Monday, November 5, 2012

Grammarly: “Another Set of Eyes to Help Perfect Your Writing”?

Grammarly is an online service created to help anyone with grammar usage, word choices, and possible plagiarism risks. The website advertises that over 3 million users trust the site to find over 150 types of grammatical errors. The site also claims to compare all submissions to more than 2 billion online sources to check for plagiarism. In short, Grammarly is supposed to be “another set of eyes to help perfect your writing” (

It sounds fantastic, right! 

But how effective is the program? 

Here’s how it works: Once a user of Grammarly creates a document, all he or she has to do is copy and paste the text into Grammarly’s text box via the webite. In a few seconds the site will compute a score ranging anywhere from 1-100. The program will also inform the user if plagiarism is a risk factor. 

The details of these critiques are not available to the user until the user creates a free account. Once that occurs, Grammarly will take the user step by step through the document highlighting problem areas while offering a description of the error highlighted. In the event of plagiarism, the website will provide a link to the likely source of the material.  

It actually works well for what it is

It is not, however, another set of eyes to help perfect your writing. 

Take these scenarios for example:
To test the site, I grabbed my Oxford Book of Essays sitting on my shelf. I found E.B. White’s essay “About Myself,” and I copied the first paragraph from the essay exactly as it had been published. I then plugged it into Grammarly’s program. 

I purposely chose an essay example to avoid any creative writing problems that may become problematic in my experiment. I didn't want poetry, or dialect to factor into the results, just nice clean prose. I chose E.B. White for his efforts in discussing grammar usage in the popular The Elements of Style handbook. 

Out of the 1-100 scale, E.B. White received a 67!

The program critiqued the essay in this way:

Review this sentence for adjective and adverb use

Review this sentence for comma use.
Review this sentence for use of the passive voice


Commonly confused words

Grammarly did highlight most of the document as at risk for plagiarism citing a New Yorker article from 1945 as the source.

For my second experiment, I chose Oscar Wilde’s “The Truth of Masks” essay. 

Again, I picked an essay form to use as an example for the same reasons as above, and I picked a seemingly more obscure essay to test the plagiarism program.   

Only 25 points for Wilde.

The most common problem with Wilde was “wordiness." Again, the plagiarism tool caught the text. This time the site provided a link accrediting the work to Wilde.

I did my third experiment for fun, mostly. I chose Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs & Ham. This text includes sentences like “Would you? Could you? In a car? Eat them! Eat them! Here they are.”

Dr. Seuss received the highest score of the three: 75 out of 100. I did not check for plagiarism.
So what does this mean for writers using Grammarly?

It means that Grammarly may be a useful tool to some degree, but it is not another set of eyes, at least not human eyes. If it were another set of human eyes, the grades E.B. White, Oscar Wilde, and Dr. Seuss received would have been outrageous results. These guys are masters! They are pros at what they do. But Grammarly cannot recognize the human nature in language.

Why? Because it is not a human. It cannot considers a piece of writing according to its rhetorical context: purpose, audience, subject, genre, and rhetorical aim. 

Therefore, the site does not provide a replacement for the human reader. As a tool to objectively place value and merit on a piece of writing, Grammarly leaves much to be desired. The fact that the program even offers a grade is dumbfounding.

Here's my advice with using Grammarly. 

First, ignore the grade. The grade Grammarly provides is clearly nonsensical and is in no way useful. 

Second, the grammar tool does well to point out possible problem areas. Use the tips as suggestions only but do not compromise the integrity of the document to please the Grammarly program. Remember, it is not human.

Third, Grammarly should never be used as a tool to predict a grade from a teacher and should never be used by a teacher to grade the work of a student. Doing so will only lead to the degradation of both. 

My final suggestion is to take the plagiarism tool seriously. The program seems to be thorough and can even be useful in finding sources to reference in the document. One can never take the risk of plagiarism too seriously. 

However, in the E.B. White example, the first sentence, “I am a man of medium height” (which received a plagiarism flag) is simple language and a common description of many people. Flagging this sentence as plagiarism is iffy at best.  
Just because I was curious how Grammarly would evaluate my own writing, I ran this blog post through Grammarly to see how it stacked up against the heavyweights mentioned above. 

I received a 73. 

According to Grammarly, I’m not quite to the level of essayist that Dr. Seuss is, but I have E.B. White and Oscar Wilde beat by a mile!


  1. As a human being, I appreciated this efficient, effective prose.

  2. Considering years of experience with how Word's Spell and Grammar Check can give bad advice and not catch issues, I wonder about the accuracy of Grammarly's advice on grammar, punctuation, and usage.