Using Grammarly Won’t Make You a Better Writer

AI helps with accuracy but destroys creativity

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Grammarly is not your editor.
Grammarly will not make you a better writer.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against using AI to check texts for punctuation errors and spelling mistakes. It’s incredibly helpful, especially for multilingual writers, as it makes work more accurate. Of course, it’s difficult for even the most diligent writers to spot their own inaccuracies. Our writing brains have in-built auto-correct filters, and robots do not.

The purpose of this article is not to tell writers to consign Grammarly (or any other AI writing tool) to the bin, but to advise caution.

Nowadays, we have the tendency of grasping hold of any time-saving or labour-saving device. Great, we think, let’s get started and our problems will be solved.

The real issue here is the abdication of responsibility — leaving key decisions about your text to a computer. While AI can only formulate data, writing is human. Language is fluid and the meaning we take from words depends on context, audience, and purpose.

AI can’t assess the quality of the meaning you convey. It doesn’t know anything about your linguistic and cultural background, nor does it understand who your readers are. All it can do is follow the rules. It knows nothing about who you are and the unique voice you offer. And sometimes, it gets things plain wrong. For that reason, I advise using Grammarly with extreme caution.

When Grammarly gets it wrong

Photo by Randy Laybourne on Unsplash

Here are seven examples of when this ‘editing’ software was not able to make the right call.

  1. Homophones — Homophones are words with different meanings and spellings which sound the same. Because of this, we often confuse them when typing.

Grammarly spots some, but it missed this one.
I met her down at the key. (incorrect)
I met her down at the quay. (correct)

2. Continuity mistakes — AI cannot compute human errors such as switching character names.

An example is describing someone as having blonde hair in one paragraph and brown hair in another.

3. Tone of voice — AI doesn’t understand writing context.

You write ‘Fancy a quick drinkypoo?’ to your partner. Grammarly suggests ‘Do you fancy a quick drink?’ (which is far less fun)

4. Passive Voice — Grammarly hates it.
Sometimes the passive voice is essential to build focus in a sentence or avoid mentioning the subject.

e.g. ‘The victim was shot in the crossfire.’ vs. ‘A police officer shot the victim by accident.’

5. Tenses — AI employs rigid style suggestions. e.g. Simple tense = preferable; continuous = less desirable.

There is a difference in meaning between We are facing challenges’ (temporary), and ‘We face challenges’ (permanent).

6. Spelling — Grammarly makes suggestions based on frequently used words.

Sometimes it suggests words like ‘composting’ instead of ‘composing’.

I was composing my article, not gardening!

7. Synonyms — AI suggests switching out overused or repeated words.

Be careful! Synonyms have slightly different meanings. Sometimes, it’s not possible to avoid repetition. This can be a real issue for writers whose first language is not English. Perhaps they chose a word as it is more recognisable to their readers (rather than a more ‘natural sounding’ word).

All of these issues can be avoided if you use Grammarly as a final check.

Do not skip the human editing and proofreading stage. And most of all, don’t allow non-sentient software to influence your choice of vocabulary and phrasing. I haven’t even touched on some of the style suggestions that Grammarly Pro might make. Having these tools switched on during the drafting stage is likely to introduce doubt and mute your creativity and writing style.

Just before you are about to hit publish — that is the time to check your work with AI. That way, you are more likely to make informed decisions about suggested changes, rather than letting AI influence the creation stage.

How to use AI effectively

Photo by Medienstürmer on Unsplash

As mentioned, the most important learning for both myself and my clients is this: only use AI as the final stage of the writing process. In the Google Chrome browser, you can do this by switching the ‘data reading setting’ on Grammarly to ‘when you click on the extension’. This will require you to reload the page when you want to activate Grammarly’s suggestions. Make sure to save your work before reloading!

Another important consideration is the ‘C.A.P.’ of your writing. Make sure to understand the context, audience, and purpose of what you aim to create. AI doesn’t know whether you are writing a social media post or an academic paper, but you do. Write what you want, in your own voice. Trust yourself to make appropriate calls.

Finally, seek feedback. You may see messages such as ‘100% accurate’ or ‘great job!’, but Grammarly is not your editor. It’s crucial that writers learn techniques, continue to practise, and ask for considered feedback on their work. Whether that comes from your boss, a colleague, a friend, or a mentor, we need other humans to guide us. If everybody used Grammarly as their editor, content would become more homogeneous, which defeats the purpose of online publishing being open to diverse voices.

By all means, use digital tools to aid your writing accuracy, but remember, Grammarly will not make you a better writer. Only you can do that.

For more on this topic I suggest watching Zoe Bee’s excellent breakdown on YouTube.

Philip Charter is a short-fiction author and a coach for content writers.

He writes about the following topics:
✍️ How to produce accurate and authoritative articles
✍️ Typical English language problems for multilingual writers
✍️ Industry discussion on the big issues in content writing
✍️ Short-fiction analysis and original stories

If you are a creative writer or content writer looking for advice, get in touch via LinkedIn or email.