Sunday, February 9, 2014

Grammarly On-line Grammar Checking Service

I noted an advertisement placed on my Blog by Google for a "Free Check for Plagiarism". This was a little misleading as it was actually an advertisement for the  Grammarly on-line grammar checking service. Checking for material used without referencing is just one of the services offered. While a free seven day trial is offered, the catch is while you can upload your text and have it checked for free you have to supply a credit card before you can the results of the analysis.

Grammar Checking But No Correction

The service teases you by describing each problem with your document, but without signing up for the service you don't see exactly what was wrong, or where. I have an assignment due on Monday, for a course costing me several thousand dollars, so at less than $200 a year the service looked worth trying out. My assignment scored 65 out of 100, with 93 "issues", which was worrying. I ran the document through a free grammar checker in LibreOffice, made the suggested changes and then ran it through Grammarly again. This reduced the issues in Grammarly by only two and the score only went up by two points. After a few more hours working through the list I still had 60 issues and a score of 76, making it a frustrating process.

The free version seems to only allow you to upload a text document (I could not work out how to check the .DOC version). One I was in the for-fee system I was able to upload a word processing document.

One frustration if you just want to fix up your draft assignment is that Grammarly does not offer an auto fix mode. Grammarly highlights a piece of text in your document, describes the problem and the suggested solution, but will not apply the fix for you. This is probably better for learning how to write good well. ;-)

I started working my way through the issues identified by Grammarly. Mostly I did not understand the grammatical terms in the explanation (my schooling was at a time when grammar was out of fashion). Some of the terms I thought the company had just made up, such as "squinting modifiers", but there are references to this on-line (I still have no idea what a "Squinting modifier" is). So I used a technique I have applied to editing academic work: if I can't understand it, cut it out and make the document shorter.

One problem was that Grammarly's list of grammatical errors kept disappearing. I was working my way through the errors, but when I flipped from the web display to the word processor to fix and error and back, the list was gone.

Another problem is that the software does not appear to be able to recognise headings and keeps reporting them as sentence fragments.Also the software does not appear to recognise formal academic referencing and so tried to interpret these as sentences.

The process of making the corrections was tedious, but rewarding. With about one hours work, I reduced the number of "issues" from  93 to 73 and the score from 65 to 71.

One problem may be Grammarly's use of bandwidth. While waiting for my document to be checked, Grammarly display a status report as to what it was checking for. This was reassuring but seemed to be taking up 20 kbps .Each time I ran Grammarly on the same document it seemed to get slower. At one point Grammarly seemed to get stuck in a loop sequencing through the same checks over and over again and I had to cancel it after an hour.  After a few times I wished for an old fashioned batch mode, where I submit the document and just get the result when complete, with no updates in between.

Plagiarism Detection

Grammarly's plagiarism detection function is not easy to use. I pressed the "plagiarism" button, it said "working" and then displayed the same grammatical error report I saw previously, with nothing about plagiarism. The generated report saied there were eight plagiarism issues, but then nothing to indicate where they are (TurnItIn usually gives false positives for like quotes and references). Another screen saied 8% unoriginal, "Some parts of your document match the text from", which is a APA formatting guide from a university I have never heard of. Eventually I found the text in question under the heading "Citation audit". The problem was the text "The purpose of this document is to
", which I got into the habit of using, not from an APA guide, but IEEE standards (which almost all start that way). I tried changing it to "This document is intended to", but that is an even more common expression. So I settled on "This is a critical review of one journal article", which appears in no web search results.

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