Last updateMon, 21 Jan 2019 12pm

Online grammar checks: Humans better than computers?

Over the years I have been writing this column, I have assembled a group of contributors who as part-time visitors to Mexico, are unable to buy the paper every week and have expressed an interest in continuing to read my column. 

I send these people an email every week, and for them, the quid pro quo is assistence with spelling, grammar, punctuation and style.  Included in the group are four published authors, a Ph.D English professor, an editor working for a major New York publisher, a polyglot (who knows “quid pro quo” to be Latin), and a grammarian for his local Toastmasters Club.  So, before the column you are reading now was published, it was checked for errors by this much-appreciated group of advisors who probably make me look like a better writer than I really am.

After the printed edition has hit the streets, it is therefore disappointing to receive reader feedback pointing out a grammatical error, and for me to recognize that error was not in the copy I submitted for publication.  Rather than bemoaning the proofreader who erroneously substituted a pronoun for a reflexive pronoun, I think it could be more constructive for me to tell them and everyone else about some writing resources available online.

English grammar is just too complicated and nuanced to be understood well by computers.  Grammar checking software is often flummoxed by noun-verb agreement, passive voice or backward-facing sentence construction.  That being said, there are several web sites offering to proofread your writing for free. Much of the advice available there is actually useful, as well.

Grammarcheck.net is a site that lets you copy the text from your word processor and paste it into the web site for evaluation.  When you click on the [Free Check] button you will then see spelling errors, style suggestions, or grammar suggestions underlined in different colors.

Gingersoftware.com provides a free grammar-checking program you may download and install on your computer, tablet or smart phone.  The online checker is limited to about 100 words meaning it is still useful for checking individual sentences or paragraphs

As its name implies, spellcheckplus.com does just that, in addition to recommending possible corrections. For instance, the site flagged “Ph.D” because, while Americans use a period, Canadians tend to use PhD.

PaperRater.com offers two ways to evaluate your writings.  A quick check can be done by typing or pasting text to the web page and then clicking on the [Get Report] button.  It is also possible to upload a file from your word processor.  For an extra cost, you can have the site perform plagiarism detection.

In the final analysis though, there is no spell-checking or grammar-checking software that is perfect.  It is comforting to know there is still something we humans, even most volunteer proofreaders, can do better than computers.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant with more than 20 years IT experience and a Texan with a lifetime love for Mexico.  The opinions expressed are his own.  He may be contacted through his web site at SMAguru.com.

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