Editing Tools — Grammarly and ProWritingAid

I recently had a few conversations about editing. I’ve written about it before, and not much has changed. What did I write before? Well, for them bored and/or curious, HERE I wrote a little about editing as part of my application for the Viable Paradise workshop. There’s also a bit on editing in THIS post about self-publishing. And there’s stuff about the same tools I’ll be mentioning below in THIS post.

The tools I’m referencing are Grammarly and ProWritingAid. The pricing plans for those apps are HERE and HERE, respectively. Before I proceed, let me categorically state I have no monetary interest or relationship with either of those companies. I’m just a user of their products.

So, when I tell you that after a few years of using those I’m a much better writer, you know that while I might be delusional, I’m not being forced or paid to say it.

But, how do I know I’m a better writer? After all, aren’t humans exceptionally good at fooling themselves, especially in matters relating to their self-assessed abilities? Well, in my case, I have proof.

I can but travel back in time (via this blog) and read stuff from ten, five, and even a few years ago, and I find writing that makes me cringe. OK, maybe cringe is a strong word, but I easily find things I want to rewrite and mistakes I want to fix.

OK, but how does that prove that I’ve improved? Well, because I remember back then, and back then, I looked at what I was writing, looked at the output after I got done editing it, and I remember thinking “Right! I done took a piece of coal and turned it into a diamond!

. . . but I now recognize it at best as an uncut and unpolished diamond, and sometimes I can still see some of the coal underneath the veneer.

I’ll say one other thing before I move on to reviewing the apps . . . those apps ruined my reading. Well, maybe not ruined it, but certainly made reading less enjoyable.

“How?!” you ask . . .

Well, Bob, it turned me into an editor. I don’t mean a professional editor. No; I mean someone whose attention naturally focuses on sloppy writing, misspellings, and misplaced punctuation. Not just for my writing, but for all writing.

Here, I must stress that I’m not a member of the grammar police. As I told someone recently, certain things ‘trip me up’ when I’m reading. A misplaced comma, misspellings, wrong words being used, and — lately — things like awkward sentences, passive voice, unnecessary words. All take me out of the story (or article). They interrupt the flow of reading, making it less enjoyable.

. . . because when I’m reading, I now catch the things Grammarly and ProWritingAid point out about my writing.

I need to be careful about this next statement because I don’t want to insult or insinuate something about other people, but here goes . . .

I think that if you’re not used to editing either your or other people’s writing, you’re not attuned to “seeing” those issues. I mean, you see them, but you gloss right over them, and just enjoy the writing. I can no longer do that. For instance, there are stories I’ve written that I’ve read many times, but if I read them now I have a strong urge to ‘fix’ the issues glaring back at me. The same stories I have enjoyed numerous times are now less enjoyable . . . unless I go in and fix them.

OK, enough background . . . here are the links to the Grammarly and ProWritingAid reports about my latest Title Challenge story. To reiterate, these reports are from after I edited the stories.

Grammarly Report on ejd’s Round 2 Story (PDF, 350KB)

ProWritingAid Report on ejd’s Round 2 Story (PDF, 2.8MB)

The two reports differ, with ProWritingAid giving more of an overview and lots of charts telling you how you compare to the general population and specific writers. Grammarly actually incorporates the story in the report, and all the things it flagged are numbered and have an explanation at the bottom for why it flagged them.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking Grammarly is ‘better’. Their report is more useful, but I rarely look at reports. The interactive experience is what matters, and the two programs are neck-and-neck as far as the live and interactive analysis of your writing is concerned.

Unfortunately, unless you try ProWritingAid, I can’t provide you with an example of what it flags.

A few things to note:

  1. The two programs use slightly different Style Guides. That means one might tell you to add a comma where the other one tells you a comma isn’t needed. You might be tempted to attribute that to British vs. American English (ProWritingAid is from England), but both programs come with modules for specific english versions. No; the difference is in the Style Guides.
  2. Neither program is perfect in understanding the writer’s intent. Sometimes, they make suggestions that are clearly wrong. Other times, they’ll flag something that’s a matter of preference. For instance, I like to use three dots to indicate pauses. They are not a proper ellipsis (…), but my own made-up version (. . .) and those are the cause of many flagged “errors” in my writing. They are flagged as extra periods, extra spaces, and also for not capitalizing the words that come after the last period. All because they aren’t recognized as ellipsis.
  3. I mentioned the programs occasionally differ on where a comma is required, but beyond that, they occasionally don’t like where I place commas, especially in conversations. For me, the comma is a pause. That means that if I want to control the cadence and emphasis of someone’s dialogue, I do it with commas (among other things). Mind you, I listen when it comes to actual grammar, but not always.

I should mention that those two reports are for the edited and final versions of that story. And yet, there are a lot of things flagged. How can that be?

Well, let’s take the Grammarly report and look at one item . . . item #30 is flagged as wrong. They suggest “for” but I’m using “from”. I think I’m right, but beyond that, I want to use “from”; I’m the writer, so end of story.

Grammarly lists over 50 things it wants me to look at and potentially improve, and I’m ignoring them.

Wait; not ignoring. I look at them, contemplate how I want the story to read, and decide whether to keep them as they are. Am I wrong? I don’t know. All I know is that’s what’s written and — unless an obvious error — is how I want the story to read. Again, I’m the writer, so end of story.

To wind this up . . . I easily recommend both programs, especially if seriously considering publishing and/or serious about your writing in general. You may balk at the money, but hiring an editor will run you multiple thousands of dollars . . . for each instance. And, you would never consider using an editor for short stories.

Of course, it depends on what you want, what you can afford, and what your goals are. For me, I think these two programs help elevate my writing, at least as far as the mechanics are concerned.

Will they help my stories?

Well, unless my stories are total crap, it will help them by making them seem more professional.

If my stories were pure gold, I could write like crap and still have publishers knocking at my door. For now, I’ll settle for seeming more professional.

That’s what I get for writing posts when I’m tired, and my brain is fighting sleep; I left out important information.

Both Grammarly and ProWritingAid have extensions for most popular browsers, and you can choose to turn them on or turn them off for individual sites. If you have them on, they’re in “real-time” mode, and they’ll flag errors and give suggestions as you write. I usually only have Grammarly active because it plays better and seems better integrated with my browsers. The ProWritingAid extension seems to add a fair amount of load to the browser. It occasionally lengthens the delay between me typing and letters appearing on the screen. The extensions work in “real-time” mode, meaning that they will flag stuff and give suggestions as you type.

For instance, since Grammarly is always on across all sites I visit, it flags errors as I type emails, write comments, or any place where I write anything. The interface works by underlining a word or passage in red, and if you move the cursor to the word, a pop-up will tell you what it thinks is wrong and make a suggestion. Also, interactively it only flags what it considers serious errors. There’s a small icon that has a running total (currently “9” as I’m typing this) and if you click on it, it underlines other areas. Those usually have to do with ‘passive voice’, removing adjectives, suggestions for conciseness, and so on. For informal writing, I don’t usually bother with those.

Both Grammarly and ProWritingAid have plugins for popular word processors. You can either run the check when you’re done writing (how I use them when writing fiction using Microsoft Word — see the note below about fiction-writing and Scrivener), or you can run them in “real-time” as you type.

Both programs come with standalone programs (apps, in modern parlance) for desktop or laptop; I don’t know about pads. I don’t have one, so I don’t know how they would interact. The standalone option is my preferred way to use ProWritingAid as it’s much better behaved and the interface is well-suited to the large screen because of all the information and tools it offers.

I mentioned fiction writing and Scrivener (my preferred tool when writing fiction) . . . for a long time, ProWritingAid was the only grammar checker that worked with Scrivener, but not interactively. Meaning that the ProWritingAid standalone program could load the Scrivener file, edit it, and then return it in the same format so that Scrivener could open it. If that sounds confusing, think of it as a program being able to read a Word File, interact with it, and then export an edited version in the same format so you can continue working on it in Word.

HOWEVER . . . recently, Grammarly integrated fully with Windows (they must have cut a deal with Microsoft), and now there’s a Grammarly Icon in any program where you can input text.

Meaning that it’s always active whenever you type anything in any program, including Scriverner. I’m mentioning this because that’s what was missing from Scrivener; a good grammar checker (it already had an integrated spell-check). And, it’s done (almost) right. Very unobtrusive while writing. The only annoyance is that in the interactive mode, it’s not as good as highlighting the problem areas. Meaning that it just moves the cursor to the location it’s flagging and it’s sometimes not obvious where it’s at, unlike the normal behavior of underlining the location in red.

If still unsure about something, ask me in the comments and I’ll answer it to the best of my knowledge.

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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