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There are three main writing checker software on the market today: Grammarly, ProWritingAid and Ginger. I reviewed all three of these programs over a 2-week period. I put several of my students’ assignments through all three checkers to compare their analyses.
The result were close, but here’s my verdict: Grammarly is still the best writing checker for students’ essays. All three software would have dramatically improved the student’s marks, but Grammarly was the easiest to use and most intuitive in all my tests.
Grammarly won my tests hands down. I chose Grammarly because it appears to be the most accurate grammar checker. It picks out only the most important things to edit and doesn’t give many bad recommendations.
Because it is so accurate, it will help grow your marks with only one edit.
I believe out of the three grammar checkers in this article, Grammarly produces the best results in the fastest time.
The most important features of Grammarly are also easy-to-use from the very start. But, the advanced features might take some time to learn.
I decided to keep my subscription to the Premium version after doing these tests.
ProWritingAid impressed me with its wide range of features. There was only a nose in it, but I just gave Grammarly the win.
So, why didn’t I pick ProWritingAid?
I found ProWritingAid was too picky for me. With ProWritingAid, editing my work took too long because it suggested too many changes to sentences that didn’t really need changing.
However, I would still recommend this option to PhD level students or others who are already good writers and want some software to push them to be their best.
I’d also hasten to add that ProWritingAid is significantly cheaper – and the difference isn’t huge. So if price is your squeeze point, consider ProWritingAid. I don’t think you’d be too disappointed.
I personally feel Ginger is a step below the other two, but still worth a try. There were fewer features and it identified less errors than Grammarly. But, it still managed to pick up most major errors.
Ginger is also easy to use and can be personalized over time.
I can see that there would be big fans of Ginger out there, so I wouldn’t discount it for people who like a less complicated interface.
If you don’t want to read too deeply into the tests, here’s my overall summary:
1. Why should you Trust my Review?
I could tell you that I have a PhD, or that I’m a professor, or that I’m the editor of an international academic journal dedicated to helping students improve their writing and study skills.
And that’s all true.
But there’s a better reason why you should trust my review.
If you’re a regular reader of the Helpful Professor, you’d know I don’t recommend too many products. In fact, across over 200 unique pages on this site, this is currently the only product review article I have written!
So, I am quite conservative with my recommendations.
I chose to review the three top grammar checkers on the market because I have come to believe grammar checkers are very good for my students’ grades.
In fact, getting yourself a grammar checker is one of just five products I recommend students get as part of their Student Success Starter Kit.
Because as a professor I mark over 1000 essays per year. And I believe many – very, very many – of my students would grow their marks if only they got better at editing their work.
I also believe the tools in this review article help students get ahead.
So, I decided to make an exception and review these products.
But, I didn’t want to just put up a regular old review. I wanted to make it a serious analysis of the three programs.
So, to make this review as objective as possible, I created a test.
The test was applied to all three pieces of software equally and I have based all of my analyses off the results of the test, plus my experiences of using the software during the testing period.
2. As a Professor, why would I Recommend Writing Checker Software to my Students?
Grammarly has been the premium writing checker for years now. But, there are two other options worth checking out before making up your mind: ProWritingAid and Ginger.
As a university professor, I get incredibly frustrated at my students’ poor grammar in their essays. And yes, they do lose marks when poor grammar interrupts the message they are trying to communicate.
After two weeks of testing the three grammar checker apps, I’m ready to make my verdict. I believe grammar checker apps will definitely help any of my college student grow their grades in all their assignments.
So, I will recommend them to my students from now on.
All three of the writing checkers I reviewed in the past two weeks could make your assignments far easier to read and more professional.
In other words, if you’re a student interested in getting top grades, I’d strongly recommend investing in the premium version of a writing checker app.
3. Is a Grammar Checker Cheating?
Usually not. And people who tell you that it is cheating don’t get it.
Grammar checker software are designed to help you become your best. They ask you to check what you’ve written and make suggestions for changes.
But at the end of the day, it’s you who has to ‘approve’ or ‘decline’ the suggested change.
Here’s what it looks like:
When you hover your cursor over words with lines under them a box will pop up that suggests a change. Here, you can see that you’d need to change the sentence to “Although there is a number of …”
So, Grammarly helped me to see that there’s a problem here that I need to fix. And it gave a suggestion. But, it didn’t quite give me the correct solution. Between Grammarly’s advice and by own reflection, I got the sentence correct in the end.
So what does this mean?
It means that this sort of software helps you to check your work yourself. It points you towards sentences that it thinks (based on its algorithms) don’t seem to be written well.
But, this software doesn’t think for you.
And, it won’t (and can’t) do any intellectual work for you. You still have to come up with the content for your assignments!
It’s up to you to decide whether the grammar checkers have given you the right advice. I find that I actually decline their advice a good percentage of the time.
What does this mean?
It means you can’t use these checkers to ‘cheat’ in your essay. If you accepted every suggestion they give you, your work would get lower marks! Simply put, some of the advice is way off base.
Here’s an example:
In this example, if you accepted the suggestion, your sentence would make no sense whatsoever.
It would change from:
“According to Wiggins (2011, p. 40) the vague parameters of the critical theory may be perceived as overwhelming.”
“According to Wiggins (2011, we may perceive p. 40) the vague parameters of the critical theory as overwhelming.”
The referencing has been turned into a total mess here! Plus, the sentence now makes no sense.
So, no. I don’t think Grammarly is cheating.
The software just gets you to look over your work once again and asks you: “Did you really mean this, or did you mean something else?”
So, at the end of the day, you’re still in charge of making the right decisions. Grammar checkers are just useful tools that help you look for errors.
4. Can a Grammar Checker Replace a Human Tutor?
Does a program like Grammarly do the job of a human tutor?
The answer is a big fat No.
All three of the apps reviewed here are far, far below the quality of a human tutor. And they will not be as good as a human checker for a very long time.
- They can’t assess the overall structure of your piece: It’s up to you to choose which paragraph goes where to create a flowing narrative. While grammar checker apps can help you at a sentence level, they’re no good at showing you when you need to re-arrange the piece on a whole-essay level.
- They are incapable of understanding the content of your topic: You’ll need a tutor to tell you when your content is illogical. If you’ve made false claims, contradicted yourself, or missed a key piece of information, these grammar checkers won’t be able to help.
One nice thing about Grammarly is that it offers a paid human checker option – but again, it seems to be only for grammar and style.
So, if you want an actual human tutor to help you with your work, I’d point you towards one of the following two companies. I trust these two, because they’re actually tutors who help you improve, not cheating services:
Okay, now let’s get on with the four tests!
Test #1: Accuracy
I asked five students who got an average grade on five different assessments if I could run their essays through Grammarly, ProWritingAid and Ginger.
I ran a qualitative and quantitative analysis.
First, I tallied how many suggestions each of our three programs made in a single-paragraph segment of the essay.
Then, I tallied how many of these suggestions were accurate.
A quick note: It’s great that these tests were specifically done on five pieces of academic writing, so hopefully they’re in the right ballpark for you. But, it was simply my opinion about whether to accept or decline an error suggestion. Your results might (and probably will) vary.
Here’s the results:
These results show that the most consistent software seemed to be Grammarly. While it identified less errors than ProWritingAid, I accepted more of its recommendations.
What does this mean?
Well, it seems to indicate that ProWritingAid identifies more potential errors but is less accurate in its recommendations.
Grammarly, on the other hand, appears great for helping students to quickly edit their work. It identifies errors that are easy to fix and is generally quite good at finding genuine errors.
I was very impressed with Grammarly’s suggestions. They were good suggestions, particularly in regard to suggesting comma placement and adding or removing words.
Kudos to Grammarly.
Ginger came in third, identifying fewer errors than the other software while also having a poor accuracy rate.
If I used Grammarly on this essay, I would probably have submitted a more readable and professional looking essay than if I used either of the other two software.
So, here’s the quick takeaway from my study: Grammarly is my top pick for an easy, accurate and user-friendly writing support to help students grow their grades.
So why did I still choose Grammarly?
Simply because Grammarly is more intuitive and less intrusive.
Grammarly seems to only highlight errors that it’s sure about. I would bet that Grammarly’s creators have programmed it to ignore potential errors if it’s only 50% sure that it’s an error.
This made my life far easier. Most suggestions Grammarly makes are accurate and helpful.
So, why didn’t I choose ProWritingAid?
ProWritingAid was actually able to identify many more potential errors and gave me more to think about during editing.
But ProWritingAid makes more suggestions but I ended up rejecting many of those suggested edits. I ended up being bogged down in checking ProWritingAid’s edits. And, if I agreed to all its suggestions, they quality of the writing would have decreased overall.
And what about Ginger?
I didn’t think Ginger competed at the same level as ProWritingAid.
Simply, it doesn’t have enough features yet to be a competitive option.
However, I would give Ginger a thumbs up for chances to personalize the editing by creating your own personal dictionary. That was a feature I was certainly happy to utilize.
However, I felt Ginger did miss a lot of errors that Grammarly and ProWritingAid identified.
Therefore, I still give Grammarly the thumbs up for intuitive design and functionality.
Test #2: Features
All three of the apps have the basic features you’d expect, including spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence style checkers.
All of them also allow you to switch between UK and US spelling seamlessly.
And, all three let you switch between writing styles such as: Academic, Personal and Business. I didn’t find switching between writing styles made much of a significant difference for me in my two weeks of using all three versions.
This category is where I felt ProWritingAid shone.
And it’s why I am still happy to recommend ProWritingAid to anyone whose pressure point is primarily pricing.
ProWritingAid has some great features that I enjoyed playing around with. Here’s some of my favorites from their aresenal:
- Overused words: It’s easy to get a word stuck in your head and use it over and over again. ProWritingAid’s overused word checker can do a great job of catching you out on this lazy writing mistake.
- Consistency: Checks for inconsistencies such as use of open quotation marks without closing quotation marks. This is such a common issue with my students’ writing, and it’s great to see ProWritingAid coming to the rescue here.
- Cliches: It has a database of cliché phrases, and catches you up when you use a cliché then suggests and alternative.
- Echoes: catches you up on repeating words and phrases in close proximity to one another.
- Sentence Length: This is a game changer for both me and my students. Super long sentences really hurt the quality of your essays. I found myself using the sentence length tool constantly.
- Many more…
In my opinion, ProWritingAid’s range of features seem to touch on some of the biggest pressure points for students. Sentence length and inconsistent use of quotations in particular are huge issues.
So, it definitely shines in this category.
Grammarly provides everything you would expect of a grammar checker app.
But, its features are slightly more hidden than ProWritingAid’s, which allows you to conduct category-based manual tests much more easily via its menu bar.
Nonetheless, Grammarly seemed to be great for everyday use. It didn’t drown me in additional features like ProWritingAid, but the compromise was that I had more trouble manually accessing all the tests I wanted.
So if I wanted a nitty-gritty detailed analysis I found myself turning to ProWritingAid.
Some of my preferred features of Grammarly included:
- Plagiarism Checker: In the premium version, you get free access to a plagiarism checker that will be very useful for students! I do think most universities give students access to Turnitin now, which may make this feature redundant. But, I was still impressed by this tool. By contrast, ProWritingAid makes you pay for plagiarism checks on a rolling basis.
- Human Proofreader: With the touch of a button you can order (and pay for) a human proofreader to look over your work to give you that added layer of support.
You can access these two features from the bottom right-hand corner of the Grammarly desktop app:
Ginger provided the grammar, style, spelling, punctuation and synonyms functions at a comparable level to Grammarly and ProWritingAid.
It also has a Chrome extension, which appears to be a basic requirement for grammar checker apps today.
But Ginger also has some cool additional features, like:
- Emoji Suggestions: for when you want an image to do the talking for you. Unfortunately, no, emojis aren’t quite acceptable for academic essays.
- Personal Dictionary: while this wasn’t unique to Ginger, Ginger did offer what I felt to be the easiest-to-use personal dictionary. You can add those very niche academic words into your personal dictionary to teach Ginger that they’re not, in fact, spelling mistakes.
- Text Reader:
- Personal Trainer: This is a fun option. You can get Ginger to test you on common mistakes you make if you want to put some sustained focus on improving your English writing skills.
- Read Aloud: There are plenty of free read aloud software out there, so I wouldn’t buy Ginger just for this. But, it’s still a nice addition. I often recommend that students get software to read their work aloud when editing to identify errors – so something worth using if you choose to buy Ginger.
Test #3: User Experience
This one wasn’t a close contest – Grammarly won by a country mile. And honestly, here’s where Grammarly eventually pulled ahead.
I made my decision on who the winner would be based upon you: the (probably undergraduate) university student. Most students don’t want to be drowned in a bad user experience, and want a clean intuitive interface to tell them how to improve their work.
For this purpose, Grammarly won.
The minute you install Grammarly a Goal Setting popup appears, which gives a really nice first impression. Here’s a screenshot of it below:
I have mine set to ‘Inform’, ‘Expert’, ‘Formal’, ‘Mild Emotion’ and ‘Academic’ domain. You’ll need to buy the premium version to unlock the academic style which is the best option for students.
The next thing I noticed about Grammarly was how easy it was to examine the recommendations.
The ‘Assistant’ tab pops up on the right-hand-side of Grammarly’s app and you can easily toggle between options for editing your work. On the screenshot below you’ll be able to see how you can toggle between ‘spelling’, ‘grammar’, ‘punctuation’ and ‘conventions’.
I found this format very easy to use.
All I had to do was toggle from one recommendation to the next to approve or decline.
A very nice design.
While ProWritingAid boasted a really nice range of features, its presentation was clunky.
Grammarly have worked hard to make their design non-intrusive, intuitive and literally ‘soft’ using rounded edges and drop shadows on their stylizations.
ProWritingAid sometimes felt like a trip back to Windows95. (Was that too harsh?)
It has ‘hard edges’, both literally and metaphorically. The analysis options are listed in a bar at the top of the screen:
This in itself was fine, although clunkily presented. A good graphic designer could come in and clean it up for a new iteration of the software.
But compare the nice interface on Grammarly to way you have to toggle between options in ProWritingAid. It feels like looking through windows explorer for a file buried deep in the bowls of your hard drive:
Ginger felt very smooth, but also at times quite basic.
It offers on the top-right corner the option to toggle between ‘translate’, ‘dictionary’ and ‘synonyms’:
In the text editor itself, you can hover your cursor over underlined words to identify suggested improvements:
I actually came to really like the simplicity of Ginger’s suggestions. It was nice not to have endless explanations of why verbs and adverbs don’t agree with each other, blah, blah, blah. Gingerly just more or less said to me: “here’s a better option. Take it or leave it.” And I liked that.
And lastly, in the bottom bar of the editor you get a quick snapshot of the number of characters, words and sentences written so far. On the right there’s a count of how many grammar and spelling errors it has identified:
Unfortunately I feel these options have been (or will soon be) built into your regular writing software that comes with Microsoft Word, so I feel Ginger would need to up its game in order to entice me to buy.
Test #4: Price
I have not included the exact prices of the products here because they may change after the publication of this article.
To get up-to-date prices, see the pricing pages for each product:
Currently, the best value for money grammar checker app (in my opinion) is ProWritingAid. Not only does it have an extensive range of features, but it’s also comparatively affordable. Grammarly is more expensive, but you would be paying for its intuitiveness and sleek design.
Ginger, while ranking lower in most of my tests, is nonetheless still costly.
Here’s the other key takeaway:
You save a lot of money by buying the longer-term subscriptions.
You could save yourself a lot of money by buying an annual or (for ProWritingAid) lifetime subscription.
ProWritingAid offers a 14-day trial before asking you to pay.
After your 14-day trial, you’ll have to buy either a monthly, yearly or lifetime subscription. See their website for current prices.
But wait, there’s more!
ProWritingAid gives a 20% discount for students! All you need to do is enter your academic email address.
Their FAQ section says that they accept “all .edu and .ac email address along with 100s of others.”
That’s undoubtedly the best value you’ll find – and this is the app that (in my opinion) has the best range of features!
If money’s your pain point, it’s a no-brainer:
- You save a lot of money for buying a longer subscription;
- The ProWritingAid lifetime purchase is for you!
Unfortunately Grammarly doesn’t have a lifetime subscription offer. It doesn’t have a student discount offer either.
I told you I chose Grammarly as my top grammar checker despite it not being the cheapest.
I decided that (even though I’d be paying more), I just wouldn’t be able to handle ProWritingAid’s clunky interface.
But, I’m leaving the door open for ProWritingAid to improve their interface and if they did, I’d make the switch.
Ginger’s regular pricing is comparable to Grammarly’s.
Ginger does offer some cool features including a Google Chrome extension, personalized dictionary, text translation to over 60 languages and a read aloud option.
But, I’m not convinced their offering are competitive enough at their price point for me to consider it.
It should be pretty clear by now that on balance I’ve chosen Grammarly for my grammar checker. It’s easier to use (in my opinion) on a day-to-day basis, has a sleek design, and is plenty enough for helping a student writing an essay to build their grades.
But, if you’re after a lower price or some cool additional features (at the expense of intuitive design), I’d still happily recommend ProWritingAid. If you’re a real grammar nerd, ProWritingAid will make you very happy.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]