Lately, I’ve been seeing an influx of advertisements for online grammar checkers on almost all of my social media accounts. For a while now, I’ve tried to ignore them, chalking up the barrage of ads to the internet gods knowing how to market to a book lover, but I’ve begun to wonder what these online checkers mean for today’s writers and editors. I see the most ads for Grammarly, but one website names ProWritingAid, Ginger, SpellCheckPlus Pro, and WhiteSmoke as other current top contenders. I decided to do some digging and explore what the popularity of these grammar checkers indicates about today’s writers, editors, and proofreaders.
It turns out, the popularity of grammar checkers can be largely traced back to technology’s effects on our writing skills. As one article details, “means of communication started to accelerate, which negatively affected the quality of young people’s writing, because modern methods of communication often ignore the English grammar rules.” In other words, recent fast-paced technological advances have had an enormous linguistic effect—an effect that, in turn, has negatively influenced our writing skills. Online checkers like Grammarly can help correct bad habits developed while using social media and ensure writers adhere to grammar rules. In other words, like the spell checker on your word processor, these newer grammar checkers help safeguard against grammar slip-ups and broken sentence structures.
However, many editors and linguists caution eager writers looking for an easy software program to rely on. Stefanie Flaxman advises using these checkers with skepticism and warns against the temptation to treat them like a personal proofreader or editor. “Your own personal proofreader would be a human being, not computer software. Editors help content marketers produce engaging experiences for their audiences.” In other words, human editors and proofreaders understand the critical nuances of grammar and writing in ways a computer program cannot—an idea certainly shared by the editors here at Ooligan. This sentiment is echoed by linguist Andreea S. Calude, who points out that “grammar is slippery and hard to pin down,” a matter further complicated by the fact that written grammar is constantly being influenced by changes in our spoken language. The flexibility and shifting landscape of language and grammar is better left in the hands of editors and proofreaders well-versed in this world, rather than with online grammar checkers. Yet another problem with these programs falls closer to home for the book publishing industry. Writers who use grammar checkers often accept all suggestions with no hesitation, and while editors keep the writer’s context and style in mind, a software program will not. Accepting every change without any consideration is a huge risk for today’s writers, and introduces a major fallback for these checkers.
So while the consensus among editors and linguists concerning popular grammar checkers seems to be largely one of skepticism and caution, the threat these programs pose to print book editors is relatively small. Arguably of greater importance are the linguistic effects of technology and social media on our writing skills. It certainly appears that we should approach these new tools much as we’ve learned to handle our word processors’ spell checkers: with plenty of skepticism. We may have new tools at our fingertips, but nothing can replace the nuanced expertise of editors and proofreaders. So try out that free Grammarly trial, but remember to proceed with caution.