What Happened When I Used Grammarly on My Grad School English Paper?

As some of you may know, a few years ago, I got my masters degree in English and Creative Writing. Don’t worry, I have since forgotten pretty much everything and ninety percent of the writing I do now is for this blog (one day I will change that and actually do something with my degree. Today is kind of that day, but just barely.

The Test

I am definitely not the best writer in the world, but when it comes to academic papers, I’m kind of great. I am just naturally good at school, and I was always aware that I could write an A+ paper in half the time it took a lot of my classmates to churn out a solid C. I’m not great at writing anything personal, and I still struggle with fiction (despite my degree), but academic writing is just something that comes naturally to me.

So, when I kept seeing all those ads for Grammarly (thanks to my YouTube addiction), I was curious. How does Grammarly work? Are its corrections genuinely helpful? And, most importantly, are its corrections correct? Because I have come across so many times when autocorrect is wrong. And more than one person who has tried to edit my work (I always hated those assignments) was incorrect. Is Grammarly better? Is it a valuable tool for those of you who might not have a person to help you or struggle with grammar on your own? I wanted to find out.

I decided to dig up one of the papers I wrote for grad school that I am most proud of (I hadn’t even looked at in in years, and was pretty impressed with myself when I read it back for this project) – one I got an A on – and plug it into Grammarly.

The Results

What Grammarly Got Right

In my eighteen-page paper on Jane Austen and feminism, Grammarly turned up fifty “alerts” (things it deems “incorrect”) and twenty-five additional issues with clarity. It gave my paper an overall score of 86 – so a solid B. And of those seventy-five corrections to my paper, a grand total of four were actual mistakes I made that Grammarly caught. That’s right four – that’s five percent. And the “correction” it suggested for one of those mistakes was also incorrect. So I’m not convinced that totally counts. But let’s take a look at the other seventy-one suggested corrections.

What Wasn’t That Bad

Six of them were fine. I labeled them “iffy” in my notes while I was tallying everything up. They’re things that are not inherently incorrect, but maybe a little awkward (not even really that bad). Just things I would maybe have done differently this time around, but honestly didn’t see a problem with. Grammarly does advertise that it fixes wordy or bland sentences, so I’ll give them this one. We don’t all have to agree on style.

Twenty-seven of the corrections were within quotes. This paper was on Pride and Prejudice and feminism, so there are quite a few quotes that use nineteenth-century language. And Grammarly did not like it. Personally, I could understand a few of them. For instance, it corrected the spelling on a lot of British English words. But most of them were perfectly fine, just not modern English. For the purposes of this experiment, we can just ignore those.

What Grammarly Got Wrong

The other THIRTY-EIGHT – that’s right, more than half – are things I completely stand by. Some of them were stylistic choices, or extra words I used to make things more clear. Grammarly wanted me to change “realistically” to “really”. Ironically, these were flagged for clarity. I guess this is what Grammarly would call “undermining my message” (quoted directly from one of their ads).

So, I know I can be a little wordy sometimes (as evidenced by this post), but I don’t necessarily think that needs to be fixed all the time. Who isn’t wordy in an academic paper with a minimum page limit? That’s just how it works, invisible AI editor.

What Grammarly Got Really Wrong

But the biggest issue was that some of the “corrections” were actually incorrect. The biggest culprits here? Commas. Grammarly does not like interrupting clauses (when you insert a phrase in the middle of a sentence, differentiated by two commas). And it definitely does not like sentences with two independent clauses (like this one). All the commas in the previous sentence are grammatically correct. You’ve read this blog, so you know I use a lot of introductory phrases or interruptors in my sentences. That’s just how I write. Are they totally necessary? No. But they’re useful and can add interest or additional information to your writing. Stop trying to take them away from me, Grammarly. (Actually, it just tried to take out the commas that made those phrases grammatically correct within the sentence, but it’s kind of the same thing.) I would like to keep my commas, thank you very much.

Here are a few examples of the corrections it gave me, some useful, some not (click on them to view them full-size, if you’re interested):

My Verdict:

It wasn’t completely terrible, but I had a few issues. It found a few mistakes that neither I (nor Microsoft spellcheck) seemed to have caught. However, the suggestions it gave to fix those mistakes weren’t the best. If you’re looking at this as a tool to rely heavily on to make your writing better, I wouldn’t recommend it. This was more like having another person look over your work to catch mistakes you might have missed. And then having to dismiss most of their suggestions because they don’t totally understand the rules of grammar (especially when the sentences are longer than five words). But they still caught a few actual errors, so yay?

Would I Use It Again?

I don’t think Grammarly is worth it for me. The trade off of it wanting to delete half of my commas for finding four real mistakes isn’t something I would be willing to deal with. I genuinely do have a problem with adding too many commas sometimes, so that’s fair, but I wish it would have been better able to distinguish between those that are extraneous and those required to make the sentence grammatically correct. There were a few instances where sure, maybe that comma looked out of place in the context of those five or six words, but was necessary in the sentence as a whole.

It would have been nice if it was able to recognize quotations, and leave those out of the corrections, or maybe highlight them in a different color to set them apart. I also wish that it paid more attention to context, both in flagging mistakes and suggesting corrections, because some of the corrections offered weren’t much better than what was already there.

Overall, I think one of the biggest drawbacks is that it’s a computer program that can’t edit the piece as a whole piece. It hated my use of “time period” or “period of time” (I used it three times in an eighteen-page paper), but I think that, instead of correcting all of them, it could have been like “hey, you use this a lot, maybe try another phrase”. They advertise being able to improve your overall writing, but the program doesn’t seem to be able to focus on the big picture. That would have actually been really helpful.

Is it Worth it For You?

Basically, this is like spellcheck on crack. It catches a few more mistakes than your word processor probably does, but it’s also a little flag-happy. It fails at seeing the piece as a whole, which I think is necessary for it to give feedback that is contextually correct and still takes into account your personal writing style.

My issue with it for other people is that I can see this program being attractive to those who aren’t that confident in their writing, and those are probably the people who are more likely to take the program’s suggestions at face value. If I had gone through and blindly accepted all the corrections it gave me, not only would the quotations in my paper be inaccurate (which is bad if you’re writing research paper), but the paper itself would be less grammatically correct than where I started from. I think it’s a cool idea, but the execution just doesn’t work all that well.

I am curious what the paid version involves, but I am not at all interested in paying six dollars a month to find out, because that really does not seem worth it. Especially if you’re a student looking to improve your assignments – there are so many other things you could do with six dollars a month.

Overall, I was not impressed. I think it has too many flaws to be truly helpful, and I can’t think of anyone I’d recommend it to.


Hope you enjoyed this post – it was fun to try something a little different and get back to my English language/literature roots. And also prove that my instinct was right about Grammarly, because I was definitely not convinced a computer program could be a truly reliable editor – I still don’t think it can.

Have you tried Grammarly? Is this something you’re curious about or thing you might like to try? Or, like me, are you just annoyed by all the ads?

Note: this posts is not sponsored, I was just genuinely curious.

4 thoughts

  1. Grammarly insists on editing my work whether I want it to or not. I, like you, disagree with half of what it finds, leaving it just as I’ve written. I see your sentence includes a “but” and that is something I’m always getting flagged on–NO commas!! (“…I think it’s a cool idea, but the execution just doesn’t work all that well…”) In school, I was taught it was preceded by a comma, but then when I went to school, a LOT more commas were used generally. (OOPS! There I go again.) Nah, I’ll stick with my little ole Word spell and grammar checker. I wrote an article comparing the two some time ago and came to the same conclusion.

  2. This was super interesting and I’m surprised at all that it didn’t work that great for you. Though now I’m curious what it would do with a paper that started out bad. I was a terrible writer in school and I was happy whenever I got anything as high as a C on a paper (which is saying a lot since I was a straight A student) You should take a terrible essay and run it through and see if it helps more haha. 😀

    1. Thanks! I should! Though based on the feedback I got, I wouldn’t have high hopes (and I think writing a purposefully bad paper would just be too painful for me haha). This thing is like the “delete all commas” robot. I’d be worried bad writers would rely on this too heavily with not great results.

      Glad you enjoyed this post, though! It was kind of fun to put together.

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