal writing statistics over time and offers users a 'personal writing guidebook' tailored to your writing deficiencies.

Yet another option is the ability to upload your document to Grammarly and use the service as a cloud-based repository of your writing files. If you're not pressed for storage, it still provides a handy back-up option and organizational tool.

And finally, Grammarly also offers Grammarly for Desktop, which is a downloadable executable file that includes MS Office™ integration. Because I haven't yet signed up for a full subscription, I didn't test this portion of the service, although I suspect I would use it if I did become a paying customer.

In conclusion, my experience with Grammarly showed me a robust text editor with a variety of extra options and enhancements. It's an easy-to-use, customizable interface with perks for the frequent user. The cost, however, cannot be ignored, and is likely too steep for all but the serious (or affluent) writer. For now, I'm weighing my options before signing on with Grammarly. If you're a Grammarly user (former or current), please let us know what you think.

Author Update: The second draft of Mirrors & Mist has now morphed into the third draft and I'm working on the text daily. Book Two of the Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy is still on track for a late 2013 release.

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