Monday, January 27, 2014

A Brief Look at Grammarly

Today I'm going to take a brief look at Grammarly, an online editing and proof-reading platform, which offers both free and premium subscription (pay-to-use) accounts. I've used the service before, and I was offered perks, including a free 30 day premium service trial from Grammarly, in exchange for a fair review. Now that that's out of the way, here we go!

Click the image to make it larger!

Let's start out with Grammarly's user interface. It's clean, streamlined, and very easy to use. The task bar is located above the text area, and the necessary buttons are arranged primarily on the left side of the screen, so your personal monitor size shouldn't interfere with viewing the whole interface while working. This is a plus if you're working on a smaller computer screen, or if you need to have multiple windows open while you're running a scan.

To start a Grammarly scan, simply copy and paste your text onto the white "text box" area. Or, if you prefer, you can upload your file directly. Once you have your text pasted to the work area on the screen, begin the scan by clicking the "Start Review" button located on the task bar.

Grammarly allows you to select from six types of review processes, based on the type of paper you want scanned.  The documents I used to test the service features were all fiction/creative writing projects, so I used "Creative", which is the default review setting.

 There are six paper review settings.
Creative is the default.

I tested scenes from two rough drafts (both current Werekind erotic romance projects), and a completed short contemporary erotica draft. I wanted to see how the scanner would react to erotic material. I worried some of the profanity and sexual jargon might throw off the editor, but as it turned, out, Grammarly had no trouble working around the naughty bits.

When you click the "Start Review" button, the screen grays out, and a processing notification pops up. I put in 17 pages for one of the scans, and it took less than four minutes to complete the review process.

However, in a later scan, I uploaded a document larger than 20 pages, and I received a pop up notification saying the document was too large. It suggested copy and pasting smaller chunks for scanning.

Throughout the scanning process, a line of text shows up beneath the processing status bar telling you what area of grammar the scan is currently focusing on.

The "checking for" section beneath the processing status bar
will let you know what areas the scan is currently focusing on.

Once the scan is complete, the number of issues found within the document will be displayed above the rainbow meter bar. The meter also gives you a percentage rating, with the score topping out at 100%. In the image below, I've drawn a red box around the results meter. Take a look at the two text links shown directly underneath the results bar in the image. One says its a summary link, the other is for a PDF report.

 Click this pic to make it larger.

I like that you can easily download the correction suggestions into a PDF report. The report gives you a summary of the issues found throughout the document, with the problem areas written out in colored text. Corrections are listed by number for easy reference. 

If you click the summary link beneath the results meter, a large red pop up will appear over the text area of your document listing all the issues found via the scan. I chose to close that window and use the blue, tabbed links as shown in the picture below. 

Click for a larger view!

This screen shot shows what information you get after a scan. On the right hand side of the interface, directly below the rainbow colored results meter, a tabbed list of links appears showing you the issues found during the scan. 

A blue bubble with a number inside it tells you how many times the problem appears throughout the document. If you click on one of the links within the list, a pop up box will open over the document panel. (Shown in the image above.) The problem area is shown in red, and within the pop up, you can choose a short or long explanation for each problem found. You can also accept or ignore suggestions, and move to the next issue found without making any changes.

This is a helpful and easy way to proofread your work quickly. However, I must mention that with self-editors and proofreading programs like this, you have to thoroughly check your results and leave nothing to chance. This type of service isn't meant to be a replacement for an editor. The scanner won't pick up everything, and not everything it picks up is a mistake.

A plagiarism checker is also available on the Grammarly task bar. It runs independently of the standard document scan you initiate when you press the "Start Review" button. Simply press the Plagiarism search button next to Start Review, and a processing notification will appear. 

To test the plagiarism scanner, I used a very naughty part of my current work in progress. It gave me an 8% likelihood of similar words found across the internet. Most of the results came from common usage scenarios such as "See you later, alligator", or "She opened the front door." Those aren't actual phrases from my work in progress, but you get the idea. The results came back with a lot of common, simple statements you'd expect to find in all kinds of written projects or correspondence. 

However, the scan did uncover an amusing similarity between a snip of Werekind dialogue in my current work in progress ("You sound like a bunch of drunken frat boys."), and a statement about frat boys on a foreign food blog. Hehehehe! How wild is that? 

In all seriousness, I could see myself using Grammarly's plagiarism checker as extra precaution for fiction projects, or for double-checking college papers. It's a very handy tool to have, especially for students.

My premium account access came with a Personal Writing Handbook, which was accessible by clicking the "dashboard" link on the right hand side of the Grammarly user interface. The link opened to a new page, and I took two snapshots of the handbook screens. One is with the book closed, which is how it looks when you arrive on the page. The second image shows what it looks like once you've opened the handbook.

Along with the handbook, your overall scan results are collected and compiled into an easy to read graph. Beneath the graph, there is a list of the most common grammar issues found within your document. If you click on the blue "issues" arrow, the handbook will open and give you a list of grammar rules for that particular problem.

I also want to mention that Grammarly's premium service offers an additional MS Word add-on (plug-in) for download; however, I chose not to use this tool since my experience with add-ons is that they can bog down my Word program and cause it to lag. Your mileage may vary. Some users may not have any issues at all with the Word add-on, depending on the speed of their computer processor and how much memory their system has. I chose to skip it, so be aware I have not tested the add-on.

The only thing I wish Grammarly had incorporated into its task bar is an export button. There is a download button, but mine was grayed out, so I couldn't find a way to export the document with the corrections I made using the Grammarly interface. The PDF report gave me a list of suggested corrections, but I had to copy and paste the corrected text area and save it manually in order to keep it.

Overall, Grammarly is an excellent tool to have. The review process is fast, and it gives you clear explanations for every grammar suggestion it makes. It's great for locating weaknesses in your writing, and it's a fast and easy way to check your work before submission. I highly recommend it, especially for anyone preferring to work alone on their projects. It's also good for someone like me who would use this program to polish a project before passing it on to another set of eyes.

Grammarly does have a free lite edition online. You can test out Grammarly for yourself, or find out more about the service here: 

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