Even if your own grammar isn’t one hundred percent perfect, you have to admit that when you catch a grammatical foible in a book you’ve paid for, your writer senses tingle and that sudden slump of disappointment kicks in. You start to wonder whether the author, editor, or publishing house even bothered with a rudimentary grammar check.
Everyone needs a helping hand now and then. That’s just a fact of life. Substance does take precedence over style (funny, coming from us!) but when submitting your work to be published, the fewer mistakes the better – especially when it comes to your use of language.
Grammar rules are largely unbreakable and programmable. That’s why they can be automated. Based on the context of complete sentences, online grammar checkers use a database of known grammatical errors to correct mistakes in any text you enter.
But the important question remains…
Do you really need grammar checking software to help you as you go?
The Pros and Cons of an Automated Grammar Checker
In the early years, any given online grammar check could only handle rudimentary functions such as incorrect capitalization – but as the technology has progressed, these programs have learned to understand context, and can identify misused words with unmatched accuracy. Unlike humans, computers don’t skim read or unconsciously miss things.
We’ve talked about readability formulas before, and these are also excellent when you need your writing to be understood by a general or varied audience or to meet industry benchmarks such as writing insurance, medical or financial documents. On the other hand, the problem with readability scores and grammar checkers is that they only tell you if your writing is structurally sound. They can’t tell you anything about the logic you employ, if your arguments are forceful or weak or if your metaphors are fresh or stale.
Put simply, online grammar checkers and readability formulas are blunt instruments like a whisk and a wooden spoon – useful for speeding up the process, but ultimately not essential for the recipe.
Thankfully, though, since these rules are now so easily programmable, a free grammar checker is never far from a few taps on your keyboard. In fact, with AutoCrit’s Free Forever account you get a fully integrated spelling and grammar check at no cost whatsoever.
But let’s go back to the main question: do you really need it?
Well… that’s up to you. You may truly feel you don’t need one, or you may be open to (or conscious of) the notion that your grammar could do with the occasional cleanup. As long as comprehension doesn’t regularly suffer in your writing, you’ll tend to get along just fine – but it can’t hurt to fire it through a free grammar checker before moving onto the first real meaty part of the post-writing work: the line edit.
The Grammar Checking/Line Editing Process
Here’s how we (and most AutoCrit users) see the process play out:
- Your draft (either complete manuscript or separate passages/chapters) is written.
- The draft is then fed through a grammar checking program to ensure adherence to rules.
- Your grammar-checked draft is put through AutoCrit’s series of editing reports for style corrections – minimizing non-grammatical issues such as repetition, clichés, poor pacing, over-description and adverb overload. Should you wish, it’s at this stage you can compare your work to successful novels in your genre – giving you the best possible context-driven guidance for your personal line edit.
- Your freshly self-edited writing is passed to your human editor, who gets to work straight away on story development – pointing out flaws in character arcs, story beats, logical inconsistencies, and all those finer details that get the story itself to a publishable standard.
To get the most out of your writing process, you need to take care of the fundamentals before you attack the narrative root of your manuscript. As wonderful as AutoCrit is, it can’t tell you that your plot is eerily similar to something that was published last year, or that the scene in the coffee shop needs to be relocated to the train station.
Only a living, breathing editor can do that for you… and they should be able to get to it as quickly as possible, not forced into spending their time fixing your adverbs.
As a fiction writer, when you look at the four-step process you see above, which part appears most superfluous?
If you said the second part, it would be hard to fault you for it.
So that’s our opinion. Running your prose through a free online grammar checker can be a very useful step if you do find basic grammar to be a regular stumbling block – but your work shouldn’t stop there.
Checking grammar alone is definitely no substitute for a high-calibre line editing tool for your self-edit run, and won’t offer your story the profound benefits the mind of a human editor can provide.
What do you think? Is our reasoning sound? Do you use a grammar checker every time as part of your process, or do you get along just fine without it? Are there any free grammar checkers you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments!