AI for Proofreading

I decided to try something different for 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel. I decided to experiment with a couple of software programs that use artificial intelligence to proofread.

Spellcheck has been around for awhile, and many word processors have grammar checkers. LibreOffice does, and it serves for my first check. An independent grammar checker is LanguageTool. I downloaded it from the Ubuntu Software Centre and use it as my second check. The third is Grammarly, which I have found useful for catching things the other two don’t.

I think the AI proofreaders are helpful for basic copy editing. They catch spelling errors, punctuation such as comma placement, and some formatting inconsistencies such as extra spaces between words. Quotation marks are another helpful catch. Should they be straight or curly (aka “smart”) quotes? Traditionally, printers used curly quotes and these are still considered good typography. More good uses of AI are to catch hyphens verses the various kinds of dashes and ‘which’ versus ‘that.’

Sometimes it’s a matter of opinion. Temperature, for example. Is it written as 80°F, 80° F, or 80 °F? It depends on which authority one asks. The National Geographic style guide prefers the first. Technical style guides prefer the third. Some say to write the symbol out as “degree.” For anything where opinions vary, I think the most important thing is to be consistent.

I get dinged a lot for spelling. Usually, it’s because I’m using a word not found in the program’s spelling database. Grammarly has been useful for catching things such as ‘a while,’ which I tend to type as ‘awhile.’

Of the three, Grammarly offers the most detailed analysis. I started with their browser add-on, which I uninstalled after a couple of weeks. Problem? It “corrects” as one types, which is like having a backseat driver continually trying to grab the steering wheel. Then it sends a weekly score comparing word usage and error totals to other Grammarly users. I found those things to be annoying. Instead, I use the online version at their website.

They have a basic free version and a subscription version. The free version catches grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, alerts for wordiness, and detects tone. It grades clarity (“very clear”), engagement (“a bit bland”), and delivery (“just right”). It gives me a score and lets me know how many advanced alerts it found, in case I want to upgrade to premium.

To its credit, Grammarly recognizes ellipses, which the other two do not. Since this book is a sequel, I quote myself a lot, rather than rewriting the material as new. To keep it succinct, I use ellipses.

Grammarly’s paid-for premium service critiques inconsistent writing style, unclear sentence structure, overused words, ineffective vocabulary, hedging language, impoliteness (?), insensitive or non-inclusive language, inappropriate tone or formality level, and checks for plagiarism. All of this for about $140 per year if billed annually. They do offer frequent discounts. I haven’t completely ruled this out, but I haven’t ruled it in either. I don’t always agree with their assessment, and if they want auto-debit billing, forget it. Plus, if one follows up with a human editor, what’s the point?

Do any of these AI proofreaders take the place of a human editor? Of course not. But if one is paying an editor by the hour, it’s helpful to have as few errors as possible.

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