Grammarly Product Review – Write Better

  • Product: Grammarly
  • Price: Varies by subscription
  • Where to Buy: Grammarly.com
  • Features: Basic spellcheck to plagiarism detection
  • My Rating: 4.5 out 5

My morning routine is pretty simple. I get up and start a pot of coffee. With mug in hand, I catch up on news headlines and scroll through my Facebook news feed. Usually, within five minutes, I’ve found at least one grammar error either in a national news article or a Facebook post. While some of these errors are by choice—I like to slip in a “ya’ll” into my writing from time to time—most of the mistakes aren’t stylistic choices. 

I don’t consider myself an expert on grammar. You may find an error or two in my posts. I split my infinitives and use the wrong subject-verb agreement. I’ll re-write a sentence ten times to avoid having to figure out which tense of lay, lie, laid I need to use. I rely on grammar and spell check as I write and publish online. Which brings us to my Grammarly product review.

My Overview

Because I know I am prone to writing mistakes, I went on a search for a robust spelling and grammar checker than the features built into Microsoft Word and other word processing programs. The built-in spelling and grammar checker will catch most things, but don’t go beyond the basics. Even after adjusting the settings, I still felt like the word processing programs weren’t offering the level of support I wanted. I needed something better. That’s when I found Grammarly.

Grammarly has several options available in their free web-based checker and offers a more comprehensive checker through a paid monthly subscription. The free version performs basic spelling and grammar checks directly through the Grammarly.com site or a browser extension. The free checker catches some of the more common errors other grammar and spelling checkers miss. You can also access the Grammarly Handbook, Facebook community, Twitter account, and blog.

Why I Opted for a Paid Subscription

You may not consider yourself a writer or a publisher, and feel the free service is sufficient for your needs. However, if you are posting on social media, hosting a blog, writing emails and reports for your job, or even hosting a podcast where you follow a script, you are a writer and a publisher. In our content-rich society, we are writing more and making it public more often than at any other time in history.

If you are regularly writing and publishing content, consider the paid premium service. You can pay by the month, or you can save money by using the annual billing option. The Premium service performs over 400 checks and allows you to use Grammarly almost anywhere you type a word. Grammarly Premium performs advanced checks for context and structure in addition to giving you vocabulary suggestions. (For example, it is telling me “checks” in the previous sentence is repetitive and suggests I use “tests” instead.) A premium subscription also checks over 16 million web pages to detect plagiarism.

Grammarly Premium has an add-in for Microsoft Office for Windows, a Grammarly keyboard for iOS and Android, and offers a browser extension for several popular browsers. Also, it works on several popular websites for posts and comments. Your subscription works across multiple devices, too making it easy to continue writing near error-free content no matter where you are. 

For those into online badges, rewards, and stats, Grammarly also sends a personalized weekly email with fun, yet informative stat. The email lists your top three errors and links to more information on how to fix those errors. There are badges for consecutive weeks of use, and the email also tells you how you stack up to other Grammarly users regarding productivity and accuracy.

Why 4.5 of 5?

My Grammarly product review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a few minor annoyances. Honestly, these issues are nothing more than my pet peeves, but I still felt as if they are worth adding. For context, I’m a Premium subscriber and use Windows PCs almost exclusively. I use Grammarly when writing content for my website and for writing fiction. I also use my subscription at my “day job” to write emails and reports. Here’s what bugs me:

  1. In Word, Grammarly uses a flyout box to the right of the screen. You can resize it, but it still takes up screen space. You can toggle it on and off, but I like to see the errors as I type.
  2. In Outlook, when replying to an email, you have to open the composer in a new window—so the flyout box can open. You still have to open the composer in a new window even if you toggle off the flyout box.
  3. Grammarly scans the entire document or email string for errors. While you may not be proofreading other people’s work, Grammarly does. I would love to see a feature that lets you select what portion of a document to scan. Also, it flags a mistake for not having a comma after the year in the header information of an email. For example, the header will say “January 1, 2018 5:00” and Grammarly knows that in a sentence there should be a comma after the eight so, it flags it as an error.
  4. Closing out Word seems to take a few seconds longer when Grammarly is enabled. 

Small annoyances aside, of course, Grammarly isn’t perfect. As with any spellcheck and grammar program, there are instances where a correctly spelled word that has been misused will go unflagged. Still, Grammarly is one of the best grammar and spelling checkers I’ve used. I can see a long, long relationship with Grammarly. Whether you use the free version to catch critical errors or you upgrade to the Premium version, your readers will be able to see the difference in your work!

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How to Handle Criticism as a New Writer

You’ve started writing. You’re excited about your work, and you want to talk about it more. Maybe even let a few people read something you wrote. There is a delicate balance between allowing your creativity to grow organically and getting feedback to help your skills as a writer improve. Sharing your work for the first time can be scary. What happens when the feedback hurts? There are a few ways to prepare yourself for constructive criticism.

Sharing Your Work Too Soon

There is such a thing as sharing your work too soon. If you are still getting your feet on the ground and experimenting with what kind of writer you are, hold off on sharing your work for now. Writing, even if you aren’t writing about yourself, is highly personal. Your writing is a part of you. The words on the page are your thoughts, dreams, fears, and so much more. Showing someone your work before you are mentally and emotionally ready for criticism can be a significant setback. Learning to take constructive criticism as feedback on your work and not feedback on you as a person takes time. Keep in mind most pianists don’t sit down in front of an audience at Carnegie Hall and perform within their first few days of starting lessons. Give yourself time to become comfortable with your work.

Who Should & Shouldn’t Reading Your Work

Once you are comfortable with your work, you should start showing it to someone who can help you grow and develop as a writer. Figuring out who should and shouldn’t read your work is the challenge. If you have found a writing group you like, that is a perfect audience. Each member of your writing group was a new writer at some point and, they hopefully have some skill at delivering constructive criticism. Without a writing group, look for friends who are avid readers, bonus points if they happen to read your genre. You may also consider a trusted English or Literature teacher or professor. Another option is to reach out to a local author and ask if they would consider reading a short piece of your work. In general, avoid sharing your work with close family members who think everything you do is terrific. The feedback might be lovely, but probably won’t be the most helpful.

Have Specific Questions for Your Reader

No matter who you choose to share your work with, be prepared with questions for them. What do you want to know about your writing? Before you share your work, sit down, and think about what would be the most valuable feedback for you. Do you want to know if your characters are believable? Do you want to know if a specific action sequence makes sense? Do you want to know if you developed the setting well enough that the reader believed they were on a planet in another galaxy? Even something as simple as asking your reader what does or doesn’t work for them is a great place to start. Make a list of two or three things you want to know and give that list to your reader. A list of questions will help focus their comments on your writing.

Dealing with Just Plain Mean

Unfortunately, some people are just plain mean when it comes to giving feedback. Sometimes the person isn’t skilled at constructively providing feedback. Hearing a reader say they would throw your book out a window not only hurts, but it doesn’t have any value. Learning how to handle criticism as a new writer can be a challenge when faced with someone like this.

First and foremost, don’t get defensive. Push back for clarification as to why they may want to toss your tome out the window by asking probing questions. Ask for specifics, but don’t go down the rabbit hole of trying to explain your work to that person. You may also want to ask what genres or types of books they read and enjoy. If you write horror and they read romance, they may not know who to respond to your writing. If asking clarifying questions doesn’t help clarify the comment, thank them for the feedback and move on with your life. As the saying goes, you can’t please everyone. Personally, I like to think there is just a smidge of jealousy behind the nasty comments.

Finding the Nuggets of Gold

Once you have the right, bad, and ugly feedback, you have to shift through it to find the nuggets of feedback gold. While positive feedback may feel good, it may not have any value, like fools gold. The negative comments may be hard to hear, but they may be the nugget you are looking for to become a better writer. How do you know the difference? First, think about what resonates most with you as a writer. When writing, you will start to develop a sense of what isn’t on point for your work. Maybe you can’t find the exact phrasing for something, or you feel like a character is coming across as too flat. Your readers can help confirm or refute what you see in your work. Next, think about how many times you got the same or similar feedback on a particular aspect of your writing. There’s a “rule” often attributed to Stephen King that goes something like if more than one person says to change something in your writing, then consider replacing it. Even if the passage is one of your favorite parts, your darling, if more than one reader says it isn’t working, you need to consider changing or cutting it.

As a new writer, letting others read your work can help your work improve. Learning how to handle criticism as a new writer can be challenging. There are certainly pitfalls to sharing your work too early or sharing it with the wrong person. To keep your reader focused, be sure to ask direct questions of your readers to get the best feedback. Be prepared for all types of feedback, both good and bad as you start to share your work. Take some time to think about the feedback you receive. Remember, the comments are about your writing, not you. Dig in and look for the nuggets you can polish to make them shine in your writing.

List of Common Grammar Errors – Spellcheck Isn’t Your Friend

You’ve started writing. You might even have a blog or are posting regularly on social media about your work. Once you get the words on the page, then comes editing. I’m not here to invoke bad memories of standing at the chalkboard trying to diagram a sentence. I would like to over a short list of common grammar errors along with some usage notes.

Most of us depend on the built-in spelling and grammar checks to catch our mistakes, but the items below can be easily overlooked by most programs. Before we dive into the list, here’s something to keep in mind: You don’t have to be 100% grammatically correct all the time, but avoiding common, fundamental errors can make your writing more professional.

Homophones 

For my list of common grammar errors, let’s start with words that sound the same when spoken, but have different meanings or uses depending on the spelling.

  1. They’re-Their-There—This one is guaranteed to make any editor cringe. Say all three out loud. Hear how similar they are? No wonder these three words are so often and easily confused in writing. Here’s the breakdown:
    • They’re: This is the contraction of “they are.” Example: They’re going to sell out of the strawberry pie before we place our order.
    • Their: This indicates ownership. Example: I hope those people enjoy their pie.
    • There: This indicates a place or location. Example: I’ll sit over there closer to the pie.
  2. Your-You’re—Again, try saying the two words out loud. No real difference is there? Here’s what happens when you write:
    • Your: This indicates ownership. Example: Give me your pie since I didn’t get any.
    • You’re: This is the contraction of “you are.” Example: You’re going to buy a whole pie for me.
  3. To-Too-Two—These three words sound the same when spoken. While most people use “two” correctly, the other two words can be a little tricky. Here’s how to use them in writing:
    • To: This is a preposition, and it has a lot of jobs. I can indicate motion, identify a person or thing affected, identify a relationship, or as an infinitive. Example: He is going to the store.
    • Too: This means also or in addition. Example: She is going to the store too.
    • Two: This is a number. Again, the easiest of the three, but still worth mentioning. Example: The two kids are at the store.
  4. Then-Than—While not true homophones, they are frequently misused. I can only imagine these two words get misused due to the similar spelling.
    • Then:  This indicates an event in time or series of actions. Example: She waited ten minutes, then went home.
    • Than: This is used to compare or contrast. Example: She is taller than her brother.

Usage Pitfalls

Next up on my list of common grammar errors are words that may sound right, but aren’t depending on usage.

  1. I-Me: Most of the time, people will use “I” and “me” almost interchangeably. We can usually understand that something like “Me want a cookie” is incorrect, but not understand why something like “Larry took Sara and I to the concert” is incorrect. If the second subject throws you off, try reading the sentence without it: Larry took I to the concert.
    • I: We use “I” when the “I” of your sentence is doing the action or feeling the feeling. Example: Sara and I went to a concert with Larry.
    • Me: We use “me” when the “me” is the object of the action. Example: Larry took Sara and me to the concert.
  2. Who-Whom-Whose-Who’s: Which word you use here also depends on usage. My examples below focus on usage in questions, but these words can also be used in statements. The same basic usage rules apply to statements as well.
    • Who: Usually used as a subject pronoun. Think of it as replacing he or she in sentences where we are asking or talking about the person taking action. Example: Who let the dogs out? (Bonus points if you sang that and barked afterward.)
    • Whom: Usually used as the object pronoun. Think of it as replacing him or her in sentences where we are asking or talking about the person that had the action done to them. Example: Whom did she blame for letting the dogs out?
    • Whose: This indicates ownership. Example: Whose dogs did she let out?
    • Who’s: This is a contraction for “who is” and sometimes “who has.” Example: Who’s going to let the dogs out?

My Pet Peeves

The last group on my list of common grammar errors fall into a particular category called: My Pet Peeves. These are the things that make me cringe when I see them. The worst part is that I’m guilty of making these errors all the time! I always go back over anything I’ve written and look for these three things. 

  1. Who-That: To be fair, there is a lot of debate over usage for these two words. For the most part, “that” can replace “who” in most situations and not get you called out by overzealous grammar students. Still, here are the quick and dirty rules:
    • Who: This generally refers to a person and as mentioned above is the subject pronoun. Example: I didn’t see the girl who wore the coat. Now try reading the sentence with “that” replacing “who.” Example:  I didn’t see the girl that wore the red coat. Still makes sense, and isn’t technically wrong per se.
    • That: This always refers to things or objects. Example: Your coat isn’t like that red coat we saw at the store. (Note here that you can’t swap “that” and “who.”)
    • That: One more quick call out on using “that” before we move on. The word “that” is often a filler word. You don’t need it in most sentences. Do a document search for “that” and read your sentence without “that.” If it makes sense without “that,” then you can delete it.
  2. Less-Fewer: This is a case where we’ve misused something so much it sounds right to most of us. Still, there are distinctions between these two words. The most basic usage rule is:
    • Less: This is used for things that can’t be counted. Example: You can drink less beer.
    • Fewer: This is used for things that you can count. Example: You can buy fewer cans of beer.
  3. Em Dash-Ellipsis: Ok, this one is about the punctuation marks and not words. 
    • Em Dash: This is what you get when you type two dashes and keep typing. Like this: “type—type.” The em dash is used to show an interruption to the thought. There is some debate around formatting when using the em dash. Some say there should be a space before and after; some say the spaces are not needed. Personally, I skip the spaces. Example: Sara—remind me to tell you about her red coat—went to the concert with me.
    • Ellipsis: this is what you get when you type three periods together like this: “type…” Ellipsis is used to show a thought trails off, unfinished. This is also used to indicate that something has been left out in a quote. Example: Sara wore her red coat to…

The list of common grammar errors above can help you catch mistakes your spelling and grammar check may not find for you. Take the time to search your document for these words and punctuation marks to make sure you’ve used them correctly. Eliminating these common errors will make anything you write look and sound more professional.