Incorporating Grammarly Into Your Writing Process
Tuesday, August 14, 2012 Grammar and Mechanics
By Matt Smith, Writing Consultant
You might already be familiar with Grammarly, but if you aren’t: Grammarly is a grammar-checking program that is available to you for free as a Walden student. In the Writing Center, we recommend Grammarly in a number of situations; if a student’s paper contains a great deal of sentence-level interference (i.e., the student’s meaning is obscured by grammar issues), for example, or if a student wants help immediately and we have no openings in our schedule, we’re likely to point him or her toward this software. We also recommend that students use Grammarly as an early step in their revision processes, because it can help them improve their paper in the short term and, more importantly, strengthen their writing skills in the long term.
To get started with Grammarly, click the big green Grammarly button on our home page. Instructions for logging into Grammarly should appear in your browser, and, once you’re in, you should see a screen like this.
Simply copy the text of your paper in your word processor, paste it into this window, and click Start Review. A progress bar will appear, and Grammarly will take a few moments to analyze your text. When it’s done, your text will likely have highlights in some areas, and a list of potential errors will appear in the column to the right.
Here, for example, I’ve had Grammarly review my previous blog post, and Grammarly has noted several potential errors. (For the record: these were not actually grammar issues but stylistic ones—Grammarly reviewed my text as if it were a formal academic essay rather than an informal blog post, so it noted issues that were, in fact, the result of conscious choices that I made about my tone and style in this piece.) You’ll notice that, while Grammarly has flagged issues that I can look into—preposition usage, parallelism, passive voice, etc.—it hasn’t given me any corrections. Instead, it offers thorough explanations of the issues it has noticed and, using generic examples, models I could follow to reduce the prevalence of these issues in my text.
You might find this a bit frustrating, especially if you’re used to Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar checker, which underlines trouble spots and allows you to replace them in one click with auto-corrected versions. However, I argue that this apparent weakness of Grammarly’s is actually its strength. Word’s tools are powerful and useful, but they’re often flat-out wrong—e.g., replacing text that should be “martial art” with “marital art”—because Word is, after all, a computer program with no understanding of context or meaning.
By explaining grammar issues rather than fixing them for you, Grammarly can teach you the principles behind these revisions, helping you make the right change in your text and use this new skill in your future writing. (It also leaves the choice of whether to make these changes up to you. When you’ve used a contraction, for instance, or intentionally ended a sentence with a preposition, as I did in the example above, you can choose to ignore Grammarly’s suggestions if they aren’t applicable to that particular situation.) This requires a bit more thinking and effort on your part, of course, but it will pay off in the long run; by learning from Grammarly, eventually you may no longer need its help.
I encourage you, then, to incorporate Grammarly into your writing process. You might use it after you write your first draft, or you might prefer to give your paper a once-over at the very end, just before you turn it in. If you make an appointment to have your paper reviewed by a real, flesh-and-blood tutor (like me or my colleagues), you could also use Grammarly, and revise your draft accordingly, before you submit your paper to the Writing Center. That way, your tutor can spend less time commenting on sentence-level issues and more time discussing big-picture ones like tone, style, and organization. Above all, the most important thing is to use this tool—and this is true for all writing tools—in a way that you find helpful.