ProWritingAid Review: Short Version
ProWritingAid bills itself as “a grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.” Although it lacks the intelligence of a human editor, it’s darned good at finding weak spots and opportunities to strengthen your writing. It can certainly help you polish your prose.
June 209 update: From now until June 18, pick up a one-year subscription to ProWritingAid, along with about $4000 worth of online courses, books, and other things, as part of this bundle: Write Publish Profit 2.0
Software is a mixed blessing for authors.
Spelling and grammar checkers find certain errors while missing others. They can give writers a false sense of security, but also save us from embarrassing problems. The key is figuring out how to use them, and not relying on them alone.
ProWritingAid is a solid contender in this space. I just gave it a try, and was more impressed than I expected to be. This software is now part of my revision routine.
How I Use It
PC users can embed ProWritingAid as a Word add-on, and Chrome users can use the Chrome extension. Personally, I would rather not have software arguing about using the passive voice when I’m writing in a state of flow. (I’m protective of my writing process.) I use the Web Editor in the revision phase.
Once I have a first draft ready to revise and polish, I open ProWriterAid and paste the text into its Web Editor. When I’m done revising, I can export the file or simply copy and paste it into my blog.
ProWritingAid offers an extensive menu of options:
It’s probably more than you need.
For a Quick Check
If time is short, click on the Real-time menu item at the left to see a quick summary of the most pressing issues.
This menu counts the total number of grammar, style, and spelling issues found. Use it to perform a cursory clean-up of the work.
Don’t accept all of its advice. For example, the software sometimes proposes that I remove commas I feel are necessary for readability.
The Style recommendations need careful filtering as well. For example, a recent blog post generated two different suggestions:
Suggestion: Change “as well as” to “and”
My response: Good idea, thanks!
Suggestion: Get rid of the word that in the following sentence: “The result is a book that is at once informative and inspiring.”
My response: Um, no thanks.
Still, I paid attention to the fact that it flagged the sentence. I replaced the phrase at once with the word both. This edit changed the sentence to: “The result is a book that is both informative and inspiring.”
Once I did that, the style suggestion disappeared.
As with any editor (even human ones), there’s a difference between spotting problems and solving them. The software is good at identifying potential areas of confusion. It may not offer the best suggestions for fixing them.
As the writer, you’re in charge of finding a better way to phrase something.
For example, the product flags every use of the passive voice. Seriously. It’s not a crime, people. (And, amusingly, it reverts to the passive voice in messages like: “Readability may be enhanced by changing x to y.” )
Take the style recommendations with a grain of salt.
If You Have Time to Spend Polishing
If you have more time, you can explore the various menu tabs (Style, Grammar, and more) to polish your prose. These are a few of my favorites:
If you’re revising for the reader’s flow, use the readability report to look for areas that may be difficult to read.
Look at the paragraphs marked as difficult to read and see if you find anything that might confuse a human reader. (If you write for people who may have a different native language, pay attention to these scores.)
We all have words we use too often. Find yours.
Repeats and Echoes
My Revising Your Writing course recommends eliminating word repetitions to sharpen the writing. Finding those repetitions can be onerous. The Repeat menu in ProWritingAid does it for you automatically.
The Repeats menu underlines all repeated words and phrases. It may look confusing, but fear not! On the left menu, a summary identifies those words or phrases that appear multiple times.
The Echoes menu is even more useful. Rather than finding every recurrence of a word, it looks for recurring sentence patterns and phrases. Unless you’re using repetition for a specific effect, these are opportunities to vary your writing.
The Dangers of Relying on Software
If you sign up for ProWritingAid (and I do recommend it), don’t let it derail your revision process. Keep these cautions in mind:
Don’t chase metrics instead of meaning
The Summary tab displays your scores for grammar, style, spelling and more. Check it out. But don’t get caught up trying to achieve a perfect score rather than writing something that serves the reader. Remember, sometimes you need to overrule the software’s recommendations.
Don’t get lost in revising
I could spend hours and hours revising and fine-tuning everything I write. My productivity would plummet. The real challenge is finding a balance.
Overall, ProWritingAid gives me fresh eyes on the work, which is useful when time is short. If I’m disciplined, it saves me time.
Don’t abandon your favorite human editor, but consider using this software to improve your drafts before you enlist a human being.
Consider using ProWritingAid as part of your overall revision process. Check out my online course, Revising Your Writing.