Grammarly vs. Humanly

Many readers know that I am a columnist with BIZCATALYST 360°, having been invited onto the platform by its founder and editor in chief, Dennis Pitocco. I love being part of the diversity of writers there, so thank you, Dennis!

Of course, as an editor / copyeditor myself, it’s been interesting (aka humbling) sending my articles to Dennis. What would he think of my efforts?

Well, so far so good. He’s rarely made any changes, except for the titles and the pictures, both of which are always far better than mine were.

So I was surprised to see a tiny change in a recently published article I wrote on ways to improve relationships by using specific words to help someone else still feel valued, even when that person has made an error that needs to be addressed.

I noticed a comma in a sentence I hadn’t put there, so I asked Dennis about it.

Yes. I really did. Yes. I’m that picky. I am a true PITA about such things.

He wrote back saying that the content editor – Grammarly – must have added it; he surely hadn’t.

Oh, boy. Had I missed something that Grammarly picked up?

Rereading the sentence, I realized that Grammarly made that choice based on a word – however – that often triggers a punctuation need but shouldn’t have here. I used it as the specific dictionary word that it is, even italicizing it so readers would understand.

Grammarly didn’t notice.

Of course:

1. Grammarly is a software program created to help writers with basic
    punctuation rules and usage. It does not think; it reacts to specific words in 
    places where a punctuation rule could come into play. Yes, it makes
    suggestions, but for a writer who is unfamiliar with the rules, there’s potential
    for agreeing / disagreeing with something out of ignorance.

2. Grammarly is not a human, so it cannot converse with authors to learn the
    underlying reasons for constructions that may affect the choice of
    punctuation.

3. Grammarly is a lot like spellcheck – useful where it is, but not for what it
    wasn’t programmed or hasn’t learned to do.

Here’s my original sentence:

No, you may NOT use however; it’s nothing more than a bigger but.

Here’s what Grammarly thought was correct:

No, you may NOT use, however; it’s nothing more than a bigger but.

There are several rules about using punctuation with words like however, but their sole focus is how the words function in a sentence, not their meaning.

The four usual functions are:

1.  An introductory word.
     However, we normally do not use that word.

2. A transitional expression linking two separate complete sentences.
     That is something you should NOT use; however, if you must, remember that        it’s nothing more than a bigger but.

3. An afterthought.
     No, you may NOT use that, however; it’s nothing more than a bigger but.

4.  An interrupter in a single sentence.
      No, you may NOT use that, however, because it will change the meaning of   
      your sentence.

And if you look at #3, you’ll see how close Grammarly came to being right; the sentence just needed one more word to allow for the comma: that.

So, Grammarly and other programs can help, but please remember that they’re limited by their programming and the suggestions the writer accepts or ignores. Of course, the writer has to know the rules first, right?  

And I can hear you now: But, Susan! Human editors aren’t perfect either!

True. But at least we can think beyond the obvious, we can ask questions to find out what the author’s trying to say, we can check context, and we can suggest the proper punctuation to showcase the author’s thoughts, even occasionally allowing something that doesn’t follow proper grammar rules, just to make the right point.

All in all, I vote for human editors to be part of the equation.

What are your thoughts here? Have you used Grammarly or any other editing software? Have you ever worked with a human editor / copyeditor / proofreader? What were your experiences with them?

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