Technology is great…when it works. It’s more fun, for example, to lazily watch the Roomba chase your dog around the living room than push a vacuum. But you may not want an actual robot dog—even if it also picks up crumbs.
The same is true when you’re looking for online grammar help. There are times when technology is your friend and when a grammar-checker program will provide most (if not all) of the online grammar help you need. But sometimes, you really need the matchless magic of the human brain, and that’s where online editing companies and professional grammar checks come in.
Seeking Online Grammar Help
So you’ve hammered out that term paper, written that business proposal, finished your novel. What now? You’ve invested a lot of time and energy in a written project that you’re about to send into the world with your name on it, and you want it to be perfect. But you’re not sure whether you’ve spelled dodecahedron incorrectly, and you’ve never been able to remember the difference between its and it’s, so you turn to the internet for help.
If you search for online grammar help, you’ll come up with two different but related services—online grammar checkers and online editing companies.
Using Online Editing Companies vs. English Grammar Checkers
But what are the differences between grammar checkers and online editing companies?
Grammar checkers (whether online or downloaded) are computer programs that scan your text for mispellings (like that one—it should be misspellings), commonly confused words (like accept and except), and common grammatical errors (like missing commas in compound sentences).
Online editing companies use well-trained and experienced human editors who will thoroughly read your text, finding and correcting spelling errors, commonly confused words, grammar errors, inconsistences, and usage errors.
A human editor can also do something that no amount of online grammar help can match—that is, work on your manuscript (or letter or master’s thesis or grant proposal) as a whole, rather than just fixing the obvious errors in each individual sentence. So when you goof and switch pronouns by accident, a human editor can catch that.
And speaking of goofing, here’s an example of the type of sentence that grammar-checker programs can’t handle.
Her energy hasn’t been goof lately as it use to be so I’m working out honey.
After plugging this sentence into up to seven online grammar checkers, you’ll find no more than two errors. The problem is that nothing is misspelled, and the pattern errors (like the as…as construction) are obscured by other words. A human editor could whip this sentence into shape:
My energy hasn’t been as good lately as it used to be, so I’m working out, honey.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Pros of Online Grammar Checkers
- They’re quick.
- They’re (sometimes) free.
- They’re getting better all the time as algorithms improve.
Cons of Online Grammar Checkers
- They miss things.
- They can actually insert errors by giving you the wrong advice.
- They can’t find even the most minor factual errors (like Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1942).
Pros of Professional Grammar Checks
- Experienced editors don’t just fix mistakes; they really improve your text.
- Professional editors will adapt to your preferences. You can ask them to apply a certain style or ignore a particular rule or watch for a specific type of error you’re prone to making.
Cons of Professional Grammar Checks
- An edit can take a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the length of your project.
- They’re rarely free.
Using Grammar Checkers for Your Book
A book is a serious investment of time and energy. It represents weeks, maybe months or even years, of your life. This is not the time to rely on a grammar-checker program.
An online editing company will pair you with an editor with expertise. An editor working on a book-length manuscript will (of course) correct spelling and grammar errors, but she’ll also watch for inconsistencies in content, highlight potential factual errors, respect the quirks of your personal writing style, and make recommendations for how to improve the work as a whole. If you invest in a professional grammar check, you’ll get an editor with expertise, experience—and the ability to adapt to your unique writing voice and support your individuality!
Using Grammar Checkers for Your Business Needs
If you’re dashing off a quick in-house email, using a browser plug-in that quickly scans for spelling errors might be just the ticket. But for anything longer—or any document that represents your company in the public sphere—you really want the more thorough and nuanced editorial look that only a person can provide. You don’t want to send off a fifty-page proposal that uses three different spellings of your recipient’s name: Is he Stephen, Stephan, or Steven? Your editor can point out this inconsistency, but a grammar checker cannot.
Using Paper Grammar Checkers
If you’re a student, you know how important good writing is to your professors. You don’t want them lowering your grade because you wrote an excellent, detailed paper about currant events when you really meant current events.
A paper grammar checker is a helpful first step, definitely, and it might even pick up a homonym error like currant events. Also, some paper grammar checkers will also scan for accidental plagiarism, which is potentially very useful.
However, a human editor is going to be far better at noticing that your paper is really about Pitt the Elder, not Pitt the Older. No paper grammar checker is going to catch you misquoting Shakespeare, but experienced editors will almost certainly know that the witches in Macbeth never say, “Bubble, bubble.”
How Do I Make a Decision between Editing Companies and Grammar Tools?
Still not sure about editing companies vs. grammar checkers? Here are some useful questions you can ask yourself when you’re trying to decide.
1.) Am I a grammar whiz?
Be honest with yourself! Grammar checkers are most useful when you know when to ignore their advice—and when you can confidently spot the types of errors they tend to miss. They are a great supplement to your own editorial skills, so if you are indeed an icon among your friends for knowing the difference between between and among, use a grammar checker to find those few remaining typos. Just hope you didn’t write ass when you meant add. It’s pretty easy to ass a few errors of that kind when you’re working fast!
2.) How much time do I have?
Is your paper due an hour from now? Then you should probably use a quick online grammar checker and hope for the best! Next time, though, consider building in a little extra time so you can use an online editing company if you need to.
3.) How important is this project to my grade, career, or reputation?
Is this a quick two-page paper worth 5 percent of your grade? Or is this your master’s thesis? Is this an email to your mother-in-law? Or is this a funding request for your new start-up? If you’ve spent more than a few hours doing this piece of writing, don’t sell yourself short. It’s time to make the investment in human editing.
4.) How long is my project?
It’s possible that an online grammar checker will proofread your text almost as well as a human, particularly if you’re only looking at a paragraph or two. However, the longer your text, the less effective grammar-checker programs will be.
5.) Do I just want proofreading? Or do I want a deeper, more substantive edit?
If all you need is something to stop you writing supposebly, a quick online scan by a grammar checker is great. If you want to be sure that your text is beautifully free from error, you might want a professional editor to proofread it. If you want someone to tell you that you need some more detail here, a bit more character development there, and a stronger ending, you want a comprehensive edit.
The real truth about editing companies vs. grammar checkers boils down to this. To err may be human, but when it comes to finding errors, the human brain consistently outperforms even the most well-programmed grammar checkers.
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