We’ve all done it. Worked relentlessly on crafting the perfect letter of introduction, agonized over each word, each sentence, looking for the perfect turn of phrase to express exactly why we are absolutely made for the job. It took hours, but it was worth it. Our finger hovers over the send button, we smile at a letter well done, and click.
And that’s when we notice the spelling mistake in the second line.
It’s happened to the best of us. And while one small spelling mistake won’t automatically cost you the job, it certainly doesn’t do you any favours, either. In the modern world, we’re offered a plethora of choice when it comes to catching those little errors that creep in despite our best efforts. You could always rely on the basic spell checker built-in to your favourite word processor, but they’re notoriously unreliable, and will miss mistakes that don’t seem like mistakes, like using “there” when you meant to use “their”.
Thankfully, there’s an app for that. No matter what level of grammar proficiency you have (or think you have), there are many ways to help yourself achieve that desired perfect grammar badge. And what separates these tools from your trusty old spell checker is what they do in addition to simply making sure the words are spelled correctly. They look at spelling, yes, but they also check grammar, style, and logic. It’s like having your own personal editor.
After the Deadline
The good people at After the Deadline have created an open-source (allowing anyone to develop and improve the tool) checker that presents suggestions on style and grammar. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, but it does provide basic feedback in the simplest and easiest of ways. This is an excellent choice for anyone wanting a bit more than a basic spell checker can give you.
- Pros: free, contextual spell checker (looks at the sentence in which the word appears, so it “should” catch those to/too/two and there/their/they’re type mistakes), advanced grammar and style checker, available in multiple formats.
- Cons: perhaps too simple, misses some style errors that other, more robust checkers would probably catch
After the Deadline is available as a Firefox and Chrome browser extension, and a Wordpress and OpenOffice plugin.
If you’re looking for something with a bit more horsepower under the hood, then Slick Write should be high on your list. It provides much more feedback, and it allows you to tweak its settings to match the type and style of writing you want checked. In addition to spelling, Slick Write can also analyze style, grammar, and check for cliches, slang, jargon, and so on. It can give you a detailed analysis of words used, words overused, and even count the number of adverbs in your text (modern rules would suggest no more than 5% of the total).
- Pros: free, contextual spelling and grammar checker, style suggestions, flow (the overall rhythm of the piece), word variety (are you overusing any words?), word count, readability score, customizable, available in multiple formats
- Cons: might offer too much in terms of suggestions for the average user
Slick Write is available as a browser extension, Wordpress plugin, and website.
Now we get to the big guns. Grammarly is the patriarch and undisputed champion of the new generation of spelling, grammar, and style checkers. If you want the best, then look no further. Unfortunately, the best comes with what some might consider a hefty price tag. The full version of Grammarly is going to run you $29.95/month, or $59.95/quarter, or $139.95/year. That said, you get what you pay for, and this service beats all others out there. It’s unparalleled in terms of what it can do and what it will catch. There is a free version - Grammarly Lite - available as a browser extension, but it has only a fraction of the features included with the paid version (although, even a fraction of its services is still better than a lot of other checkers out there).
- Pros: simply the best, contextual spelling and grammar checker, identifies 250+ types of grammatical errors, vocabulary suggestions, plagiarism checker, customizable, customer service and development team, web-based application available anywhere
- Cons: expensive
Grammarly is strictly a web-based application, while Grammarly Lite is available as a browser extension.
A quick Google search will reveal other options, but these three provide a solid sample, from the basic, bare-bones (After the Deadline), to the mid-range and more robust (Slick Write), and finally the heavyweight (Grammarly). Any one of them will help to improve your overall proficiency, and save you from potential embarrassment. Spelling and grammar mistakes happen, but with these tools at your disposal, you can ensure they'll be few and far between.