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Writing Improvement Now

by Tim Isbell posted 7/2015

Many of us are moderately serious writers. Sometimes it's an important email to one very important recipient. Other times we write material to distribute to a group or organization. Occasionally we publish on a website or in a book for the public to read. Naturally, we want our writing quality to increase with the importance of the content and the number of potential readers. But writing high-quality material is challenging.

If you're ready to immediately improve the quality of your written work, and simultaneously learn to write better, read on.

Usually, I sit alone at my computer and write a few pages. Over the following days, I revise the document and eventually decide it is time to publish. Still, I let it sit overnight and read it aloud to myself the next day, which invariably leads to more revision. After several cycles, I publish to my subscribers and elsewhere. I subscribe to my posts and too often when they return to me I'm embarrassed by a few wrong words, grammatical errors, and sometimes even ambiguous sections and marginal structure.

Like all writers, I need an editor. But editors are hard to find, add time to the process, and cost money. So I want a low-cost robo-editor to help me eliminate spelling and grammar errors. A fully polished result also requires a skilled human proof-reader or editor. I want to give them the cleanest possible draft, so they don't spend their time marking spelling and grammar problems, and miss high-level issues like clarity, flow, and style.

One more thing, I want my robo-editor to teach me to write better. Other software products I used subversively taught me some valuable lessons. The first was More, an early text outliner that taught me to think top-down. Quicken, a personal finance accounting product taught me to think like an accountant (and less like an engineer). Recently I added a robo-editor to my toolbox, and it’s improving my writing. It's called Grammarly.

Grammarly is a web-based spelling and grammar checker that suggests improvements and provides explanations for why. It provides periodic evaluations of my work, offering suggestions on how to fix my most common mistakes, and includes a plagiarism checker. In its simplest form, it runs as an application in a tab in my browser. I can cut/paste text into it, edit in Grammarly, and then cut/paste the revised text wherever I want. In this way, it works on any platform (though it does not preserve formatting or links).

I do most of my writing on Google products: Docs, Sites, and Gmail. Grammarly offers a free Chrome Extension that embeds inside of Sites and Gmail, offering real-time suggestions. This embedded implementation even retains formatting and links! However, since it does not embed in Google Docs, I use the cut/paste approach in smaller sections and tolerate a manual repair process. It’s well worth it.

A Grammarly download is available for Microsoft Office products. This product includes an upload/download capability that preserves formatting (and, I think, links). So if you're not happy with the grammar checker already packaged in Word, give Grammarly a try.

There is no download or extension available for Apple products. So Apple users open it in a tab as a stand-alone browser application (the same way I use Grammarly on Google Docs).

I mostly work with the Chrome browser on a Surface 2 (Windows 8.1), and also on a Samsung Chromebook. So I use Grammarly in 2 forms:

  1. A stand-alone application which runs in a browser tab for Google Docs files.
  2. Chrome extension, which embeds Grammarly inside Gmail, Google Sites, and most social media platforms (Facebook and others)..

For virtually all of what I do Grammarly is enough. When I need a good human editor, I go to my wife. But Grammarly also offers you access to a human editor.

I used Grammarly's free version for about a year before buying the Premium version that costs about $11/month - a bargain for even a moderately serious writer like me.

A note to teachers: Grammarly also offers a classroom product that helps students improve their writing. Each student in a class uses Grammarly, which provides a dashboard for the teacher to oversee their work. I'm not a teacher, but it looks pretty cool.

By the way, when I ran Grammarly on my first version of this post it scored 71%. One source I read said anything above 79% “is pretty good.” The score on the version you're reading is 100% (Grammarly didn’t like that my two bulleted items are fragments; I like them the way they are.).

Aren’t you glad I didn’t post the first version!