In this age of automation, some would have us believe that proofreaders are at risk of replacement by automated "proofreading" services like Grammarly. You have probably had some frustrating experiences with spell check and grammar check in Microsoft Word, which should tell you all you need to know about computerised proofing: that it does not work reliably.
"Hold on," you might say. "Grammarly is more than a simple spelling and grammar checker, right?" Apparently so: Grammarly claims to be an "automated proofreader and personal grammar coach". That such a thing is available for free (or a small fee for the full package) sounds too good to be true. Well, how does that old saying go?
Language blog Grammarist wrote a revealing article on the limitations of Grammarly's services. The digital "proofreader" was no better than Word in correcting spelling and grammatical errors, and it fails more often than not to pick up on misplaced words. Highlights from the article include the following failures by Grammarly:
- It did not correct the use of "definately", one of the most common misspellings of "definitely".
- It incorrectly suggested changing "are" to "is" after a plural noun.
- It incorrectly highlighted a complete sentence as a sentence fragment (reminiscent of Word).
- It did not correct the use of an apostrophe (') in making a noun plural.
The article also notes that the plagiarism checker is unreliable and that the program tends not to pick up on differences between American and UK English.
In the interest of fairness, I looked for another source to corroborate this verdict on Grammarly. Good Content Company found that Grammarly was not only inferior to a human proofreader, but to Microsoft Word as well, missing more errors than it caught.
This should be all you need to know about so-called proofreading tools. There is no substitute for a real proofreader, nor is there likely to be in the foreseeable future. 
This is not to say, however, that Grammarly is completely useless. Running your text through Grammarly's free spelling and grammar checker, and correcting some of the most obvious errors, could make life easier for your proofreader. You should, however, take their suggestions with a grain of salt: if they sound wrong, they probably are.

 

The response to my previous article on realising one's potential as a writer was quite positive. I now offer 5 more tips for writers still learning how to discipline themselves and maximise their creative output. 

1. Defend your workspace

If you are living with other people, you will need to set boundaries.  Explain that you work regular hours and need to be left alone to work undistracted. Keep a phone handy so that those close to you can call in the case of emergency; otherwise, they are not to call you. If you have children, it may be necessary to hire a babysitter. Leave your pets outside, unless you actually find them a benefit in your work.

2. Dislodge writer's block

You may at times find that, even if you focus solely on your work for an hour or more, you fail to produce anything. At times like these, allow yourself to leave your desk and do something else; this is done not instead of work, but to facilitate work. You may go to a cafe and observe the interactions there, go for a walk, read an article, or listen to music. The only condition is that you should do something that will stimulate you to write, which makes it distinct from recreation. Save your hobbies for the end of the day, unless they are complementary to your work.

3. Be inspired by the success of others

The natural response to the success of others is envy: you may wish that you were a best-selling novelist or a regular columnist for a prestigious publication. You should fight the urge to resent the success of such people and look at it positively: there are people out there, perhaps less capable than you, who have achieved these goals, largely through perseverance. Let this be your motivation and let their stories guide you to success: if they can endure knockbacks and continue pursuing their goals, so can you. Whether or not you make a best-sellers list, you will be better off for having tried - not just once but multiple times - to make your mark on the world of publication.  

4. Keep momentum

In the previous article I recommended keeping a 9 to 5 schedule. I believe there is an exception to this rule: if you want to continue writing to finish the day's work, do so. Maintaining this momentum will save you time in the long run; it will take longer to regather your thoughts and find the motivation to finish writing later. It still holds true that you should not force yourself to work past your designated hours (unless deadlines require it), as this will tire you out in the long run. Simply allow yourself to do so in accordance with flow.

5. Do not edit while writing 

Some writers may know the temptation to edit your draft while still writing. This is an urge to be resisted. Editing your work - rearranging paragraphs and sentences, rewording sentences and so on - while writing will inevitably cost you momentum. Write until you have finished your first draft, then start editing. If something requires particular attention, make a note of it (or a comment on Word) for later. 

Punctuation causes confusion for many, and consternation for us proofreaders. Full stops and commas are generally well understood. Other marks, however - the colon, semicolon and hyphen - are context-sensitive in use and are often misused. This article will explain and illustrate their proper use. 

Colon (:)  These are used after clauses that are complete sentences in themselves, in order to add additional information such as lists. 

There are three things with which a proofreader can help you: spelling, grammar and punctuation. 

Semicolon (;) These join two independent clauses in a sentence, making it clear that the two ideas are related. Use sparingly; it's all too common to use them where a comma would be more appropriate. 

Some writers use semicolons frequently; some tend to steer clear of them.

Hyphen (-): This mark joins words into compound words (e.g. mother-in-law). The same mark is called a dash when used in a different context - to include ideas that are not essential to understanding the sentence.

Many proofreaders - myself included - wish that knowledge of punctuation were more common.

If you still have any doubts or queries, feel free to contact me.

The above rule, melifluous though it is, has a few exceptions:

I before E, even after C: species, science, sufficient

E before I, not after C: weird, foreign, feisty

Feel free to write in with more.