Beware of people stealing your problems! Offering and accepting help makes the world go round. But it can have unintended consequences when it means we’re being robbed of the opportunity to overcome a challenge ourselves and grow in the process. I was reminded of this idea from teaching and psychology when penning this review of Grammarly Premium. Grammarly is a popular writing assistant with a powerful free version that solves many writing challenges at once. But how do its benefits play out in everyday use and what are the trade-offs?
So let’s talk about what Grammarly is before reviewing the pros and cons of five feature categories: spelling & grammar, word choice, tone adjustments, sentence rewrites and the Grammarly editor.
Table of Contents
- What Is Grammarly?
- Grammarly Premium Review
What Is Grammarly?
Grammarly is a virtual proofreader that checks your essay, report, resume or email in real-time. Being cloud-based, you can use it anywhere you have internet access. Being AI-powered, Grammarly uses artificial intelligence to scan your sentences and suggest edits accordingly. It’s an English language writing tool, which means you can choose between American, Australian, British and Canadian English. However, you can let Grammarly know what your primary language is.
The people at Grammarly themselves describe it as a “second pair of eyes that never gets tired”. This is quite fitting, given that you can take those eyes with you wherever your writing takes you. The software works on your iPhone, iPad, Android device, Windows PC or Mac. You can use Grammarly in your browser or get the MS Office plugin. Finally, you can write in their proprietary editor or with Google Docs to unlock even more premium features.
Grammarly offers a free version with basic features including spelling and grammar checks. It occasionally teases the more advanced functions of Grammarly Premium, the version I focus my review on. Premium features include word choice suggestions, tone adjustments, whole sentence rewrites as well as style and plagiarism detection. Finally, there’s also a business version with additional features customized for those working collaboratively in large teams.
Grammarly Premium Review
To put my review of Grammarly Premium in perspective, I should probably tell you a bit about my background. It won’t come as a surprise that I write every single day. Mostly long-form essays for The Mind Collection and The Mind Collection Newsletter. During a typical day, I switch between all sorts of devices and writing programs. But I’ve mainly tested Grammarly as a Firefox browser extension on my laptop, and on my phone and tablet.
Beyond that, I have over 15 years of experience writing all sorts of texts. I’ve written analytical papers and love letters. I’ve authored business reports and poems. I’ve penned correspondence for CEOs and satirical short stories. Add to that my experience as an English teacher and you have a pretty good idea of how pedantic I can be about spelling, grammar and all the rest of it. I’m proficient, despite, or maybe because English is not my native language.
So while this review is based on my personal experience with Grammarly Premium, I kept the perspective of a beginner or intermediate writer in mind. Here are the pros and cons of assisted writing as I see them.
1. Spelling & Grammar
How can we talk about Grammarly Premium without discussing the essential features first? The free version scans your text for a wide variety of errors, which include grammar, spelling and punctuation. This works similarly to the word-processing spell checkers you’re probably familiar with.
Say you’re writing an email in your browser. Grammarly highlights a misspelled word or faulty grammar by underlining it in red. It prides itself on being able to detect commonly misused words based on context. As you hover over the alleged error, you see the correction, which you can accept or dismiss with the click of a button.
Am I currently on the plane or in the plane? Should I put a comma before but? How do you spell pilot licence in Australia? Is it I look forward to speak with you. (infinitive) or I look forward to speaking with you. (ing-form)? We’ll always be making careless mistakes or forgetting that one rule we’ve looked up a million times before, regardless of writing experience.
- Slips of the pen, tricky grammar errors and missing commas or words out of context, are highlighted in real-time and easily corrected. Automatic spelling corrections speed up the correction process even more.
- Advanced premium features include making you sound more fluent and checking for inconsistencies in spelling.
- User experience feels tidier and easier to use than a standard word processing proofreader; i.e. it didn’t interfere much with my writing visually.
- There’s something satisfying about going through all the colourful highlighted words to get that perfect score. But more on that later.
- The AI is not consistently accurate. Especially in context-dependent borderline cases. For example, it keeps suggesting management advise (verb) when what I want is management advice (noun). Even though I want to “avoid ending sentences on prepositions”, it’s not always picked up.
- Sometimes, the AI doesn’t know what to do with sentence fragments. Those used intentionally. For creative effect. As a result, it may want to lengthen sentences unnecessarily.
- Functionality, for example in browsers, requires a few clicks to get explanations as to why something needs editing.
- Overall, it can tempt you into typing lazily and without precision as you rely on Grammarly too much.
2. Choice of Words
One of the neat features Grammarly Premium offers is assistance with your choice of words. This includes conciseness but also the flagging of overused words and the potential for substituting them. Note that these are not corrections. Underlined in green, they fall under the umbrella of suggestions on how you could make your writing more engaging.
In my post about how to get better at writing, I emphasised how important, nay critical, it is to not only depend on run-on sentences and instead vary your sentence lengths considerably. Grammarly’s AI helps you omit
utterly and totally unnecessary words. Basic suggestions for conciseness are part of the free version. Premium offers more of course.
Believe it or not, a
big large part of my daily writing routine is looking up synonyms for common words. Despite my background experience. I usually do this manually by googling, to avoid double-ups or to simply make my writing more exciting thrilling. With Grammarly Premium, I get suggestions for substituting words without switching programs.
- Suggestions regarding sentence length, structure and unnecessary words are very useful to prompt rethinking your sentences.
- Quick synonym lookup, categorised by context and meaning. Great when words are suggested you knew but didn’t come to mind.
- Highly customisable in that features can be turned on or off.
- Ability to give feedback to Grammarly as to how correct the suggestion was.
- Word choice suggestions are not always on point. For example, in the context of describing a character from a story most challenging/most demanding is not an appropriate synonym for toughest.
- Suggestions can get a bit annoying when you know what you’re doing and play with conventions. Humour in writing, for example, is a lot about unusual word choices willfully that ignore context.
- Can give an inexperienced English speaker a false sense of security when words are suggested that don’t really fit.
- As above, sometimes emphasis is preferable over conciseness, but the assistant can tempt you into substituting words unnecessarily.
3. Tone Adjustments
The tone of our writing can reflect or reveal our personal attitude, both towards the subject we’re writing about and our audience. It’s a bit of an elusive concept. But tone is essentially conveyed through the choice of words and grammatical structures. Tone adjustments are a Grammarly Premium feature. These suggestions for delivery are typically underlined in purple.
Imagine you’re writing a cover letter to go along with your resume. It’s a formal piece of writing, and you’d probably want to come across as confident yet polite. To achieve the right tone, we’d want to replace any contractions (I would like instead of I’d like), avoid casual imperatives (Gimme that job!) but also hedging language (If you could perhaps be so kind and maybe invite me to an interview if you so choose?).
Grammarly’s AI scans your text for tone and can detect passages that ouze self-doubt. It also flags no-gos when it comes to formal writing. What’s more, a feature at the end of your text shows you how your text might sound to your reader using emojis. Does your text sound admiring or serious, confident or insecure?
- Striking the right tone can be particularly difficult for non-native speakers. Tone adjustment features help you attune to this layer of writing good English.
- More advanced writers are prompted to give an expression more thought, for example when we’re unwittingly using hedging language.
- You can switch different types of tone adjustments on and off. In case the tone suggestions start to feel like tone policing.
- Whether the suggestions are correct can be difficult to judge for non-native speakers. It pays to double-check with a human being if you’re unsure.
- Not so much the program’s fault, but worth reiterating: Sounding confident in your resume doesn’t make you sound confident in the interview. You wouldn’t want to fool yourself about your actual skill level and improve it when needed.
- Can give you a false sense of security. If the tone you’re going for is not evenly applied to your whole text, it might read as a patchwork.
4. Sentence Rewrites
Whole sentence rewrites are another premium feature of the writing assistant. The focus here is on the clarity of your words and phrases, which are colour-coded in blue. If sentences are hard to read. Fragments of sentences scattered. Throughout your text. Or you’re being repetitive. Or you’re being repetitive. Grammarly’s AI flags them.
Have you ever been tempted to use more complex grammar and jargon when writing about something work-related? You’ve launched into a long-winded technical sentence without realising that you could’ve expressed yourself in a much simpler way. Grammarly Premium will highlight such sentences and suggest a rephrase for them, which you can implement with the click of a button.
- Whole sentence rewrites are where the AI can shine. With prompts on how to combine sentences with related ideas, improve paragraph flow and make your writing sound clearer in general.
- Great way to get rid of redundancies and other more complex oversights to which we’re often blind.
- Your periodical reminder that Grammarly is not infallible. The more complex the sentence and context, the more difficult it is for the AI to make the right call.
- Deciding whether the sentence rewrites are better than our own version requires skill. Make sure to check if the new sentence fits in the context of your paragraph and text. Otherwise, it may sound disjointed.
5. Grammarly Editor
Grammarly also has their own online editor. It boasts all the Grammarly Premium features discussed in this review. Plus the option to check your writing for style and plagiarism. The former means it can tell formal from informal and neutral language. The latter means Grammarly searches the web and their database to flag passages copied and pasted without attribution. Speaking of which, the editor can also help you with APA-style citations.
Imagine you want to write a story about travelling. Your story falls under creative writing, so you want some leeway when it comes to the rules. You’re also writing for a loyal audience. No need to spell everything out for them. So we mark our audience as experts. Your story is informal, so casual language and slang are wanted. The Grammarly editor (and the Google Docs integration) allow you to set all those parameters (writing domain, intent, audience and formality level) in advance so it can evaluate your text accordingly.
While you write, the editor breaks your text down into colour-coded suggestions including correctness, clarity, engagement, delivery and style. These are displayed conveniently in a sidebar. It also provides you with an overall score from 0 to 100 and creates a detailed report on your word count, readability and vocabulary upon request.
- Using Grammarly Premium with the editor provides the most integrated and transparent solution to the user. Use the editor to start from scratch or upload a new document.
- In-depth explanations for corrections and suggestions are more readily available in the editor. User experience is most intuitive as it doesn’t have to integrate with third-party writing tools.
- Referencing assistant and plagiarism checker are neat bonus features. Great for bloggers who mainly reference websites.
- Scoring should be taken with a grain of salt. Chasing the perfect 100 can be misleading (copy/paste a passage from your favourite writers and see how their writing scores).
- As useful as it is for the purpose of proofreading, the editor is no replacement for WordPress or MS Office. Copying and pasting text to take advantage of the additional features can be cumbersome.
- I wouldn’t rely solely on Grammarly’s plagiarism checker as it doesn’t pick up on some academic papers I’ve tested. If the AI says that your text is “100% original”, it just means it couldn’t find anything on the web or the database.
Grammarly Premium Review: The Verdict
So, what’s my verdict after writing this Grammarly Premium Review? Grammarly Premium offers lots of value for sure and I’m very happy with it. I used to be overconfident when it came to finding errors in my own writing. Today I find Grammarly indispensable for making sure my posts are grammatically correct with no spelling errors when I pass them on to a human proofreader. With those out of the way, she can focus more on content. However, there are caveats when it comes to overreliance, high-stakes writing and offsetting the drawbacks.
Grammarly is no substitute for good writing skills. It doesn’t turn you into an expert writer. In fact, for many premium features, you need to be quite advanced to make an informed judgement about when to accept or dismiss a suggestion. So beware of that false sense of security reminiscent of the Peltzman Effect.
To mitigate an overreliance on the writing assistant, you could use it as a post-hoc proofreader. Switch off Grammarly while writing and back on afterwards as a correction and feedback tool. If you’re in learning mode and keep it on while you write, go for those extra clicks to read and understand the explanations for any suggestions you might get.
For many people, however, overreliance is not a concern. When it comes to high-stakes writing, Grammarly Premium is indispensable as an extra line of defence against needless and embarrassing mistakes.
For example, if you’re running a business where attention to detail is paramount, you want to work most efficiently. You might be at a level where you’re breaking language conventions for effect on a daily basis. You know what you’re doing and can give Grammarly’s AI a lesson in context. By teaching it new words and dismissing any suggestions that don’t make sense.
Similarly, if you’re putting together a cover letter and resume, it’s not a learning opportunity for you. If you’re writing an academic paper, you couldn’t care less about overdependency. In short, when your priority is accuracy and efficiency, you don’t think twice about benefitting from the most powerful writing assistant you can get your hands on.
Offsetting the Drawbacks
In general, most drawbacks are offset by knowing the limits of writing assistants. As a rule of thumb, we shouldn’t accept changes blindly. Instead, we should use the suggestions to develop our ability to make the right judgements. Grammarly can’t fully replace a human proofreader (yet). Somebody with whom we can discuss the best style choices, slight differences in the meaning of words, or god forbid grammar rules.
What a writing assistant can also not replace is a strong identity as a writer. Because we’re ultimately responsible for what we put out. So if I had to distil my review into two sentences, I would say: Grammarly Premium cannot turn bad writing into a masterpiece. But when used smartly, it can make good writing even better.
Don’t let your writing problems be stolen. But also don’t give them away carelessly. If my review of Grammarly Premium showed me anything, it’s that we need to think carefully about what we expect from the service and manage it accordingly.