Like the man in the Grammarly YouTube ad that seems to play more than any other for me, “I write pretty much all day, every day.” As part of TopLine Comms’ content writing team, I write blogs, press releases, video scripts, white papers, and all manner of other content for our clients, and I’m open to any copywriting tools that could improve my work. That’s why I tried Grammarly. Here’s what it’s good at, what it’s bad at, and how it measures up against a human proofreader.

Grammarly and the copywriting process

First off, what does Grammarly do? It’s a grammar and spelling checker which uses machine learning to catch errors that other, simpler software may miss. Think of it like a smarter version of Word’s spell checker. It’s available as a plugin pretty much everywhere – Word, browsers like Chrome and Firefox, and Google Docs – and as a standalone app for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android. Grammarly is available in both a free and more capable paid (premium) version, and at TopLine we use Grammarly Premium.

Grammarly offers real-time grammar checking, but I’ve opted not to use it for a few reasons. Primarily, the plugin noticeably slows down Word, and considering that I use Word for countless hours every day, I want it to run as smoothly as possible. The other main reason that I don’t use Grammarly’s Word plugin is that I personally prefer to write uninterrupted and then edit after. Constant badgering to change the word ‘great’ to ‘significant’ feels like a distraction rather than sage advice.

Once I’ve written the first draft, I invite Grammarly to look it over. This means launching the standalone app and copying and pasting over whatever I’ve just finished writing. Grammarly churns through it, usually for no longer than ten seconds, and highlights potential errors and recommended changes.

Does Grammarly work?

In short, yes. Grammarly does correctly identify errors that Word’s spellcheck overlooks and brings attention to potential succinctness – for instance ‘can’ rather than ‘is able to’ – and structural improvements – such as split infinitives and otherwise misplaced adverbs. Through sheer repetition of Grammarly pointing these things out, I’ve internalised some of these tips and managed to eliminate some bad habits.

I’m also impressed by Grammarly’s content writing range: it doesn’t have any problem taking on a variety of formal and informal pieces, it works for both American and British English, and even has settings to adjust formality, domain, and tone.

However, Grammarly is not without shortcomings. It’s very poor about maintaining formatting such as bulleted lists and hierarchies, for instance, because it just copies unformatted Unicode text. It also struggles with comments in Word, dumping them right into the body of the text rather than simply ignoring them. This is a problem as comments form a critical part of our review process, and I’m always concerned I’ll forget to remove them and leave a comment floating in the body of the text. These are avoidable problems if you use the Word plugin, but as I previously mentioned, it slows Word down.

Who needs human proofreaders?

Grammarly can certainly reduce grammar issues, catch misspellings, and even advise against trite constructions and clichés, but it isn’t a magic solution to bad writing. I think of it like a more powerful spellcheck, because it can’t take on broader structural issues which require a fundamental understanding of the piece of writing and what it hopes to achieve. In other words, you can easily get Grammarly to give a perfect ‘text score’ to incoherent nonsense, so long as it fits the grammatical structure that the app is looking for.

At least for the time being, no copywriting tools are a substitute for having a colleague read through your writing. At TopLine, everything we write is proofed by multiple people to make sure that we’re only sending out the best possible content. Grammarly is a nice addition to this process, but it’s not a replacement.

In other words, Grammarly is a useful tool, but only for catching mistakes. It’s still the writer’s responsibility to provide the thoughts, tone and structure. If your business publishes articles, blogs, or any other type of PR content and is satisfied with the skills of its in-house writers, Grammarly can be a great addition. If you simply don’t have time to do all that writing, consider turning to a B2B PR agency like TopLine Comms.

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