Write Your Life Story or Business Book Using Grammarly
Based on our experience, Grammarly is one of the most useful writing tools available online. But it’s not perfect. We tested it out to share what we feel are best practices when it comes to using Grammarly to write your life story or business book.
What is Grammarly?
Established in 2009 by a trio of Ukrainians who created the cloud-based storage system Dropbox, Grammarly is an online writing assistant originally created to help students proofread English-language text in real time. In the fourteen years since its launch, the company has become a do-it-all writing tool that provides suggestions for tone, clarity, spelling, grammar, and even offers plagiarism checking and an AI chatbot designed to enhance your writing.
Each of Grammarly’s three tiers–free, premium, and business–offer varying degrees of assistance. We’ll examine the free and premium offerings here and share our experience testing them. The Business option helps corporations create and maintain a cohesive voice across written documents. Our objective was simple: can Grammarly help you write your life story or business book? Read on to find out.
What it includes: The free version of Grammarly checks spelling, grammar, and punctuation and offers basic tone suggestions. Grammarly’s tone detector assesses your writing and provides suggestions to help you communicate your message how you want.
What it costs: Gratis. Goose egg. This is the free version.
How it performs: In our experience, the tone detector can be hit-or-miss. Here’s a sample text we wrote in Grammarly:
Writing is hard work! I think we should try to be better writers.
Grammarly flagged the second sentence and suggested it could sound more confident rewritten as follows:
Let’s try to be better writers.
Grammarly often highlights phrases like “It would be great if,” “I feel like,” and “Basically” as phrases that undercut your communication. Generally, these are good changes. Sometimes, writers want to sound more polite, so be mindful that the tone you want is also the tone that the Grammarly algorithm determines that you want. For the record, Microsoft Word now offers a tone editor, which performs nearly the same as the Grammarly version, so there’s no need to rush out and switch to Grammarly just for the free tone detector.
Free Grammarly is fine but won’t dramatically improve your writing more than most free services or what you may already have if you use writing programs like Microsoft Word or GoogleDocs.
What it includes: Everything in the free version, plus full-sentence rewrite suggestions, vocabulary suggestions, and a plagiarism checker.
What it costs: $12/month, or $144 per year.
How it performs: Grammarly’s clarity and correctness offerings are more robust in the Premium version and does a decent job of flagging wordy sentences or overuse of the passive voice. (Passive: I was going. Active: I went.) Sometimes it will suggest rewriting an entire paragraph for “improved clarity,” which, more often than not, results in a paragraph with a significantly different meaning.
Grammarly Plagiarism Checker
Grammarly Premium’s plagiarism checker scours the internet to confirm whether your text is original. Sounds great, right? Here’s a sample text we ran through Grammarly’s plagiarism checker:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Guess what? Grammarly’s plagiarism detector returned with: “Looks like your text is 100% original. We found no matching text in our databases or on the internet.” Except for the fact that this charming phrase is not original to us at all–it’s Charles Dickens’ famous first line from A Tale of Two Cities. Try searching this quote–it’s all over the internet. Grammarly’s plagiarism detector should have fired cannons in protest. Instead, the tone detector offered suggestions for improvement, including:
It was the best of times, the worst of times.
That’s not good English. However, the Grammarly plagiarism checker redeemed itself when we used the entire sentence:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
This time, the program correctly flagged the content as 100% unoriginal. Now, Grammarly should cite the Dickens source, right? Nope: Grammarly stumbled again, returning one match, a paper written by professor Lorna Guse at the University of Manitoba that used the Dickens phrase as its title. The takeaway? The plagiarism checker can be helpful, but it’s not always accurate, and it does not replace a human proofreader.
Grammarly Premium also lets users tailor their experience by selecting their writing “goals,” whether that means sounding more academic or more creative, and Grammarly’s assistant will provide suggestions based on those selections. For example, if you want to write your life story using Grammarly, you may want to select a conversational tone with the intent to tell a story, while someone writing about their business may aim for a knowledgeable, business tone. In practice, this feature is reasonably successful. Here’s a sample sentence we wrote in Grammarly with the tone goals set to “Business” and “Inform:”
While learning a second language benefits a person’s cognitive skills and increases cultural awareness, machine translation serves a different purpose; it is efficient and inexpensive. For writers looking to understand a text in a foreign language, machine translation is a fabulous tool.
Grammarly suggested that we rewrite the last sentence to improve clarity:
Machine translation is a fabulous tool for writers looking to understand a text in a foreign language.
We agree with this change: the sentence is clearer and dispenses with the opening dependent clause. Sometimes, you may wish to start your sentence with a dependent clause precisely because it will emphasize the object of the sentence in a different way than if it appeared at the end of your sentence. However, in this case, the change works.
Accentuate the Positive?
We also noticed that the writing assistant often wants our writing to sound more positive. Sometimes–especially if you are writing about trauma or unpleasant events–you may not want to sound happy or upbeat, and the suggested tonal shifts can be dramatic.
We tried using one of DIYBook’s life story prompts to see what we’d get:
What is my earliest memory? How old was I? Where was I? What happened?
Here’s what GrammarlyGo wrote:
I remember my earliest memory like it was yesterday, even though it happened so many years ago. I must have been around three years old, and I was playing in my grandparent's backyard. It was a warm summer day, and the sun was shining brightly. I remember running around the yard, feeling the cool grass tickle my toes. I was chasing after my older brother, who was laughing and teasing me. I remember feeling so happy and carefree in that moment. Suddenly, I tripped and fell, scraping my knee on the rough concrete. I remember crying out in pain, and my grandmother rushing over to comfort me. She scooped me up in her arms and carried me inside, where she cleaned and bandaged my knee. Even though it was a painful memory, I cherish it because it reminds me of my loving grandmother. It's amazing how one small moment can stay with you for a lifetime.
Using our prompts, GramamrlyGo returned a story about a three-year-old whose grandmother soothes the child’s scraped knee. The story is fine, but it is fiction. This is not a memory–this is an algorithm crafting a tale. If you’re going to use this application, you must provide it with all the details you want it to include, and yet, even then, it will add details. Use with caution and an understanding that this is generative text. Additionally, we would also be wary of the originality of this text: some AI chatbots have been caught plagiarizing!
Also, if you plan on using AI-generated text and passing it off as your own, some apps can catch AI-generated text, such as ChatZero. We pasted the story GrammarlyGo wrote into ChatZero and were told that “Your text is likely to be written entirely by AI.” It was.
Grammmarly Premium offers several helpful writing tools, but they are not foolproof. Nor are they the ultimate arbiter of taste and style. Grammarly’s suggestions may be inconsistent with your goals, and its plagiarism checker is not entirely reliable. Overall, Grammarly can help you write your life story or business book, but you cannot let it overtake your writing, nor can you rely on it entirely to write your story for you.