Correct Grammar, Grammatik 5, PowerEdit. (grammar checkers) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Eddie Huffman, Karen Huffman
Grammar ain't easy for some people. A person might find it hard to say what they mean without making mistake. They can't write a sentence without going on and on, they write more in one Sentence than some people write in a paragraph. Or fragments. It beyond just misspelling wirds. Can't these people get no help from grammar checkers?
Whoever wrote the preceding paragraph clearly needs help. OK, we'll admit it--we deliberately wrote a paragraph chock-full of mistakes to test three grammar checkers. With each of the grammar checkers (Correct Grammar, Grammatik 5, and PowerEdit) on its default setting, we used the paragraph as a test case. Here's a quick rundown of how each performed:
* Correct Grammar noted the nonstandard ain't, pointed out that the third sentence is a run-on, noted that wirds is misspelled, and caught the double negative in the last sentence. However, it missed the problem with pronoun-antecedent agreement in the second sentence (A person/they); the making mistake problem, which could be corrected by either adding an article or making mistake plural; the incorrectly capitalized word Sentence; the fragment after the third sentence; and the absence of a verb between It and beyond.
* Grammatik 5 also noted ain't, wirds, and the double negative, though it missed the run-on sentence. While it did recognize that a verb is missing between It and beyond, it missed all the other things that Correct Grammar missed.
* PowerEdit caught ain't and the lack of the verb. It missed the lack of pronoun-antecedent agreement, making mistake, the run-on sentence, Sentence, the fragment, wirds, and the double negative.
All three proved mediocre, in other words. Those performances jibed with our experience using the grammar checkers on longer, more conventional files. While they can undeniably provide some good advice to casual writers, none of these three grammar checkers performed particularly well. Their features and ease of use varied--with some displaying more annoying traits than others--but none distinguished itself.
All three work from relatively self-explanatory introductory menu screens. (We worked with the DOS versions; all three of the grammar checkers are also available for Windows.) Each offers a helpful tutorial program. All three allow you to check files from a variety of word-processing programs using a variety of writing styles, such as Business, Informal, and Reviewer. You can also create your own customized style in each of the programs. Unfortunately, changing the style in PowerEdit is a complicated, unclear process, requiring multiple choices at multiple levels. Changing the style for Correct Grammar is also complicated, if not as convoluted as it is for PowerEdit. Changing the style for Grammatik 5 proved refreshingly simple.
It was apparent from the installation process that PowerEdit is the least appealing of the three. To begin with, it's a memory monster, requiring 470K of conventional memory and around 1000K of extended or expanded memory. Not that the benefits from such a memory-hungry program are greater: It missed most of the major mistakes in our test paragraph. On a more stringent style setting, PowerEdit caught more mistakes, but it also hung on every other word, making for lots of tedium and only a little good advice. In the test paragraph, for example, it questioned the use of the words some, might, and it. "It" tends to be overused, PowerEdit said. Could you use a word that is more specific or descriptive?
PowerEdit works well using a mouse, though it's difficult to navigate with a keyboard. On the other hand, Grammatik 5 works well with either. There are other ways Grammatik 5 proved user-friendly. It tells you what percentage of the file has been checked as you go along. Although Grammatik 5's suggestions for corrections aren't worded quite as politely as those of the other two, it does show the problematic sentence both in context and in a separate box. Correct Grammar shows the sentence in context but doesn't allow you to scroll back up, while PowerEdit only shows one sentence at a time unless you choose its Display option.
Unlike PowerEdit, both Grammatik 5 and Correct Grammar automatically recheck a sentence after a correction has been made to assure the correction works in context. Correct Grammar's suggestions for corrections are tactfully worded; you're asked to consider making a particular change. Too bad Correct Grammar's Informal style setting doesn't make more of those polite suggestions--it fails to recognize such fundamental distinctions as those between their and there, you're and your, and it's and its.
While all the grammar checkers we tried have significant flaws, Correct Grammar and Grammatik 5 are probably the best two out of three. Any of the three will catch quite a few mistakes you might miss yourself, but all of them are also likely to miss quite a few more. Writers with serious grammar problems may benefit, but most people will probably do well enough own their on. Whoops--make that on their own.