Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

A PR Person From Grammarly Wanted A PR Post; I Gave Them A Review Instead

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(See updates at http://ideatrash.net/2013/12/dear-grammarly-your-pr-relies-on-scammy.html and http://ideatrash.net/2013/12/in-which-grammarlys-pr-continues-to-be.html)

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because a marketing guy annoyed me by suggesting how I talk about a product by saying I should start the post with that wording, but the service looked decent enough that I thought I'd look at it and tell you all what I thought about it.

I've been getting more and more aggressive marketing e-mails lately.  This was a bit better than the crap that OmniBuzz Media tried to get me to run or where I'd previously run into advertisers trying to buy my reputation.  This one... I want to believe it's legit.

Nick Baron of Grammarly sent me  an e-mail1 that said I was nominated as a favorite blogging author, and was selected to get a $25 blog post sponsorship (in the form of an Amazon gift certificate), and if I wanted the pro version, he'd make it happen.

Which was weird, because I couldn't see the call for nominations or anything like that on the website, and asked.  He explained it was all via e-mail.

Y'know, it really trips a ton of my scammy marketing sensors.2

Except it seems to be a real, relevant product.  So I decided to poke around with the sample text trial.

Since it's an online service, the idea of cross-platform compatibility was a go, right off the bat.  And the grammar checking seems to be pretty decent.

Everything before this line scored as following:

Grammarly found 14 critical writing issues and generated 1 word choice correction for your text.
Score: 48 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
  • The text in this document is original
Contextual Spelling Check 3 issues
  • Spelling (3)
  • Ignored words
  • Commonly confused words
Grammar 7 issues
  • Sentence structure (2)
  • Wordiness (3)
  • Passive voice use (2)
  • Punctuation within a sentence
  • Closing punctuation
  • Formal punctuation
Style and Word Choice 4 issues
  • Writing style (4)
  • Vocabulary use

Impressive enough!  I'm assuming that there's a granular level of data that you can get once you sign up for the subscription service.  I also presume (and hope) there's more than one reading level/comprehension level analysis going on in the subscription version.

I put the plagiarism detector through a bit of its paces, since it claims you can "[a]void plagiarism by checking your texts against over 8 billion documents".  As a sometimes-professor, I love plagiarism detectors to help supplement my grading of papers.   But this... well, I tried cutting and pasting from two actual academic papers from relatively big journals, and it claimed that it was "original text".  In an effort to make sure it wasn't the paywall around those papers that was problematic, I tried my own master's thesis (which is freely accessible under a Creative Commons license).  And nope.

When I put in bits from this blog, though... that spiked it right away as being plagiarized.   So I'm guessing that "eight billion documents" means "the web".  That's decent for general purposes, but if I were to recommend this for my students in academia, I'd want something as robust as TurnItIn.

...aaaaand then I saw the prices.  Depending on how far in advance you wanted to pay, the monthly service runs from $29.95 a month (pay month to month) to $11.66 a month (paying once a year).

And that's where I'm not sure where Grammarly makes its case as being better than, say, the grammar check in a word processor.  There are other services like GrammarBase (which tells you where you screwed up for free, but have to pay to have them fix it) which seem to provide similar tools.

So it seems useful.  And maybe the full on API would be cool enough that I'd pay some cash to grammar check my blog posts.  (Hint - use something like skypipe or a combination of xclip and curl to take the info from the clipboard, send it, and return and URL with results or open a webpage in the browser of choice.  You can take a look at this way of doing it with bit.ly, for example.)

Again, I'm sure there's reasons why you'd want to pay that much for Grammarly.  It seems like a good grammar checker.  And the site licenses are a heck of a lot cheaper per-person.  And I think that might be the best market for Grammarly - site licenses for schools.

I know my significant other experiences a lot of college freshmen whose grammar is... remarkably substandard.  And this is exactly the kind of tool that would be helpful for them.  Heck, it'd be helpful for my kid... but not at $12 a month for what you see in the demo.  But as part of a school license?  Absolutely.

Take a look at Grammarly, and see what you think about it.  And if you know more of what's behind the paywall, or have experiences with it, leave them in the comments.

1 His sig file said it was unilaterally declaring a NDA. My anti-EULA signature file unilaterally declared that he released me from all that crap. 
2 Especially when he sent me "Paste the following text into the top of your next blog post: "I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because [insert clever/funny reason here]." (e.g. "because time spent proofreading could be time spent writing")".

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