This is a different kind of proofreading test.
The challenge is this: can proofreading software provide an effective shortcut to good text checking?
Of the five options I’ve chosen, four are digital tools that claim they can help you with proof reading/checking your copy.
They are Grammarly, Ginger, After The Deadline and the built-in grammar and spellchecking talents of Microsoft Word 2010.
The fifth option is my wife, Kate. She obviously doesn’t like to be referred to as a ‘proofreading system’. But she is a trained magazine production editor who dissects raw copy for a living. Often brutally. She plays the part of a proofreading service for hire.
Read on to see the results.
The proofreading test copy
If you’ve already tried our quick proofreading test then you’ll be familiar with the compact chunk of copy below:
When Apple Corps launched their first iPhone in 2008, it didn’t dissappoint. In fact, it immediately captured the collective imagination with a geeky allure driven by Apples slick design, the phone’s smart flexibilty and it’s inovative multi-touch approach.
There are eight mistakes in it – two factual errors, three spelling errors and three grammatical errors. See our proofreading test answers page for a full run-down and explanations.
For the purposes of this test, I ran the text through the four digital options (and gave it to the wife) to see how many errors they could highlight. Consequently, each one is rated out of eight.
Grammarly positions itself as the ‘World’s Most Accurate Grammar Checker’. It boldly promises to identify over 150 text errors, offer synonym suggestions and to check for plagiarism.
While it’s free to get your text checked, you need to sign up for a seven day trial to see what the problems actually are in detail. Beyond the trial, there are a trio of pricing options – you can pay monthly ($19.95), cough up quarterly ($13.32 per month) or opt for a yearly subscription ($7.95 per month).
In our proofreading test, Grammarly found five ‘issues’ with our sample text and instantly identified the three spelling errors – ‘dissappoint’, ‘flexibilty’ and ‘inovative’.
But that was it. It suggested replacing ‘didn’t’ in the sentence: “When Apple Corps launched their first iPhone in 2008, it didn’t dissappoint” with ‘did not’. And while it highlighted the incorrect use of ‘it’s’ in the final sentence, it suggested ‘it has’ rather than ‘its’.
Grammarly scored: 3/8
Like Grammarly, Ginger touts itself as a do-it-all grammar and spellchecker. The big difference is that this downloadable software (PC only) adds proofreading functionality to a number of popular applications – Microsoft Word, Outlook, Powerpoint, Internet Explorer and Firefox.
A small Ginger control bar appears whenever you’re actively using a compatible application. You simply click on the bar, or press F2 to start the copy checking process. Ginger then identifies any spelling errors or grammatical mistakes and suggests corrections.
You can test-drive a 600-character demo for free. The premium version of the software costs $198 (one-off fee), $132 (for Contextual Spelling & Grammar Correction only) or $19.80 for a monthly subscription.
The premium version also boasts a clever text-to-speech function, which enables you to hear your text read aloud in a surprisingly decent digital voice. Lastly, a ‘Learning’ feature acts like a virtual tutor, helping you identify common grammatical gaffes and understand how to fix them.
It’s a shame then that Ginger had the same success rate as Grammarly, correctly highlighting the three spelling errors, but glossing over the remaining five mistakes. Of course, you wouldn’t expect a digital tool to get the factual errors in this proofreading test. But the grammar checking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. A spellchecker could probably do better…
Ginger scored: 3/8
Microsoft Word review
Could a spellchecker REALLY do better? Microsoft Word includes spellchecking and grammar functionality and so it’s interesting to see how the 2010 edition compares to the so-called proofreading tools like Grammarly and Ginger.
Quite well, as it turns out. In our proofreading test, Word automatically highlighted the three spelling errors (‘dissappoint’, ‘flexibilty’ and ‘inovative’) in red. It also pointed out the incorrect use of ‘it’s’ (underlining it in blue).
Microsoft Word scored: 4/8
After The Deadline review
I had high hopes for After The Deadline. You can download it and use it with bbPress, Confluence and OpenOffice. You can bolt it into Firefox or the Google Chrome browser and you can access it via a WordPress plugin. You can even cut-and-paste the copy you want checked into a web page.
That said, it didn’t fare well on this proofreading test. At least not at first. The online version only picked up one of the spelling errors (‘flexibilty’), ignoring the other two. And it didn’t spot any of the grammatical flaws.
Yet when I tested it again using the WordPress plugin, it picked up all three misspelled words. So if you write content straight into the WordPress dashboard, After The Deadline is useful for making a final pass through your posts in search of spelling errors you might have missed.
After The Deadline scored: 3/8
And my wife…
My wife is an experienced proofreader and has worked in the publishing business on a variety of magazines including Official Windows XP, Digital Camera magazine, Computer Arts magazine plus various books.
She picked up all eight of the errors. Obviously. Using our proofreading checklist, she performed one pass over the text to double-check the facts before going through it again to root out spelling and grammar mistakes.
My wife scored: 8/8
Proofreading test summary
What we take away from this five-way match up is that you can’t beat the eye of a human proofreader. Digital tools can be useful as spellcheckers, grammar fixers and synonym suggesters. In some cases, they can help you improve your basic writing skills and steer you away from embarrassing copy-editing errors as you create content.
But there’s more to proofreading than hunting for typos and making sure you haven’t written ‘your’ when the sentence structure calls for ‘you’re’.
What digital tools like Grammarly, Ginger and After The Deadline CAN’T do is check that web links point to the right pages, that names are spelled correctly or that facts and figures are accurate. So while they might claim to ‘proofread’ text, they actually don’t. You’d be better off doing it yourself or getting somebody else to check copy for you.
For more about proofreading
There’s an expanded version of this article in our book ‘Don’t Trust Your Spell Check’. It’s packed with pro proofreading tactics, looks at why we make mistakes, why we’re bad at spotting them and wraps up with 25+ challenging proofreading tests for you to try.