Grammarly: the Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation Checker

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Working Lunch
Working Lunch (Complete photo credits are located at the end of this article.)

Introduction — English is the Most Popular Language Among Internet Users and Business Professionals

Did you know that one out of every four people speaks English at some level?  If you consider that — at last count — the total human population surpassed seven billion, that means 1.75 billion people are walking around out there with at least some understanding of the English language!  Particularly in the technical and professional arenas, English reigns supreme as the most popular medium for facilitating communication.1,2

A study conducted in 2010 by MiniWatts Marketing Group, which analyzed the top ten internet languages, ranked English at no. 1 with 5.65 million (or twenty-seven percent of) users conversing in the language.3 Similarly, two years later Education First Ltd. released a study which concluded that English will remain the preferred language for business communications for the foreseeable future.In an October 2012 article which cited this study, Dorie Clark — author, marketing strategist consultant, and frequent contributor to Forbes as well as the Harvard Business Review — pointed out that: ” … [E]ven in powerhouse China, more people are currently studying English than in any other country. An incredible 100,000 native English speakers are currently teaching there.”5

China: This instructor is teaching a middle school class in English. (Photo by Rex Pe)
China: This instructor is teaching a middle school class in English.

Shèng niú! … Err, I mean Holy cow!

It would seem the jury is in: if English is the language of choice for our increasingly globalized interactions, then learning English is absolutely essential for people who want to get ahead!  But, apparently being conversant in the language is not enough for professionals in today’s world.  In a June, 2012, article for The Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger interviewed a variety of managers who asserted that a lack of proficiency in English is just bad for business, writing: ” … [L]ooseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say.”6

This certainly poses a problem in an age where more and more people are choosing to interact through casual emails, tweets and other informal social media.  The lack of polish inherent in these fast and loose everyday communications — replete with hashtags (#), ampersands (&), and descriptive acronyms (e.g., LOL and OMG) — seems to be seeping into our business correspondences, as well.  And this is the case for native English speakers!

The problems faced by non-proficient English Second Language (or, “ESL”) professionals are different but no less detrimental, as grammatically incorrect and confusing business communications are more likely to result from direct correspondence.  Since translation software applications are dodgy at best, non-proficient English language learners who opt to communicate in their native tongues instead must hire human translators to convey their wishes to English speaking associates.  However, in addition to the aggravation of always having to rely on an intermediary, this option is certainly not the best choice in terms of cost-effectiveness.

Consider the hypothetical scenario of an English-speaking chief acquisitions officer for a multi-national conglomerate, who receives an email from the heads of three smaller companies, proposing a sit-down to discuss a merger.  One is well-written in a professional tone; another contains virtually the same message, but is written by a novice ESL learner (who has not mastered the subtleties of the English language) resulting in an embarrassingly dubious inquiry; the last is written using casual and unprofessional English, such as you might expect to see in an informal text message:

Poorly Written Business Inquiry (Native):

Whaddup dawg!!

Tryna hook up mah peeps wit yo peeps so’s we can ALL be peeps!!!

Holla back, beeotch!

Poorly Written Business Inquiry (ESL):

Dearly eminence,

Letz mix companies, and then we’re can haz good relations toogether for money!

Cant waiting to be yours,

Well Written Business Inquiry (Native or ESL):

Dear Sir/Madam,

I believe that our two companies could have a mutually beneficial relationship, and I would like to meet with you at your convenience so that we may discuss the specifics of my proposition.

Sincerely yours,

— It doesn’t take much deductive reasoning to predict which of these three messages the CAO is most likely to have a favorable response towards!

Does this mean that native English speaking and ESL professionals with poor grammar will never be taken seriously in today’s linguistically haughty corporate world?  At least until they are able to raise their speaking and writing skills to an acceptable degree, that seems very likely.  But for those unskilled in the subtle yet sublime mechanics of English style and technique (i.e., people who aren’t snobs), there may be a less arduous and comparatively speedy alternative to enrolling in summer school: Grammarly.

Enter Grammarly: The (Cloud-Powered) Spelling, Grammar, Punctuation & Plagiarism Checker

It may seem implausible, but the prayers of grammatically challenged students and professionals everywhere may have been answered by — wait for it — two non-native English speakers from Ukraine!  (Seriously.) In 2009, twenty-eight year olds Alex Shevchenko and Max Lytvyn launched the internet start-up Grammarly, a company centered around the Amazon EC2 cloudpowered English writing-enhancement platform of the same name.  This browser-run software boasts the ability to correct over 250 common grammar mistakes, check for spelling errors, offer contextually sensitive vocabulary guidance (e.g., there, their, they’re) and even cross-check for plagiarism.

Shevchenko and Lytvyn hold Masters of Business Administration, or MBAs — from the University of Toronto and Vanderbilt University, respectively — though both completed their undergraduate studies in Europe (Shevchenko in Austria and Lytvyn in Ukraine).  That two non-native English learners could achieve so much success by assisting others in pursuit of written English proficiency is impressive enough, but another individual who joined the venture two years after Grammarly launched has also contributed to the company’s meteoric rise:

San Francisco, CA — home of the world-famous cable car (i.e., trolley) transit system — is where Grammarly Inc.'s U.S. headquarters is located. (Photo by Alfonso Jimenez)
San Francisco, CA — home of the world-famous cable car (i.e., trolley) transit system — is where Grammarly Inc.’s U.S. headquarters is located.

In 2011, Grammarly became Grammarly Inc., and venture capitalist Brad Hoover — a North Carolina native with a background in engineering — became chief executive officer after seeking Shevchenko and Lytvyn out on his own initiative.  Hoover had stumbled upon Grammarly quite by accident, while surfing the web for a more robust proofreading tool to use on his own writing.  Since joining the team, the American-born CEO has taken his adopted company beyond the confines of Kiev, opening up an additional headquarters in San Francisco, CA, where he spearheads Grammarly Inc.’s laudable quest to perfect the written word with software.7,8 Additionally, Hoover has helped double his company’s market share every year like clockwork, successfully targeting student and professional demographics, as well as by courting large power users such as educational institutions and corporate enterprises.9

Whether or not the company can sustain this rate of growth for long is debatable.  And yet, it cannot be denied that Grammarly has become one of the more popular programs of its kind, claiming over three million subscribers in the few short years since two Ukrainian twenty-somethings launched from humble beginnings.  To date, the company also has over a million ‘likes’ on Facebook, and twenty-six thousand followers on Twitter.10,11

A major contributing factor to Grammarly’s success is its versatility, and the application employs sophisticated algorithms that work in tandem to emulate a variety of editing styles.  These genre specific (digital) editorial personalities can be fine-tuned by users as their written works are analyzed using academic, business, technical and/or creative writing parameters.  Additionally, subscribers may have their works checked for plagiarism violations, and Grammarly even makes recommendations for proper citation if duplicate content is identified.

Student essays?  Check.  Professional articles for the American Journal of Medicine?  No problem!  Whether you’re a high school freshman, a Nobel Prize winning chemist, or the reincarnation of Ernest Hemingway — Grammarly has got you covered.

How Does Grammarly Work?

Grammarly exists “in the cloud” — i.e., software does not download to a user’s computer.  Rather, subscribers with an internet connection may choose between employing a plug-in that links with the Microsoft Office Suite, or upload text directly to an editor window on the Grammarly Inc. homepage.  That way, the enormous processing power required to perform detailed analyses of written works is handled entirely by the company’s internal servers, without having to place a heavy tax on client computers’ system resources.

After the application has finished assessing a written work for grammatical errors, misspellings, contextually incorrect vocabulary usage and plagiarism, it presents a list detailing each suggested revision.  Improper sentence structure and other common mistakes are highlighted in red, and the program even provides relevant examples demonstrating proper usage for writers to learn from.  Thumbs up/down buttons are also included, to provide feedback to Grammarly about which tips are helpful.

Hoover attributes much of the program’s success thus far to the power of cloud-computing.  In a November, 2012, blog post by Don Tennant for IT Business Edge, the Grammarly Inc. CEO is quoted as saying:

” …The reality is our algorithms are incredibly computationally intensive, and cannot be run on most, if any, laptops and desktops today.  With the emergence of the cloud, we’re able to run much, much larger machines on demand, which allows us to run these powerful algorithms in a relatively cost-effective way.”(Re: 8)

How Much Does Grammarly Cost?

Grammarly Inc. offers a free 7-day trial membership (see link), where people may test the application in order to determine whether or not they find it helpful.  If so, the company extends an offer to individual users who would like to subscribe with monthly ($29.95), quarterly ($59.95), or annual payment ($139.95) options.  A discounted rate is also offered to bulk users such as schools, government institutions and corporate enterprises.

Although this pricing structure seems intimidating, it may actually be cheaper in the long run.  As Cheryl Conner writes in an October, 2012, article for Forbes: “More than two thirds of salaried jobs require a significant amount of writing, yet top organizations are spending $3 billion per year on remedial training for employees to bring their writing ability up to even a baseline standard.” When you consider the staggering amount of money that corporations are prepared to spend in order to improve their employees’ English skills, it’s hard to interpret the title of her article as an exaggeration: i.e., “I Don’t Tolerate Poor Grammar”.(Re: 7)

Moreover, according to the 14th annual edition of the indispensable freelance writers’ reference manual Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition (2014), the average going rate for a proofreader is $30/hr, or $3.09/page.  General business copy editors charge anywhere from $61 to $125 per hour, and large-scale corporations looking to hire out-of-house writers to compile their annual reports may pay as much as $15,000 for the service!12 With numbers like that, it’s not hard to see how a Grammarly subscription might start to look like an attractive alternative.  Like the CEO for Grammarly Inc. himself writes in a March, 2013, blog post for the Harvard Business Review: “Good grammar is simply good business.”13

Try Grammarly’s text-editor for free:

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Resources

  1. Neeley, T. Global business speaks English [Internet]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review; 2012 May [cited 2014 Mar 1]. Available from:http://hbr.org/2012/05/global-business-speaks-english/ar/1
  2. U.S. and world population clock [Internet]. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce / United States Census Bureau; constantly updating [cited 2014 Mar 1]. Available from: https://www.census.gov/popclock/
  3. Internet World users by language – top 10 languages [Internt]. Bogota, Columbia: Miniwatts Marketing Group; (page last update on) 2014 Jan 10 [cited 2014 Mar 1]. Available from: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm
  4. Education First – English Proficiency Index (EF ERI) 2013 [Internet]. EF Ltd.: Lucerne Switzerland; circa 2012 [cited 2014 Mar 1]. Available from:http://www.ef.edu/epi/downloads/
  5. Clark, D. English – the language of global business? [Internet]. New York, NY:Forbes; 2012 Oct 26 [cited 2014 Mar 1]. Available from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/dorieclark/2012/10/26/english-the-language-of-global-business/
  6. Shellenbarger, S. This embarrasses you and I* – grammar gaffes invade the office in an age of informal email, texting and twitter [Internet]. New York, NY:The Wall Street Journal; (page last updated on) 2012 Jun 20 [cited 2014 Mar 1]. Available from: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303410404577466662919275448?mod=WSJ_article_MoreIn_CareersMain&mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702303410404577466662919275448.html%3Fmod%3DWSJ_article_MoreIn_CareersMain
  7. Conner, C. I don’t tolerate poor grammar [Internet]. New York, NY: Forbes; 2012 Oct 10 [cited 2014 Feb 24]. Available from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2012/10/21/i-dont-tolerate-poor-grammar/
  8. Tennant, D. How cloud power is improving written English [Internet]. Louisville, KY: IT Business Edge; 2012 Nov 5 [cited 2014 Feb 24]. Available from: http://www.itbusinessedge.com/blogs/from-under-the-rug/how-cloud-power-is-improving-written-english.html
  9. Cain, J. Grammarly creates digital proofreader [Internet]. San Francisco, CA:San Francisco Business Times; 2013 Sep 6 [cited 2014 Mar 1]. Available from: http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/print-edition/2013/09/06/grammarly-creates-digital-proofreader.html?page=all
  10. Brewer, R.L. (Ed.). (2013). 2014 Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition. Gerogetown, Ontario: Writer’s Digest Books. [ISBN: 0084-2729]
  11. Hoover, B. Good grammar should be everyone’s business [Internet]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review; 2013 Mar 4 [cited 2014 Mar 2]. Available from: http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/03/good-grammar-should-be-everyon/

Photo Credits

  1. ‘Typing on MacBook Pro’ (Working Lunch). Source: Jacob BøtterCC-BY 2.0, via Flickr. 2012 Jan 6 [cited 2014 Mar 1]. Available from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jakecaptive/6647315131/
  2. ‘teaching a middle school class’ (China: This instructor is teaching a middle school class in English). Source: Rex Pe, CC-BY 2.0 (see No.1 for link), via Flickr. 2006 Sep 18 [cited 2014 Mar 1]. Available from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/goldendragon613/250121409/
  3. ‘Cable car’ [San Francisco, CA — home of the world-famous cable car (i.e., trolley) transit system — is where Grammarly Inc.’s U.S. headquarters is located.]. Source: Alfonso JimenezCC-BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr. 2010 Feb 17 [cited 2014 Mar 1]. Available from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alfonsojimenez/4364570914/
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