Recently, a friend told me she has to submit all of her written assignments for her online class to Grammarly, a program that scans writing for grammatical errors.
Her anecdote reminded me of my days as a Writing Center consultant. While painstakingly showing writers proper grammar usage through textbook examples, I heard rumblings there was a computer program that did virtually the same thing, and for less pay.
I never feared being outsourced, though, because Grammarly kind of sucks at its job.
Grammarly is a drama queen. Upon running my final research paper for ENG 601 through the program, I’m greeted with red text that says I have “15 critical writing issues.” The paper gets a 65 out of 100 (whatever that means), and it’s classified as “weak” and “needing revision.”
My professor for ENG 601 must have really been slipping. His meticulous grading style involved offering comments on nearly every line of every assignment, but he didn’t find any grammatical issues in my research paper. Maybe he got drunk before reading my paper, ignored all of my missing commas and just slapped an A on it.
But that really doesn’t sound like him, so I think I’ll give him the benefit of a doubt over a computer program that wants me to sign up for a free trial to see all of my egregious grammatical errors. Much like a shady car mechanic offering a ten-page-long car repair estimate, Grammarly uses scare tactics to encourage subscriptions.
I guess Grammarly sounds like a useful editing tool, and I can see why overworked professors would rather have a computer check for missing commas in their huge piles of essays, but it seems like the program is just encouraging laziness and a lack of critical thinking for the students.
As a student, if I know there’s a program out there that claims to fix all of my sentence-level writing errors, I’m going to be more tempted to vomit a bunch of incoherent content on a page and just hope the machine will fix that for me, too. Also, since my professor is standing behind this program, I wouldn’t be tempted to question the validity of its edits.
Even if Grammarly explains grammatical rules, students aren’t going to spend extra time committing them to memory, since the program will fix the same mistakes, without judgment, the next time around.
Perhaps Grammarly is a result of a society that emphasizes finished products over the quality of production. By extension, using proper grammar in papers is becoming as rote of a process as plunking in an equation into a calculator.
Maybe written language will eventually devolve into text speak, and knowing how to use grammar will not be necessary. If this ever occurs, programs like Grammarly can be blamed for their own obsolescence.