You might think that after 25 years as a medical writer, I’d be able to produce high-quality content with ease. But as the author Thomas Mann once said, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” I think he was talking about me.
Oh, I have my moments when the prose is snappy and the editing process a pleasure. But most weeks, I drag at least one assignment across the finish line with a combination of steely determination and head-on-the-desk despair.
Some writing-related agonies can’t be avoided (opening sentence, anyone?) But in recent months I have lightened my load with the help of Grammarly and Readable. These writing assistant tools will improve your writing in six critical ways. Give them a whirl to:
- Correct typos, spelling errors and grammar mistakes
- Improve readability
- Make bolder writing choices
- Avoid passive voice (when possible)
- Reach your audience
- Check for plagiarism
In short, produce clean, compelling, readable content — and minimize the drama on your way to deadline. With a few clicks of a mouse, you can transform your copy from “almost there” to reader ready.
1. Correct typos, spelling errors and grammar mistakes
How did I miss that? … is what you’ll be asking yourself as Grammarly and Readable point out the typos, spelling errors and grammar mistakes that your tired eyes missed. Just remember, if you were an algorithm you’d catch those yourself.
Grammarly is more thorough when it comes to flagging these types of errors, and the comments are easier to see. In Grammarly, issues appear in a list that runs alongside your copy. To view explanations in Grammarly, you click on each issue one by one in the box.
Readable flags issues with symbols and color-coded highlights within your content. You can view explanations by hovering your cursor over the highlighted text.
Grammarly explanations seem designed to protect the writer’s sometimes-fragile ego. Even on a bad day, I can’t be offended by “consider inserting a comma” or “this phrase may be wordy.” Readable’s comments are more straightforward, such as “long word” or “spelling mistake.” No need to belabor the point, I suppose.
2. Improve readability
Here at WriterGirl, readability is near and dear to our hearts. When content is readable, people understand it and enjoy reading it. When it isn’t, they’ll click away and find their information elsewhere. Bye-bye, reader!
Grade level is a useful measure of readability. When writing for a general audience, a good rule of thumb is to shoot for eighth grade or lower. Most people will be able to comprehend this content, making them less likely to tune out.
Grammarly and Readable algorithms account for multiple factors when analyzing grade level, including the number of syllables per word, number of sentences per paragraph and use of familiar words.
Readable highlights your content’s grade level and readability score at the top of its results window. It also color codes long and very long sentences, as well as “hard words.” As you break long sentences in two (or three) and find synonyms for your hard words, your grade level decreases and your readability score increases before your very eyes.
Grammarly provides “live scoring” as well, but the score is a measure of overall quality. To learn your content’s grade level and readability score, click on your overall score in the upper right-hand corner of the results box. Then look under the “readability” subhead to see how you did.
3. Make bolder writing choices
Using Grammarly and Readable is like having a guest editor improve your writing, without the embarrassment of an actual human pointing out your mistakes. Their algorithms will:
- Identify boring or repetitive word choices
- Reveal excessive adverb usage, which can clutter your copy
- Point out wordy passages
- Flag clichés (Readable only)
You have the last word when it comes to accepting or rejecting the apps’ commentary. But when you do want to make a change, neither app offers much in the way of suggestions. It’s on you to streamline those wordy phrases and find replacements for well-worn clichés. Fingers crossed you can get that done in a jiffy!
Grammarly recently began testing a “beta feature” in which the app suggests alternative wording for sentences that score low on clarity. This feature can be helpful (or provide reassurance that you can still write better than an algorithm can).
4. Write in the active voice
Readable and Grammarly don’t like passive voice any more than your 11th grade English teacher did. They know it’s clunky and makes sentences longer than necessary.
Unlike your 11th grade English teacher, these apps won’t teach you how to convert a passive voice sentence to active voice. And it isn’t always easy (or desirable) to make the change, anyway. Take these examples:
“Some courses were presented via Zoom.”
“Surgery for nasal congestion is done on an outpatient basis.”
“This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care.”
When I can’t think of a well-worded, active-voice alternative, I just look the other way. Even if it dings my readability score.
5. Reach your audience
Readability and reach scores are related, but different. Readability is the nerdy one, focusing on sentence length, syllables and word choices. Reach is the empathetic one, wanting nothing more than the content to resonate with readers.
If I’m concerned about “reach,” I turn to Readable, which posts a reach score in the results window. Click on it and you’ll get a breakdown of the three elements related to reach:
- Tone: Is your copy formal or conversational?
- Sentiment: Is your copy giving a negative or positive vibe?
- Personalism: Is the content coming across as personal or impersonal?
Grammarly is beta testing a “tone” feature for emails, but it does not offer a comprehensive reach score when analyzing general content (such as a Word document).
6. Check for plagiarism
Good writers don’t intentionally pass off someone else’s work as their own. But sometimes plagiarism just…happens.
Let’s say you’re writing a blog about seasonal allergy symptoms, and you pull background information from a few trusted websites. Cut, paste. Cut, paste. Reword, edit, add interview notes, rework. You’re halfway to a first draft, hooray! But now you can’t tell where your internet sources end and your writing begins.
Grammarly to the rescue! The app’s plagiarism checker, located at the bottom of the results window, searches billions of websites to catch issues before you submit your work. This gives you an opportunity to tweak your phrasing or cite your sources. See, you are a good writer.
The final analysis
Grammarly and Readable offer free versions and pro/premium versions with all the bells and whistles to improve your writing. Try them out by visiting the websites and pasting in your copy for instant analysis. Grammarly also is available as an extension, meaning you can embed it into Microsoft Word or Microsoft Office 365 rather than visiting the website every time.
Each app has its strengths and quirks. Grammarly is a little chattier and provides more in the way of explanations. Sometimes I find the comments a bit dramatic, such as “the use of and/or is severely frowned upon in formal writing.” OK, OK, I get it! Also, Grammarly loves the Oxford comma and wants you to love it, too. So when you don’t use a comma before “and” in a series, Grammarly flags it as an error. You can’t turn off this feature.
Readable is lighter on the comments but goes deep in the weeds when it comes to readability scores. It provides scores for Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Gunning Fog Index, Rix Readability and seven other analyses. Keep it simple by clicking “Faves” for a more streamlined view of key indicators.
Clicking through Readable and Grammarly comments can be time-consuming, and after laboring over a 750-word case study or blog post, I’m not always in the mood. But as I tighten up my copy, make corrections and see my scores improve, I’m always glad I took the time. I think my readers are, too.
A writing team with a passion for readability. WriterGirl specializes in creating clear, custom content that’s tailored to your audience. Contact us to learn how we can help you reach your content marketing goals.