Regardless of what the prolific writers and editors may say about using tools such as Grammarly, as a non-native writer, I know I couldn’t have made it without this amazing tool.
These two tools have made me a better and more efficient writer.
- Grammarly (now I’m using the paid version, and it’s worth every penny!)
- Hemingway Editor (thankfully, still very free.)
In this day and age when quantity is just as important as quality, especially if you’re new in the writing scene, life without the helping hand of a smart software would be really, really hard!
But recently, I’ve come across renewed impatience over Grammarly and other writing tools. After reading some of these controversies, I’ve concluded that people are just not using the tools how they’re supposed to be used. So, allow me to show you exactly how I use Grammarly to ensure I’m the one using the software and not the other way around.
In this post:
Remember, Grammarly is Only a Tool
Grammarly isn’t Ms. Wilson — your high school English teacher. It’s a software — a set of codes that determine the quality of your writing based on the vast amount of information that’s available to it (AI or Artificial Intelligence). It doesn’t know the audience you’re writing for. It doesn’t know whether you’re trying to be snarky or strictly professional. It cannot tell if your audience will be tickled by the F-word or cut you forever.
So, remember, it’s a tool. You’re the craftsman. Your craft is your writing. You can use the tool to create something amazing or use the same tool to destroy your art. The tool is not at fault here. A tool doesn’t have any idea of your vision; only you do.
Grammarly is continually trying to make the tool better. And trust me, I know. The Grammarly from just three years ago isn’t the same Grammarly I use today — it’s a million times better now with more ways to make the tool work for its specific user.
And yet, it is still a set of codes, and you’re the one making your art.
Use the tool to speed up your editorial process
Most writing coaches will tell you that you should hold off on editing as you’re writing your first draft. Remember, Grammarly is an editing tool. Ignore its suggestions until you’ve finished writing.
Do not use it for the first revision
I find it helpful to go over my articles and blog posts just by myself before subjecting them to criticism, including that of a software. Depending on the length and complexity of the piece, sometimes I read through my articles multiple times before turning to Grammarly.
You don’t have to “fix” everything that Grammarly recommends
Let me remind you once again, Grammarly is a tool. Nothing more. A tool should not be allowed to dictate what your finished art will look like. It can only be allowed to add the finishing touches if and only if you deem them necessary.
The finishing touches are to enhance your art, not change it.
Is Grammarly recommending something that changes the meaning of your sentence? If so, disregard this suggestion.
Is it recommending a word that makes your piece weaker? Then leave it out.
I see people hating on Grammarly because it has suggested a word they didn’t like or suggested a sentence be restructured in a way that didn’t quite sit well with the author.
Why hate on Grammarly for that? Did they forget that Grammarly is not a human editor?
Grammarly was never meant to replace human editors, so please, do not expect it to act like one.
Give it a read over after you’ve run it through Grammarly
Again, Grammarly is just a tool; it’s not perfect. Once you’ve run your finished piece through Grammarly, give it another read-through. Or two. Or three. Some people read through their pieces a few times to as many as 20 or 30 times. It’s your call.
I have a cousin who apparently never sends an email unless he’s read it 19 times. Personally, I think that has more to do with OCD than accuracy, but well, to each their own.
The reason behind giving your Grammarly-edited article another two or three read-throughs is to make sure
- The Grammarly suggested edits didn’t change the meaning of your finished piece.
- Instead of fixing a wrong, Grammarly didn’t introduce a few. Because, again, Grammarly isn’t a human editor, it is prone to making errors in a finished piece of art that’s meant to be consumed by fellow humans and not computers.
Finally, read a piece aloud before hitting the publish button. Trust me, you’ll notice things neither Grammarly, nor you might have noticed when you were reading them inside your head.
Wait a day or two before publishing
A fresh mind and a fresh pair of eyes will always see things they didn’t when they were tired. Many of us are pressured to create too much content these days, and we often do not have the time or the patience required to wait a few days before hitting the publish button.
Even so, try.
I know this is a bit hypocritical because I don’t always adhere to this rule myself. But still, it’s a good editorial rule of thumb. Always come back to your pieces a day or two after, and you’ll find ways to improve your writing.
So, try and do it whenever you can. Especially if what you’re writing is important, hold off on that publish or send button, even if just for a day.
[Related: Need more help editing your articles? Learn how to fine-tune your blog post editing practices. Need a pair of human eyes to go over your writing and give you some experienced feedback? You can schedule a consultation with me — remember to choose the Blog Writing package.]
Things to Remember When Using Grammarly
I cannot stress enough that Grammarly is a tool and a tool only. It’s not perfect. And I’ll give you some reasons why you need to be careful when using Grammarly.
First, Grammarly uses machine learning to make it smarter. This is great because the software learns the more you use it. It learns from writers like you and me. Occasionally, you may have come across instances where you dismissed a suggested edit by Grammarly, and it asked you why you dismissed it. It gives you options to choose from, like, it didn’t make your writing better, or your sentence conveyed the meaning better, or the suggested edit changed the meaning of your writing, etc. That’s how Grammarly learns. It learns from its users.
Keep that in mind while you’re consulting the suggestions Grammarly throws your way. But I can tell you one thing. The Grammarly pro edition is much, much more insightful and accurate today than it used to be just about a year ago! It’s still learning guys, so use it, and use it well.
The typical Grammarly suggestions
These are a few things to note and remember:
- Ideally, many of the “red” suggestions are about the basic correctness of your writing (spelling, grammar, punctuations, etc.) For these instances, I’ve found Grammarly’s suggestions to be correct more than 80% of the time. But then there are a few instances where it may suggest something incorrectly. So, again, do not automatically “correct” a suggested error before double-checking what you’ve already written. In the screenshot below, for example, Grammarly is suggesting I add a “the” for grammatical correctness. But, based on the context of this interview I did with someone, adding “the” would ruin the meaning. So, here, Grammarly is wrong, and the original text is correct. I disregarded this suggestion by clicking the trash-can icon.
- The “blue” suggestions are for clarity and I absolutely love these! They’ve helped me write better sentences by pointing out wordiness or better ways to structure the words. It’s not so much about correctness as it’s about readability. Sometimes Grammarly suggests entire sentence reconstructions, and other times it shows you which words it thinks may be unnecessary. Do pay close attention to these suggestions and see if you can make them better by restructuring, or breaking up a sentence into multiple ones. By far, these clarity suggestions by Grammarly are my absolute favorite!
- The “green” suggestions have to do with engagement. These almost always have to do with your choice of words. Sometimes it points out overused words in general (words that are too common and lack impact), other times it may point out words you’ve used too many times in your writing, and then there are times when it will suggest a word it thinks will add variety. In any case, I’m glad to have the added perspective even if I don’t always adhere to its suggested changes. The following screenshot is a good example. The suggestion, in my opinion, neither improves nor degrades the quality — it’s up to the user to decide which option they prefer.
- The “purple” suggestions have to do with delivery. Again, remember these are just suggestions. They have nothing to do with correctness. Depending on your audience and tone, feel free to completely disregard these suggestions. But then again, every now and then I find some of these suggestions useful, so I’m not really complaining. For example, the screenshot below shows a good example of an instance where I thought Grammarly’s suggestion was spot on, and I ended up deleting that bit from my final draft.
- Finally, there’s one more thing that can help with Grammarly’s suggestions — you can set your writing goals. For example, you can choose what kind of audience you’re writing for, how formal you wish to sound, the type of writing you’re doing, and the kind of tone you’re aiming for. These settings can further improve Grammarly’s suggestions. Personally, I don’t worry about these much because I write a lot and it’s hard to keep up with some of these settings, but if you’re a beginner writer, then these may come in handy.
Bonus 1: Run Your Piece Through the Hemingway Editor
I often like to run a Grammarly-edited piece through the Hemingway Editor. It does a few things Grammarly doesn’t.
It shows me how many adverbs I’ve used in my writing — an exact count. While Grammarly will show this to you for some of your adverbs, but not all of them, and it definitely doesn’t give you a number. Now, adverbs, by default, are not bad. But I find myself over-using them, so it is helpful to know when I’ve used one, when there is a better alternative, or when they aren’t needed altogether.
Similar to adverbs, Hemingway also does a better job of pointing out all passive sentences.
Additionally, Hemingway will show you a count of hard-to-read sentences. These are not structurally wrong, but they may be longer sentences. You may leave them as is, but I prefer to know how many complex sentences I have in my articles, and I may even rework a few of them, break them into multiple sentences, etc. The decision is based on my intended audience, so sometimes difficult-to-read sentences are no issue at all, but other times, it is better to make your writing easier to read.
Bonus 2: Consider Hiring a Human
If you’re planning to pitch an editor from The Guardian or The New York Times or some other prestigious publication, consider running your piece through a human editor. Grammarly cannot compete with one — at least not yet — and it’s in your best interest to have an actual editor go over your material if you’re trying to get into prominent publications.
But even if you’re not pitching a fancy pub, it may be worth hiring a writing coach to get some feedback on your writing in general. It’s often difficult to notice little quirks in your own writing that a seasoned writer or editor may be able to point out.
Alternatively, if you like my writing, you can have my eyeballs on your work too! Head over to the Blog Coaching page, and choose the “Blog Writing” package. If you’re going that route, I recommend you have a finished piece already that I can look at (perhaps a Google doc or a link to a blog post). That, or you should have a body of work — a blog where you’ve already published a few pieces. In short, I need to be able to see the kind of writer you are so I can give you feedback based on your current level.
A tool cannot make your craft perfect. As long as you’re aware of it, Grammarly can significantly cut down on the time it takes to fine-tune your articles. So, instead of hating on it, why not put it to good use?
And now, over to you! What are your thoughts on Grammarly? Do you love it? Hate it? NO, ABSOLUTELY NO IN-BETWEENERS!!! Kidding 😉 Also, is there something else you use instead of Grammarly? ProWritingAid, for example? Have you used both? If so, how would you compare the two? Some other writing assistants that I don’t know of? Head over to the comments section and share away!
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