Things to look out for
I have used the free versions of both Grammarly and ProWritingAid and found them similar. This was some time ago and I was fortunate be able to take advantage of a subscription offer from ProWritingAid, which is what I use now for final edits.
My choice was a question of circumstance at the time, so I’m not suggesting that one program is better than the other, and I am assuming in this post that both are still roughly similar in their free versions and in their paid-for versions.
These are a couple of issues I’ve had which are worth looking out for, but I’d love to hear about any problems you’ve had that I haven’t suffered from yet.
UK or US usage
I mostly use ProWritingAid for a final edit to short stories. There is little point in using it earlier in the editing process, as my later changes are likely to throw up new typos or errors.
The software identifies inconsistencies in capitalisation, in single versus double quotation marks, and in UK versus US spelling or usage.
A recent example of the last is when I recenly used the US spelling of practice (as a verb) instead of UK’s practise. Had I also used UK variant spellings in my short story (such as colour or humour) the software would have picked up the inconsistency. But I hadn’t included any other words that might differ across the Atlantic, so there was no inconsistency within the story being proofed. Therefore, the software didn’t pick up my error.
Fortunately, a member of our writing group spotted it.
This check for inconsistencies has proved useful in the past, especially when I’ve been editing stories sent in by members of our writing group whose Word software is set up differently from mine. It also alerts me to inconsistencies between single (UK) versus double (US) quotation marks, and between curly versus straight apostrophes or quote marks. But I will need to rely a little less on the software to pick up errors like this one.
While this would not necessarily constitute a problem in an isolated short story (with no other inconsistencies) it could become a problem in a novel or a longer story, where the program proofs a chapter at a time or an extract. The software warns if your highlighted passage will take a long time to analyse, and I doubt it would be happy about checking several chapters of a novel in one report.
Predictive Text Syndrome
Although editing programs do take into account the meaning of words (in a way that predictive text does not) it still may not pick up a mis-spelled word if the word is correctly spelled for a different meaning (in my case recently, I’d typed files for flies).
Missing Quote Marks, Brackets etc.
A report might find a passage of dialogue with opening quotation marks, but no closing marks. Or perhaps a single bracket without closure. These will be listed in the report but, being so small, may be difficult for you to spot in the text, even though the program is highlighting it. Another example of this would be a comma with a space in front that shouldn’t be there.
Which leads me to the next point…
I do recommend that you don’t click on any item in the report without first finding and checking it in your text.
In ProWritingAid the listed queries have little arrows beside them to list occurences and highlight them. If I click on the word instead of the arrow, it acts as acceptance of the suggested change, alters the text in my story, closes the query and moves on. If I haven’t read it properly or have second thoughts, I then have to scour the paragraphs and try to find the change.
That description will mean nothing to anyone who hasn’t used the program (and I don’t know if subscribed Grammarly acts in the same way) but the moral of my story is that this isn’t a quick fix for your editing. Each suggestion has to be considered before accepting or dismissing the advice.
Which, again, leads to my next point…
The Expert Isn’t Always Right
The software is based on algorithms. It is artificial intelligence, not the real thing. It doesn’t understand the story you are telling or the atmosphere you are trying to convey. It will find those cliches that colour your character’s dialogue (and some that aren’t cliches at all). It will highlight your dialect as spelling mistakes and your story title as capitalisation inconsistency.
It is incredibly useful for showing up those commas I’ve missed out which might help my prose to flow, or the ones I’ve left in after editing that shouldn’t be there (usually after removing a subordinate clause). But it works by applying rules, like that one about not ending your sentence with a preposition.
Some rules aren’t compulsory. Too many commas in a sentence won’t work, however grammatically correct they are. Some rules are downright silly. That preposition rule makes for unnatural dialogue if you start worrying about the word with which you should end your argument. (See what I did there?)
These are examples of suggestions on which you won’t want to click (!) and there will be others. You must, every time, find the highlighted word in your text, decide whether you want to change it, and why. You still need to understand the rules you are about to apply or ignore and, if so, why you are choosing to ignore them.
The decision is yours. As a human being you are unique. The same applies to the rhythm of your writing and the purpose of your phrasing, something an artificial intelligence isn’t qualified to assess.
Do you use editing software?
How do you find it?
Have you used others?