By David Alan
Developmental Editor – Copyeditor – Proofreader – Writer
Book Editing Associates
The Grammarly App
To see if Grammarly worked for book manuscripts, I put it to the test. I took 5,000 words of an unedited novel and uploaded it to Grammarly. Separately, I edited those same 5,000 words myself the old-fashioned way—employing eyes, brain, fingers, and 48 years of classroom and professional experience.
My Grammarly Review
Here are the results:
Of the 5,000 words, I made 517 corrections and changes. These were made to improve syntax, to adhere to the rules of grammar, and to comply with Merriam-Webster and the Chicago Manual of Style (standards in the book publishing industry).
Of the same 5,000 words, the free version of Grammarly underlined 104 “mistakes.” A box on the right side stated that the premium version of Grammarly found an additional 38 mistakes. Those would be revealed if I paid the $30-a-month, reoccurring subscription fee.
What Grammarly Caught
Most of the “mistakes” Grammarly found were indeed mistakes. But some weren’t. See Image 1. In this chunk of manuscript, Grammarly underlined six things that were supposedly wrong. Let’s go through them one by one:
1. Good man: Grammarly thought the captain was saying “Good, man.” He was actually calling him a “Good man.” Grammarly got it WRONG.
2. a momentary steam: Grammarly called for “a” to be removed. It should stay. Grammarly got it WRONG.
3. lanyards,: Grammarly said the comma should be removed. Grammarly got it RIGHT.
4. harbour: Grammarly said that the American English version of harbor should be used. Grammarly got it RIGHT.
5. assignment,: Grammarly stated that the comma should be deleted. Grammarly got it RIGHT.
6. am: Grammarly recognized this word as the first-person variant of “is” and thus said it should be deleted. The author actually means 4 am, as in four o’clock in the morning. Grammarly got it WRONG.
What Grammarly Missed
As mentioned, I made 517 corrections/changes over 5,000 words while Grammarly noted only 142. So, 517 – 142 = 375 things Grammarly missed. I’m confident that other professional book copyeditors would have also made around 517 changes, give or take a few dozen. We all follow the same set of rules (with few exceptions) and have similar standards.
Image 2 indicates things Grammarly missed, everything from simple formatting issues to capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and more. In this image, I hand-noted 15 mistakes that Grammarly didn’t catch—this in a section of 241 words. The full manuscript was 80,600 words, meaning 334 times longer than this section. So, 334 x 15 = an estimated 5,010 Grammarly misses.
Conclusion: Is Grammarly the Best Grammar Checker?
Grammarly serves a purpose. It helps point out things you missed or may have missed, more so than Word’s spelling (red underline) and grammar (blue underline) checkers. It’s good for cleaning up basic mistakes in simple writing, making it good for business materials and emails.
As for book manuscripts, it helps authors clean up their writing. However, the thought of “I’ll use Grammarly instead of hiring an editor” is not wise, particularly if you’re self-publishing.
Grammarly misses problems related to formatting, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and syntax as well as adherence to the Chicago Manual of Style, which is standard in the book publishing industry. It particularly has trouble with fiction elements such as colloquialisms in dialogue or the intentional breaking of the rules (“poetic license”).
If you self-publish a book, 5,000 mistakes is disastrous. Even 500 would clearly signal to readers and reviewers that this is an amateur undertaking. Fifty errors could be considered sub-professional, depending on how grievous they are.
Of course, Grammarly cannot help with developmental editing or content editing—that is, things like story structure, character development, setting, point of view, theme, and all other elements that go into successful fiction and storytelling.
Grammar and spelling programs may declare your document error-free, but you should not use your manuscript as a test. If you spend time looking at Amazon book reviews, you can tell which self-published authors used professional editors and proofreaders and which went through a spelling and grammar checker. (Note: If you select the lowest-priced editor or proofreader, that is probably all you’re buying. See Beware the Lowball: Editing Rate Quotes.)
Admittedly, professional editing and proofreading is an investment, but it’s your name and reputation on the line. Reviewers can be harsh, and online book reviews can live in cyberspace forever. The creativity that goes into writing and presenting a story (fiction) or your ideas (nonfiction) still requires a human touch.
Your success is our goal too.
DAVID ALAN has edited more than 200 books and authored nearly 100 books for 30 publishers. His edited books have earned more than $20 million in sales.