In 1971 Ralph Gorin, of Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, programmed a rudimentary artificial intelligence app that has become one of the world’s most widely used assistive technologies. Now, while Spell Check is not always perfect, without it, life would be seriously frustrating. As well as spelling, grammar can throw up quite a few problems, not only for those that struggle with the codes and conventions of written language, but anyone who regularly writes large volumes of text.
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There are now quite a few grammar checkers or digital proofreaders on the market, and while they will never replace a skilled human proofreader, we thought we’d task our tech reporter, Abbie Osborne, with finding out what they have to offer.
Grammarly was my favourite of the grammar checkers available. There’s both a paid and freemium option, but whichever you choose, you’ll receive intelligent, simple and accurate grammar checks.
Grammarly integrates with MS Word and Outlook as a simple add-in. If you work mostly online, there’s a Google Chrome extension or a browser based option. I can see Grammarly being used both in education and as a productivity tool in the workplace.
The free version checks: contextual spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. It also makes you aware of more advanced issues with your grammar; the catch here though is you have to upgrade to the paid version to find out what they are. I ended up upgrading. The free version told me it had found 26 advanced issues. I couldn’t cope not knowing, so paid up for a year’s subscription. It turned out most of the advanced issues were vocabulary enhancements, most of which weren’t relevant to what I was trying to say. So in the end I turned this feature off.
The paid version additionally adds: vocabulary enhancements, a plagiarism checker and allows more accuracy by checking your writing based on its genre or style. Although the paid version is useful, I think for students on a budget, the free version is just fine. However, if you do have the spare cash, it’s definitely worth investing in the paid version just for the plagiarism checker. I actually learnt from the free version that my sentences were far too long, it kept trying to put in semicolons. So as well as helping you, it also teaches you where you’re going wrong. Especially with the explanations and easy to understand usage examples.
- Simple to use.
- Helps you learn about grammar.
- Very versatile, working with MS Microsoft Word, Outlook and the Internet.
- One account can be used on multiple computers.
- High accuracy compared to others on the market.
- Sends you an email with the amount of errors you made.
- Expensive paid version – not a one-off payment but a monthly or yearly subscription.
- The time it takes to find errors can be frustrating.
- Sometimes crashes the computer (this could just be my computer).
Ginger was actually pre-installed on my new computer. I set up an account but didn’t really use it before this review. When I fired it up, I found it a bit irritating, as the interface locks to the top of your screen and kept getting in my way. I use lots of windows at the same time, so I didn’t like having to keep moving and closing it. Its default feature is to open each time you turn on the computer, although this can be turned off in settings. Ginger can also be accessed from the ribbon in MS Word or as a browser extension.
Another interesting feature is the ‘personal trainer’, which analyses your writing for weaknesses and offers up English lessons based on its findings. Premium members also get a text to speech function. One big brownie point for Ginger is that it has a mobile app (iOS/Android) which offers a keyboard app that instantly corrects spelling and grammar. There’s also proofreading and a rephrasing tool and text to speech.
If you use multiple devices and want an interactive experience that checks as you type, this is definitely one to consider. Again this is a freemium product. The basic desktop version is free and upgrades are charged for monthly or yearly. (Mobile apps are between £2-£3.)
- Multiple platforms (Windows/Chrome/iOS/Android)
- Simple to use
- Text to speech
- Personal Trainer
- Irritating docking system
- Expensive paid version
- Less accurate than Grammarly
- No Plagiarism Checker on paid version
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WhiteSmoke is almost exactly the same as Grammarly, but there is no free version. The main reason it’s on this list is that it is cheaper than Grammarly. Also if you are considering the paid version of Grammarly, you might want to get this instead as it offers a lifetime price – as well as the monthly, quarterly and yearly subscription. This software is very good as it actively encourages you to learn by rating your work and offering up a list of possible corrections. There’s also a thesaurus which I liked better than Grammarly’s vocabulary enhancements which only give me one word.
- High Accuracy
- Easy to use interface
- Writing Review Report which lists your errors and grades your writing skills
- Built-in Tutorials
- Colour coded errors
- Very fast processing speed
- Doesn’t have a MS Word add-in
- There is no plagiarism checker
- No freemium version
As per usual we’d suggest downloading the free versions of the software and assessing which app works best for you. It’s also worth thinking about what you genuinely need when it comes to balancing functionality and cost. It might be worth £10 just to have one of the paid versions for a month around deadline time. I’d say using one of these applications – even just the free versions – will help your writing. Even the best writers need their work to be proof-read and while not being a completely fail safe solution, grammar checkers are a very useful aid.
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