Share

featured image illustration of proofreading software on a computer screen

If you’re looking for the best proofreading tool on the market, I’ll tell you what it is:

The best proofreading software out there is Grammarly.

But even in 2020, it still has severe limitations.

We at Scribe tested the 8 most popular editing apps on the market in 2020, and none of them could hold a candle to a human proofreader.

But that doesn’t mean proofreading tools are worthless. Not at all.

I highly recommend Grammarly for:

  • Flagging possible grammar mistakes
  • Finding repetitive words and phrases
  • Noticing “picky” details like spacing
  • Highlighting basic style issues
  • Cleaning up your writing before it goes to an editor
  • “Last looks” for typos

I do not recommend Grammarly for:

  • Accepting every suggestion
  • Blindly altering your writing style
  • Skipping a human editor

Why not? Because of writing like this:

“Our team has reviewed and requested our Chrome product team to review the GingerChrome store page again and fix any necessary correction.”

This was an actual comment from the team of the Ginger editing app (not Grammarly), on a negative review of the Ginger Chrome Extension.

As part of our test, we ran their comments through the Ginger app itself, and the app found nothing wrong with it.

Then we ran it through another app. And another. Of all the proofreading apps we tested, most found 0 errors in that sentence.

Even Grammarly, the top performer, only found 2, and one of its suggestions was arguably worse. (I’ll show you those suggestions in the Grammarly review.)

So, before you start using Grammarly, make sure you understand what it is and isn’t good for—in 2020 and beyond.

What Is Proofreading Software?

True editing apps, like Grammarly, apply artificial intelligence (AI) to proofreading.

AI is the science (and art) of programming computers to think and behave like human beings. It’s at the cutting edge of technology, but it has a long way to go.

You might think that Microsoft Word’s spell checker is pretty good—and it is—but it isn’t artificial intelligence. MS Word just checks each word you type against a dictionary.

That’s pretty basic stuff.

Editing apps are far more than spell checkers; they’re true grammar checkers. They’re even style checkers. And those kinds of mistakes are a lot harder to find than spelling errors.

Why? Because grammatical errors depend on context.

Here’s an example:

If I write, “It was the best of time, it was the worst of time,” you know right away that “time” is missing an “s.”

A spell checker wouldn’t flag it because “time” is in the dictionary. The word exists, it’s just being used incorrectly.

Human beings see issues like that immediately because our brains are wired for language. But teaching a computer to do the same thing is far more complicated than you might imagine.

In fact, it’s so complicated that even the best proofreading app doesn’t do it very well.

That’s why a good proofreading app needs to explain each flagged issue, simply and clearly, to help you decide how (or even whether) to follow the suggestion.

The 5 Types of Proofreading Tools

There are 5 different types of proofreading tools, most of which can be useful to professional Authors. All 5 of them check for spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and style choices, but they’re used in different places.

1. Chrome Extensions

Proofreading extensions for Chrome or other browsers (like Firefox or Safari), evaluate your writing no matter where you go on the web. If you’re typing online, they watch what you type and offer suggestions.

You can install these like any other browser extension, and they add writing tools to your browser that check spelling, grammar, and style.

If you write in Google Docs, you’ll need more than a Chrome extension. You’ll need a grammar tool that integrates directly with the Google Docs app.

2. Online Proofreading Tools

Website apps

Free online proofreading apps are websites that offer a simple text box where you can paste limited amounts of text to check it for spelling, grammar, and style.

They’re free, but you get what you pay for. The ones we tested ranged from bad to terrible.

Full-service online apps

Some services (like Grammarly) offer true web apps, akin to Google Docs, that let you write and save documents in your own cloud space.

They include a full range of built-in proofreading tools, but their formatting tools are limited. For professional manuscript formatting, I recommend writing in MS Word with a Grammarly addon.

3. Mobile Apps

These are keyboard extensions for phones and tablets that automatically check your writing on every text and tweet.

If you write on an iOS or Android tablet in a mobile word processor, you’ll want a mobile proofreading app.

4. MS Word Add-ons

For writers who compose on MS Word, proofreading addons provide grammar and style suggestions right in your Word documents as you type.

If you write in MS Word, this will be your best choice, but these addons only work on MS Office for Windows. Apple users will need to use a desktop app.

5. Desktop Apps for Mac and Windows

Desktop proofreading software provides a native word processor that’s designed for proofreading and editing.

Most of these apps don’t have great formatting options, so I recommend writing in MS Word even if you use a desktop app for editing.

If you don’t have access to an MS Office add-on, you can open any .docx file in a desktop proofreading app to check it.

The Best Proofreading Tools & Editing Software

1. Grammarly

Grammarly is far and away the best proofreading and editing tool on the market. It offers:

  • Browser extensions
  • A full-service online app
  • Mobile apps
  • An MS Office add-on for Windows
  • Desktop apps for Mac and Windows

It even has a Google Docs integration, but this is a newer offering that seems less robust than the others. It let me type “I eats the pudding” without any complaints, even though the browser extension flagged it correctly.

The MS Office add-on doesn’t work on a Mac, but the desktop app lets you drag and drop a .docx file to open it in the app and check your writing.

The Chrome extension and desktop app were extremely easy to install, and Grammarly’s features (which work the same way across every version) made it the clear winner:

  • It has the smartest AI (and best proofreading flags) of every app we tested
  • One-click suggestions make it easy to accept good changes
  • The clean, intuitive interface requires almost no learning time
  • You can filter the suggestions by category with one click
  • There’s even a “Change-all” option for pervasive errors

Basic suggestions are free, with advanced grammar suggestions (including tone) in paid plans:

  • Premium Version: $139.92 per year
  • Business Version: $180 per member, per year

Caveat of Grammarly

1. Internet requirement

Grammarly has to be connected to the Internet to work, even with the desktop app. That’s because the AI “lives” in the cloud, not in the app that sits on your desktop.

If the app can’t communicate with the AI, it can’t understand what you’re typing.

2. The AI is still learning

Grammarly was the smartest app we tested, but that only says so much.

For our sample text:

“Our team has reviewed and requested our Chrome product team to review the GingerChrome store page again and fix any necessary correction.”

The Grammarly desktop app suggested:

“Our team has reviewed and requested our Chrome product team to discuss the GingerChrome store page again and fix any necessary corrections.”

This isn’t much better. But I’ll let you in on a secret: this is a very hard test for any proofreading AI system.

Why? Because it probably wasn’t written by a native English speaker. “Fix any necessary correction”? Nobody would say that. The construction is just too strange.

Which is exactly the problem.

AI systems get smarter with feedback. They learn which suggestions people did or didn’t accept, and they adjust future suggestions based on that information.

But mistakes that native speakers would never make are, by definition, very rare, so the system doesn’t see them often enough to learn from them.

That’s why we chose this as a test: to push the proofreading AI’s to the limit of their capability.

The fact that Grammarly made any sense of it was impressive.

2. ProWriting Aid

ProWriting Aid was the only other app we tested that had a chance against Grammarly. It works with:

  • Chrome
  • Google Docs
  • MS Office (in Windows)
  • Scrivener
  • Desktop app

Not surprisingly, it also needs an internet connection to work. Powerful AIs need powerful computers. They live in the cloud on fast, dedicated servers and work with your computer (or phone) remotely.

It also doesn’t work with MS Office on Apple, just like Grammarly.

But in the battle of ProwritingAid vs. Grammarly, this one lost because:

  • It offered fewer one-click fixes
  • The interface was not as clean
  • Navigation was not as intuitive
  • The suggestions were not presented as well
  • Extra features, like reports, cluttered the screen without being useful

3. Hemingway App

We included the Hemingway App in our test because it appeared in other articles on grammar checking software, but it was designed more for bloggers than professional Authors.

And it wasn’t very smart.

The one feature it did have was the ability to work offline, but that’s the tradeoff. If you want an AI that’s smarter than a word processor, you’ll need an Internet connection.

The Hemingway App failed our test because:

  • It does not offer one-click fixes
  • It gives general writing guidance but no specifics
  • It’s designed for WordPress and Medium, not book Authors

It does have a free online tool, but the tool doesn’t save your work. If you get disconnected or you close the tab by accident, you can kiss your work goodbye.

The Hemingway App is good for helping you see things that need to be fixed, but that’s about it.

4. Ginger Software

We loaded the Ginger Chrome extension to give it a try, but the AI didn’t even come close to Grammarly.

These are the folks who wrote our bad test copy, and their own software didn’t correct it.

They did a nice job designing their sales page, but the app doesn’t stand up to the hype.

5. WhiteSmoke

WhiteSmoke is the used car lot of proofreading services.

The sales page extols the virtues of proofreading apps in general, hoping you won’t notice that the “demo” video doesn’t show the product and that they hardly offer any screenshots of the app.

There’s no free version or trial version, and what little you can see of the app doesn’t look great.

This is not the app you’re looking for.

6. PaperRater

PaperRater is a website that’s supposedly designed to help students write papers (not books), but it doesn’t even do that.

  • It doesn’t offer any fixes
  • The “report” is terrible
  • If you click on “advanced analysis,” it takes you to Grammarly

Enough said.

7. LanguageTool

LanguageTool offers add-ons and/or extensions for several browsers and word processors, but the AI just isn’t up to par.

You can try it for yourself for free using the online tool, which does offer one-click changes, but if you hit “undo,” you’ll have to run the check all over again.

It found no errors in our horrible test copy, and it tags people’s names as misspellings.

Hard pass.

8. SlickWrite

The free online version of SlickWrite is reasonably smart when it comes to finding issues, but it’s lousy at fixing them.

It doesn’t offer any suggestions, and the explanations it does offer are far too technical. You won’t understand them unless you already have a solid command of sentence structure, grammar, and style, which largely defeats the purpose of the app.

Final Thoughts

Although it’s far from perfect, Grammarly has a solid place in the professional Author’s arsenal.

It offers a ton of useful features in a simple, clean interface, and it’s the smartest proofreading AI by far when it comes to writing skills.

Authors who want to self-publish (and 99.99% of them should), will still need to hire an editor. But that editing will be faster, smoother, and a lot cheaper if you’ve done everything you can to clean up your writing before you get there.