Another AI Grammar Checker

I recently learned about another online grammar checker, ProWritingAid. I was curious as to how it compared to Grammarly, so I’ve been using the free versions of both for the last several chapters of my upcoming book. They both catch basic punctuation errors, extra spaces, misspelled words, and point out unnecessary wordiness. But there are also differences.

Grammarly dings me a lot on tautologies. In writing, a tautology is a phrase that uses two words which mean the same thing. For example: his own, widow woman, red color. In each example, one of the words in the phrase is redundant: own, woman, and color don’t explain anything and don’t add any new information.

Tautologies are easy to correct, but sometimes I’m using them for added emphasis. Such as when I’m trying to point out an idea or concept that had some significance to us. For example, the idea of Dan purchasing a tractor trailer to become “his own boss.” I think that packs a little more punch than either becoming “his boss” or “his own.” (Which begs the question, his own what?)

ProWritingAid ignores tautologies, but constantly points out my frequent use of passive rather than active verb construction. In active voice, the subject performs the action. In passive voice, the subject receives the action. Here’s an example from my writing: I wrote, “the old chimney was removed” (passive voice). Active voice would be, “he removed the old chimney.”

Apparently, passive voice is extremely annoying to some readers, hence the suggestions to change. I understand that, but since I’ve just picked this up in the last chapters, I think I’ll just have to leave most of it this go-round, especially since I’m not sure how to write active voice in past tense. I’ll have to research that in the future.

The thing that I dislike about both programs is being given a percentage grade and compared to other writers. That does not help me. That does not motivate me. I don’t want my writing to be on par with others, I want it to stand out with unique appeal. Neither program has impressed me on that score. I want my writing to be the best it can be, but I don’t want to sound like everyone else. If everyone accepted all of the recommended changes, then everyone would sound the same. No, thank you.

Another problem with grading my writing is when a chapter contains a quotes from other works. The quotes are from published books and have already been edited by a human. Yet AI wants to correct quotes and count those “errors” toward my writing “score.” The lesson learned here is not to include the quotes when I paste in the text to be proofread.

Actually, working with AI is similar to working with human editors. Each brings their own perspective to the table, and different editors focus on different things. Because I write non-fiction for a niche audience, I understand that the person doing the editing may or may not understand how I’m using particular words. I use the language of homesteaders, although I always take care to define unfamiliar terms for readers without a homesteading background. This has been why having last-say in my writing is important to me. I don’t want the meaning of my writing changed because the phrases and idioms aren’t understood.

Of the two AI grammar programs, I’ve had to learn how to use them. I’ve had to drop the tendency to feel like a scolded school child for low scores and take control for myself. It’s my writing, so I’m free to accept or reject their suggestions, and never mind what everyone else is doing. I am trying to do this with great care because I sincerely want to improve my writing. I just don’t want to lose my own voice, my own style, my own personality.

There. Three tautologies in a row, and I feel pretty good about it.

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.

The Challenge of Color

I received my first proof in the mail the other day! I was so excited, and so nervous, as I opened the box. I was rather dismayed, however, at the cover colors.

My book has a black and white interior with a color cover. I’ve used 5 photographs on the front, and two on the back. For the background I selected a dark green. In print, the green is almost black, and the contrast in the photos is too bright. I immediately began to search the CreateSpace forums for answers and discovered that this is not an uncommon problem. The topic, however, is unfortunately quite complex. To make it more confusing on my part, my different PDF readers render the colors differently.  Compared to Scribus (where my cover was created), Document Viewer gives me the most similar result. In Adobe Reader 9 (Linux version), however, the color looks terrible! The dark green is black and the colors in the photos are hideously exaggerated.

In some ways this isn’t a surprise because the PDF is prepared with CMYK colors for print. Digital devices use RGB colors, so the CMYK will not render as they would in print.

Veteran CreateSpace authors gave good advice for adjusting color. I lightened both the photo and the contrast until they looked almost washed out on the screen. My second proof, however, was color perfect.

The other thing I adjusted was the interior black and whites. They were okay in print, but since I was correcting typos and formatting errors anyway, I took the time to adjust the interior photos as well. I increased both brightness and contrast, in general about 25% brighter and about 12 to 13% more contrast. This varied somewhat depending on the individual photos. That second proof was so much better.

For the most part, I have to say I’m pleased with my book. I’m awaiting my third proof because I keep finding errors, just little ones now, but things I want perfect. That third proof should arrive today. Hopefully after that I can get the ball rolling for the next step.

Proofreading Checklist: Chapter Formatting Details

I’ve been going through my book chapter by chapter, page by page, double and triple checking certain details.

Chapter number and title

  • font
  • font size
  • font spacing


  • correct dpi (at least 300)
  • captions
  • spacing from text

Page numbers

  • font size
  • font style
  • correct numbering
  • spacing between page number and chapter title
  • consistent location on page

The last thing I do is go to print preview, two page view. I first check for obvious problems and then scroll quickly through the pages. If the page numbers are off, they appear to “jump” as I scroll. I then correct them until they appear stationary when I scroll through the pages.

Reading Through Aloud

I read about this on a self-publishing website, that it is a good idea to read through one’s book aloud as part of the preparation process. I have been doing this and see why it is excellent advice.

I sent my chapters to be proofread and corrected as I wrote them. When they came back, I cleaned them up and started working on a format. This included not only page size, but titles, page numbers, and photographs.

My book has a lot of photographs. This is in keeping with my blogging style which is important, because the book is based on my blog, and my blog has lots of pictures. For the book, I’m finding that these are a good place to add useful information in the form of captions. For example, in the chapter about food self-sufficiency, I talk about the many ways we are food self-sustaining and include photographs of these. The caption for the photo of pouring beaten eggs into muffin tins, can explain how to freeze eggs. I can give details that would be so many rabbit trails if they were included in the text.

There is a potential problem with adding photos if a lot of cutting and pasting of text is necessary. To keep my white space balanced and keep a uniform appearance throughout the book, I did indeed do that. I also found I sometimes had too much text, or not enough. Sentences, even paragraphs, were cut, or, I had to add some. As I’m reading through aloud, I catching places where sentence parts were not included in the cut and paste.

I’m reading through from beginning to end, chapter by chapter, slowly. I’m making sure I focus on and say every written word. I’m keeping the proofed manuscript next to it, to compare if something seems amiss. If I reworded something or added text for the sake of formatting, these are being sent for proofreading.

Once I’m satisfied with the chapters, I’ll put them all together in one file. Then I can begin adding page numbers to the index. Maybe I’ll give a step by step of how that is done. What do you think?