Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Dotting the Ts and crossing the Is - the importance of good grammar

After trying out a service called Grammarly for the first time on my last blog posting this week I thought I would apply it to the whole text of "Tweet of Faith", a self published fiction novel that I recently published on Smashwords and Amazon.

I wanted to find out just how many errors my own proofreading efforts had missed.

Eats, Shoots, & Leaves

I've yet to find someone who confesses to a love of English grammar and proofreading for me is one of the hardest aspects of writing. When writing previously, I have entirely relied on the heroic efforts of friends and family to spot the errors that I invariably create.

I know it is so important not to break a reader out of the story when they spot a blatant spelling mistake or because a sentence simply doesn't make sense. However, in my experience volunteer proofreaders can only do so much, so the promise of a tool to do that for me was very encouraging.

Signing up & paying

Signing up for Grammarly was really straightforward. They have lots of payment options and the price gets cheaper the longer you subscribe for. The cheapest option is to pay annually, but at this was my first use of their tool I opted for a 1 month plan with the added reassurance of a 1 week free trial.

The Microsoft Word plugin

The first challenge I faced was that the web-based form for grammar checking only lets you copy and paste in a set amount of text. As Tweet of Faith was much longer than the character limit, I was prompted to download and install the Microsoft Word plugin for Grammarly.

Downloading and installing the plugin was straight forward. I had to enter the username and password from the Grammarly account that I'd just created and then the plugin was available to click in MS Word.

Grammarly plug in for MS Word
I then loaded Tweet of Faith into Word and clicked "Check".


Oddly my laptop then froze for a few minutes before prompting me for my Grammarly username and password again. When I'd entered these again, the Grammarly box changed status to "Checking" and the number of errors that the tool found started slowly but surely increasing.

First grammar check in progress

After a few minutes, the tool finished, and I was left to begin the task of removing those errors.
The initial total was very bleak.

The tool found:
  • 423 Grammar errors
  • 91 Spelling errors
  • 238 Enhancements
  • 0 Plagiarism

Initial results - ouch!

Ouch! I knew my text would not be grammatically perfect, but this review was painful. So, after taking a deep breath I began working through the errors.

Cleaning up

The Grammarly tool operates similarly to the Microsoft Spelling tool so navigating through the problems is easy. After getting an explanation of the problem, you've got the option of accepting the Grammarly suggestion or putting your own amendment in.

I was really keen to find out if all of these errors were really mine so at first I just skimmed through the Grammarly feedback.  I quickly realised that many of the Grammar errors were just recommended missing commas, and I quickly found several items where Grammarly was suggesting another word that just didn't make sense. For example, the tool proposed changing the line "Why are all of the Taxis pink in Thailand"? to "Why are all of the Taxes pink in Thailand"? so I'd be cautious about accepting all of the tool's feedback without checking each one first.

Occasionally Grammarly would suggest odd changes
I wanted to bring the number of those errors down first, so I started working through those missing comma errors.

Using Grammarly

Maybe it was because I was checking such a long document, but the tool was very slow to use at times. I'd click on a proposed change then move on to the next one, but the change didn't actually appear for a few seconds, causing the screen to jump around a bit erratically. I also made the mistake of opening a second Word document and trying to work consecutively on separate documents, but the tool kept jumping between windows whilst the check was running - so don't do that!

To try and reduce the number of errors down as quickly as possible I just concentrated on missing "," characters to start. After an hour of doing that, I've reduced my total number of errors to less than 300 - definite progress.


Overall I think the Grammarly service will be useful for error checking going forward - I did encounter a  few things though:
  1. Tool occasionally freezes, possibly because of my long document
  2. Saving the document makes the Grammarly window go away - Grammarly disables Autosave as well so this was annoying.
  3. There should be a way to apply all fixes of a particular type (adding "," characters for example).
  4. The computer seems to need to be on-line to run the grammar checking - annoying on the couple of occasions when there was no Wi-Fi available.

Next steps

For anyone out there who's read one of my books and spotted a grammar error - I can only apologise. Rest assured, a new version of "Tweet of Faith" and "System Error: In Your Favour" will be going live on Amazon and Smashwords soon.