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ProWritingAid

prowritingaid.com

the best grammar checker, style editor and editing tool in one package” (from ProWritingAid website).
 
grammar checkers are so unreliable that I can assert that they do not work” (Les Perelman).
ProWritingAid is an online and standalone grammar and style checking tool aimed at business and online content writers, fiction/nonfiction writers, and students. It boasts a higher functionality than most other grammar checking software.
 
Nevertheless, its linguistic and stylistic accuracy in determining and correcting flaws in writing is questionable. Its interface and reports are so complicated that they require knowledge and confidence from the user.

Description

This ambitious text-editing tool claims to have higher functionality than most grammar checking software, offering “over 20 different reports.” These reports are simply aspects of language use that the tool checks. In that sense, ProWritingAid is comparable to MS Word with its advanced proofing options (which McGee & Ericsson have judged as tools of “increased functionality with questionable reliability” and “more power than intelligence”). Each ProWritingAid function is explained in detail on the tool’s website (FAQ and Blog sections). 
 
The tool’s features include a grammar checker; a style checker; a readability checker; a plagiarism checker; a thesaurus; and a number of checkers for catching clichés, repetitions and redundancies. ProWritingAid’s style checker, like The Writer’s Diet or The Hemingway Editor, focuses on identifying passive, hidden, vague, abstract, unneccessary words, etc. The tool’s readability checker (unlike The Hemingway App, which relies on Automated Readability Index) uses a combination of several readability scores and tools. Other features seem more marginal and targeted at creative writers or copy-editors (e.g. the tool’s alliteration checker and dialogue tags check). 
 
Like The Writer’s Diet and The Hemingway App, ProWritingAid demands active engagement from its user (which is good). Despite its claims, however, ProWritingAid does not seem student-friendly, and should be used with caution and guidance from teachers. With its unsexy, clinical title, business-style design, complex and comprehensive functionality, and annual subscription costs for the Premium version, ProWritingAid targets industry professionals (copywriters, copy-editors, etc.), business people, and professional writers, rather than students. Undergraduate students, especially millennial writers, may lack the patience required to operate ProWritingAid’s system: they expect easier functionality and faster results.
 
No published research is available on the efficiency of using ProWritingAid in teaching writing to native English or EFL/ESL students. However, some of the editing functions that the tool offers can be used for developmental writing activities in the class (see the section In the Classroom).
 

(Mis)Use in Writing

Despite being a lousy grammar checker, ProWritingAid can teach a reflective writer a few things about style. Its statistical analysis can at least help the writer notice any repetitions of words and phrases that otherwise might have passed unnoticed. When you use the tool, make use of its many features and select those that are most helpful in discovering or addressing your specific weaknesses as a writer. Note that while some of the features suggest a partial overlap (like the checks for clichés, overused words, and repeated words and phrases), each report yields a slightly different result.
 
 
See Experiments for examples of ProWritingAid reports.

In the Classroom

 ProWritingAid does not seem suitable for individual, unguided use by students, and it is especially not suitable for novice writers. Students are unlikely to choose ProWritingAid to proofread their assignments before submission. It is too finicky, too slow, too serious, and requires too much work from the user. Any student who invests their time into making sense of the tool’s highly complex reports and then applying those findings to revise their assignment in a thoughtful way probably deserves their B+, or at least a good pat on the shoulder. Despite its unfriendliness toward students, the tool can be integrated into classroom activities to help student writers reflect on various writing-related issues.

 
 
Visit Exercises to view some suggestions for class activities.

Drawbacks & Malfunctions

User interface & functionality
While the interface appears simple, with only one horizontal function toolbar decorating the top*, things get complicated once the user starts selecting the various language checks. Deciphering the reports can be puzzling and requires an understanding of how each check works. Whether used online, in the Desktop app, or in a word processor such as MS Word, the amount of issues identified at once can be overwhelming. The ProWritingAid webpage rightly warns its users about this. If too many things are checked and flagged at once, you may even have trouble locating each of the specific issues in the text. Even within one report you may encounter a dizzying flurry of colour-coded feedback, which is not easy to decode, such as in this example. Pick your fights one at a time, or risk losing your ability to focus.
 
ProWritingAid’s Desktop version removes the original formatting of any word-processed document that has been opened in it. If you want to check an MS Word document, use ProWritingAid’s plugin for the programme instead. Note, though, that the work of the plug-in editor is slow and awkward, especially when working with longer pieces of text and/or several reports at once.
 
 
Linguistic accuracy
On its website, ProWritingAid claims that its grammar checker is superior to MS Word’s since it combines algorithms with knowledge on common errors, accumulated by its human editors:
 
“The Grammar Report is like Microsoft Word’s grammar checker but with super powers. We use the latest artificial-intelligence algorithms to catch all those issues that Word’s grammar checker misses. What’s more, our team of copy-editors have input thousands of specific checks that they have come across in their years of editing.”
 
Despite the loud claims, the performance of ProWritingAid’s grammar checker is hardly satisfactory. Like most tools targeted at working professionals, it tends to work well only with formulaic, template-like writing. And, like all other grammar checking tools that run on pattern-recognition, it will pick up basic standard mistakes but will fail to recognize instances in which meaning depends on the context.
 
 
To get a better sense of the tool’s level of accuracy, have a look at some Experiments or simply subject ProWritingAid to your own tests.
 
 
Plagiarism checker
The tool’s plagiarism checker is only available for credit and/or as part of the Premium Plus subscription package. It is not included in the Premium subscription.

Ethical Issues

Assumed authority
It is unclear which dictionaries, if any, the self-proclaimed “grammar guru” uses for its spelling checks. The team of allegedly authoritative linguists and copy-editors that ProWritingAid relies on for all its grammar and style checks likewise has not been named.
 
 
Privacy policy
ProWritingAid states it complies with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). According to the company’s Privacy Policy, it collects and holds, among other things, User Content (“This includes documents or any other content provided by you while using our website or apps”). Elsewhere, the company claims that it “never keep[s] the user’s work”:
 
“We run thousands of analysis requests every day, the data is sent to our servers to be processed but it is never stored on our servers. We give you our word as fellow writers. 
    Your documents are created and uploaded to your account, but you are the only one who has access to them.”
 
In its Privacy Policy, ProWritingAid claims to not “sell, trade, or otherwise transfer to outside parties your personally identifiable information.” The few exceptions to this rule include the disclosure “Non-personally identifiable visitor information may be provided to other parties for marketing, advertising, or other uses.”
 
 
Pedagogy
In its advertising, ProWritingAid appeals to the desires of many student and novice writers: the tool promises to “make the writing process quicker and easier” while ensuring students get good grades (“it’s a grades-saving grammar checker”). Make sure your students understand that learning how to write can be a challenging task that requires time and effort, and that no Premium subscription to any writing tool can guarantee a high grade. 

Experiments

In Experiments, we test the various capacities of the tool’s features, including its ability to handle more than template-like writing. 

Reading Room

Not much research has been published on the use of ProWritingAid in tertiary teaching of writing. If you come across any good material, we would like to hear from you!
 
 
Benzie, H.J., & Harper, R. (2019) Developing student writing in higher education: digital third-party products in distributed learning environments. Teaching in Higher Education,1-15. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2019.1590327
 
Dale, R. (2016) Checking in on grammar checking. Natural Language Engineering 22(3), 491-495. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1351324916000061
 
McGee, T., & Ericsson, P. (2002) The Politics of the Program: MS WORD as the Invisible Grammarian. Computers and Composition 19, 453-70. https://doi.org/10.1016/S8755-4615(02)00142-1
 
Perelman, L. (2016) Grammar Checkers Do Not Work. WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship 40(7-8), 11-19.
 
Thiesmeyer E., & Thiesmeyer, J. (2014) Comparing Grammar Checkers: Holding Grammar Scammers’ Feats to the Fire. Serenity Softwarehttp://www.serenity-software.com/pages/comparisons.html

Technical Specs

Title
ProWritingAid*
Website
Type of help offered
Checks for spelling & grammar issues and suggests style improvements; checks for plagiarism
Platform
online; Desktop App (Windows; Mac)
Cost
free (basic); Premium at USD 10 per month; Premium Plus (includes Plagiarism check) from USD 14 per month, with comparatively cheaper lifetime and annual subscriptions available
Function
Corrective as well as developmental
Method
Rule and pattern-recognition algorithms; knowledge of human editors on common language errors
User interface
Can be overwhelming due to number of language-checking options and complexity of reports
Related sources
Browser plug-ins
Chrome; Firefox; Safari
Integrations
MS Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, Open Office Writer
First released
2012
Developer
Chris Banks
Support service
A virtual Helpdesk with questions and answers; social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
 
* Disclaimer: This website and its resources were created in the first half of 2019, based on the most recent broadly available versions of each tool at the time. Technology changes too rapidly for us to capture the details of each new version. For example, in mid-July 2019, ProWritingAid acquired new looks and upgraded functionality. Here we address more lasting issues: the overall accuracy of algorithm-based corrections vs a human mind; the invisible ideological and linguistic influence exerted by our writing tools on our minds; the pedagogical and ethical implications of using each tool for (teaching) writing.