Whether you’ve written a blog, a book, or some website content, you no doubt know that the text needs proofreading to ensure there are no errors or typos before you publish. You might also know that it’s very difficult to proofread your own writing (you can find out why here). So you might look to a proofreading program, app, or software. The main contenders here are Grammarly and Microsoft Word’s Spellchecker. But how do you know which is the best proofreading program, or indeed whether they’re any good?  

The good ole’ Spellchecker  

Microsoft’s offering was recently renamed “Editor”, though it remains to be seen whether anyone will stop calling it “Spellchecker”, as old habits die hard! It works by comparing every word you type with its extensive list of “correct writing” (spelling, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, etc.), then it uses algorithms to determine whether what you typed was correct. This tool comes in-built within Word at no extra cost. 

Does Spellchecker work? 

For basic spelling and grammar errors, Word’s tool is decent. But for anything more complex, it falls flat on its face. For example: 

  • It’s particularly poor with capitalisation, failing to offer title case as an option in its capitalisation menu or notice when you randomly start capitalising words Like This.  
  • It doesn’t spot missing commas. Take the question “If not now[,] then when?” Rather than pointing out the obviously missing comma, it suggests changing “then” to “than”. 
  • It doesn’t spot commas that shouldn’t be there, for example “The name of the game is, to play fair”.  
  • It can’t even get the word “proofreader” right, suggesting it’s two words or hyphenated when it isn’t. 
  • It fails to spot missing words in sentences, such as “Word’s Spellchecker fails [to] spot missing words [in] sentences”. 

To test this theory, try typing some of these examples into Word or make intentional errors and watch it not berate you for getting it wrong. 

The new kid on the block 

Grammarly is a relatively new program compared to Spellchecker, and it can be used more extensively. It’s available to download as an add-on to Word and web browsers such as Google Chrome, meaning you can check emails and social media posts as you type them. Grammarly is based on AI and natural language processing. It also assesses the tone of your writing based on the words you use to determine whether you sound friendly, optimistic, formal, etc. It has a free version that offers the basics and a paid version that covers a lot more.  

Does Grammarly work? 

For the most part, Grammarly picks up far more errors than Word’s Spellchecker. If you type the same block of error-ridden text into both, Grammarly will spit out more issues than Word will. But it still misses an awful lot. For example: 

  • It doesn’t notice words missing from sentences, such as “What to do in this situation depends [on what] you want.” 
  • It makes incorrect suggestions, for example, with the sentence “if you like drink”, it suggests “the drink” or “a drink” rather than “to drink” or “drinking”.  
  • It doesn’t spot incorrect punctuation, like “It’s language processing capabilities”, which should be “its”. 
  • It gets capitalisation wrong, for example, “I’m a Lawyer” should be lowercase because it’s a generic noun not a proper noun.  
  • It doesn’t spot missing capitals at the start of a sentence or randomly capitalised sentences like “I Don’t Know How To Use A Capital Letter”. 

Proofreading is more than spelling and grammar 

There’s another vital aspect of proofreading that isn’t picked up by either tool—and that’s formatting. Proofreading isn’t just about pointing out spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, but about noticing inconsistent fonts, colours, sizes, line spacing, indentation, and more. It’s about spotting styles that have been incorrectly applied, overzealous uses of bold or italics, images in the wrong place, and missing hyperlinks.  

Who wins the fight? 

Overall, Grammarly beats Word’s tool hands-down. But neither of them would beat a human proofreader. Grammarly will no doubt improve over time as its language processing capabilities increase, but for now it’s obviously fallible. One day it might be like the computer who beat a human at chess. But right now, it’s good for a first pass before handing it over to someone who understands the context of what you’re writing. In essence, these tools should be used as well as a human proofreader, rather than instead of

But aren’t proofreaders expensive? 

As a freelance writer, small business owner, or self-publishing author, paying for a proofreader might be one expense more than you’d hoped for. But it can make the difference in ensuring that your text is professional and error-free. A website or book full of typos does nothing good for your reputation and might put your readers off. The good news is that proofreaders are relatively inexpensive. Our rates for experienced proofreaders are £10 for 1000 words, which shouldn’t break the bank. So, if you need a proofreader, get in touch.  

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