SEMA News—September 2020
AI-Powered Writing Assistants
A Genius on Your Shoulder
New AI-powered writing assistants go far beyond correcting your spelling and grammar.
One of the greatest strengths of writing-assistant software powered by artificial intelligence (AI) is that the packages go far beyond simply correcting spelling and making sure grammar is just right. In many ways, using such assistants is like getting a second opinion on everything you write from a good friend who happens to have a PhD in English from Harvard.
For example, Grammarly Business—one of the most popular assistants of this type—polishes your spelling and grammar, of course, but it also judges anything you write based on its clarity, engagement and delivery. Grammarly will also customize the way it judges your writing based on the writing tone you’re going for, be it confident, joyful, optimistic, friendly, urgent, analytic or respectful.
If you’re looking for a business style of writing one day and then a style that’s more academic, technical, casual or creative the next, Grammarly will adjust its coaching accordingly. In a phrase, Grammarly and its close competitors offer you the ability analyze your writing—nearly down to the molecular level—from all sorts of perspectives. In the end, any one of these types of packages will make you a much better writer.
“Grammarly’s writing assistant aims to help our users learn to be better, more empathetic communicators rather than communicating for them,” said Brad Hoover, Grammarly CEO. “At the end of the day, technology shouldn’t think for you—it should help you think better.”
That added edge comes in especially handy for business users. Many people responding to work emails often view the blank response page with trepidation. In fact, three out of five people said that they’ve been embarrassed by an email they’ve sent while at work, according to a 2019 Grammarly survey (www.grammarly.com/blog/workplace-email-report). And three out of four business users said that they worry the emails they send may be misconstrued.
While there are scores of AI-powered writing assistants on the market to help assuage those fears, the top three packages currently available are Grammarly Business, ProWritingAid and Ginger, according to peer-to-peer review site G2Crowd (www.g2.com/categories/ai-writing-assistant). G2Crowd is known for its impartiality. It bases its ratings solely on the reviews of its users and refuses to allow paid placements on its website from any software makers.
“Rankings on G2 reports are based on data provided to us by real users,” said Michael Fauscette, the company’s chief research officer. “They represent the voice of the user and offer valuable insights to potential buyers everywhere.”
One caveat regarding relying on AI writing assistants if you plan to publish your work professionally: Even though the most powerful of them are now powered by artificial intelligence, they’re still no match for a human editor when it comes to professional publishing.
AI writing assistants are almost frighteningly skilled at catching writing with a muddled tone, pointing out a word that you’re using improperly or finding a period that’s misplaced even by a smidgin in a sea of text. But those same assistants can also occasionally suggest a word replacement that really does not make sense. They also don’t realize when you’re deliberately breaking a rule of grammar for effect, and they sometimes simply strike out when it comes to finding a word that’s being used improperly.
That’s why, even after you’ve used an AI writing assistant, not running your copy by a seasoned, flesh-and-blood human editor before you decide to publish professionally is like showing up at work without pants. It’s just something you don’t want to do.
That said, however, once you start using an AI-powered writing assistant, you will most likely find that you’ll never want to look back. After all, who wouldn’t want a second opinion from a machine possessing the writing depth and perception of a Harvard english professor?
In fact, the author of this article personally began using an AI writing assistant a few months ago. And I have to say that the AI always catches something in my writing—and usually a few things—that needs correcting or could be written more eloquently.
If you’re looking to improve your own writing with AI, here’s how the top three packages stack up, as rated on G2Crowd:
Grammarly (www.grammarly.com), $139.95 per year, 4.6/5 G2Crowd rating: As noted, this is one of the most popular AI writing assistants available. Like its competition, Grammarly is a black belt at finding errors in grammar and spelling, and it’s designed to highlight even the most granular inconsistencies, such as when your quotes appear in two different fonts or when you’re misusing basic words.
But that’s only the beginning.
The software is also superb at pointing out words that you’re overusing and suggesting alternatives. Plus, it will take a close look at the clarity, engagement and delivery in your writing and suggest ways to improve all three.
You can also modulate Grammarly to score your writing based on the audience you’re targeting. For example, Grammarly recommends a set of specific words and phrase choices if you’re writing for an audience already knowledgeable about a specific topic, but those recommendations may change markedly if you calibrate Grammarly to analyze writing geared to an audience with only general knowledge of your topic or to an audience new to your topic.
Grammarly will also adjust its analysis of your writing based on the tone or writing style you’re going for, as noted above.
(Full disclosure: Grammarly happens to be the AI assistant software I use, given that it has the features that I value most. But other writers may favor another top software package, based on their own
Here are excerpts from two reviews of Grammarly on G2Crowd:
- “It outperformed Microsoft Word in correcting and discovering errors, which makes it worth the investment if you are worried about details on your writing.”
- “It is impossible to dislike Grammarly.”
ProWritingAid (www.prowritingaid.com), $70 per year, 4.4/5 G2Crowd rating: Another top contender, ProWritingAid also aces all your spelling and grammar concerns, and it makes suggestions about sentence structure, overused words, clichés and repeated phrases.
The package is also a relentless stickler for consistency. It will check very carefully to ensure that your spelling, punctuation and hyphenation adhere to a singular style, and it will continually coach you to use sentences that vary in length—a hallmark of engaging writing.
ProWritingAid also gratefully pulls the covers on bloviators—people who relish the use of overly complex sentences when a simple phrase is the ticket.
The software is also great at red-flagging your use (and overuse) of acronyms, and every piece of writing you run through ProWritingAid is also measured against the Flesch Reading Ease Score, ensuring that your prose stays out of the clouds.
Some users of ProWritingAid complain that the software’s analysis of writing is so complex that it’s overkill, but if you’re a word lover, the software’s enthusiastic analysis of every nook and cranny of your writing may be just what you’re after.
Here are excerpts from two reviews of ProWritingAid on G2Crowd:
- “As you work, you are able to easily find errors, since the program will let you know if there are any inconsistencies, or if the story isn’t transiting well, or even the level of education the reader must have to comprehend the story.”
- “ProWritingAid not only suggests repairs to content I’ve already written, but it has also made me a better writer. I now am more conscious of bad habits like passive verbs and long sentences, so I don’t write them in the first place.”
Ginger (www.gingersoftware.com), $149 annually, 4.4/5 G2Crowd rating: A spelling and grammar whiz like the rest, Ginger adds sparkle to your writing by offering synonyms you may want to use for commonly employed words. Ginger is also programmed to offer you alternate, completely rephrased sentences if you’re stuck and wish you had a way to say something a new and different way.
Another major benefit: Ginger will also read your text aloud. It’s a method that has been handed down through the ages as a surefire way to ensure that the expression of your thoughts is natural and accessible.
Ginger is great for people whose second language is English. For example, it comes with an English trainer module that enables you to practice writing in English. You’re given suggestions to strengthen your writing, and you’ll also be pointed to onboard lessons that will help you avoid the same mistakes. Ginger enables you to auto-translate anything you write into 50 languages.
Here are excerpts from two reviews of Ginger on G2Crowd:
- “There is really nothing I dislike with this software.”
- “I loved how its recommendations seemed like they came from a human/native English speaker.”
Still other top writing assistant packages you may want to check out according to another software review website, Capterra (www.capterra.com/proofreading-software), include WhiteSmoke (www.whitesmoke.com), Online Correction (www.capterra.com/p/179768/onlinecorrection-com) and Hemingway (www.hemingwayapp.com).
Bottom line: While finding the “best” AI writing assistant, software does hinge on personal preferences, using any top-rated software in this genre is going to make you a better, more confident writer. It’s also fitting to get acquainted with these relatively new AI tools. As the years go by, AI writing assistants will not only get better and more sophisticated but are also going to give you an ever-increasing edge over someone who’s out there writing without a net.
Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.