Spelling and Grammar Apps Review

Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, Expresso, and After the Deadline

Some may think that using a grammar or spelling app as a writing tool is akin to using auto-tune as a singer. In a way, you’re bypassing important skills and disciplines of writing, such as having a good handle on the tools and structure of the written language.

Yet, in this day and age, to not use any given tool available would be a foolish move. It can be debated that what is important is the ideas being communicated, and if there is a way to ensure the communication doesn’t get disrupted by spelling and grammar mistakes, shouldn’t we take advantage?

Personally, I’m a proponent of spelling and grammar apps.

First off, writing is not editing. The task of an editor is a complete shift in the creation process. In a short timeline, it’s sometimes hard for a writer to make that transition. As a writer, you would want to have another set of eyes — even robot eyes — to have a look at your work before you share with your company. Additionally, writers who don’t use these apps still have access to them. It’s like walking instead of taking the bus. Yes, walking is healthier for you and you might save a few dollars, but the bus is still an option. You are by no means a hero.

With all that off my chest, I would like to share 4 free online spelling and grammar tool with you. And as a bonus, I will give a little review of them, showing off what they are capable of.

A Paragraph with A Lot of Writing Errors

In order for me to evaluate the apps, I needed a sample with as many types of errors I can think of. Inspired by the city I live in, I wrote the most heinous paragraph ever. Which, it may come as a surprise was actually pretty hard to do. Give it a try, try to purposely write a paragraph with some spelling and grammar mistakes.  

This is what I came up with:

They’re is a lot to see in Vancouver. Lets explore what there is to do. If your traveling hear on a sunny day, I recommend you go to stanley park. This park is bigger and better. It’s a beautiful place. The sea wall is enjoyed by runners and joggers every day. In the park, you can find a nice field to relax and bring a picnic to have with a friend or you can even go to the aquarium or take the horse-drawn carriage and tour the whole park. There is a much more to do in Vancouver. A historic neighbourhood, you can go to is Gastown. On a busy day there are to many tourist but if you go during off season you don’t have to worry about that people. However don’t wander aimlessly too far east or you might end up in Downtown Eastside. I insure you, that it is not where you want to be.

This is the best (and the worst) I can do apparently. Let me know what you think and if I have missed any other notable errors.

4 Spelling and Grammar Apps

Now that I have a sample, I’m going to start plugging it into the apps and websites to see what results I get.

PolishMyWriting.com (After the Deadline)

I pasted the paragraph into the text box and clicked “Check Writing” and a bunch of squiggly lines appeared beneath some of the words and phrases.

As you can see, PolishMyWriting.com missed a lot of spelling errors and the run on sentences, but picked up on complex phrases and words that could be omitted. Sort of…

Overall, this app is good for final touch ups after a more thorough edit. It missed a lot of mistakes and definitely won’t save you from embarrassment if you are relying solely on it to fix your first draft.

Hemingway App

The first notable insight that the Hemingway app provided is the readability score. As you can see, my horrible paragraph would be accessible to a third grade audience.

This app did a good job catching all the extraneous words and run-on sentences, but missed all the spelling errors. This app is definitely not a spell check and should not be relied on as such.

If you are writing content for a wide audience and want your ideas to be communicated as clearly as possible, then the Hemingway App is a great product to help you achieve that.

Grammarly

Of all the apps I’m reviewing today, Grammarly is perhaps the most popular. It’s worth mentioning that I am not looking at any of the paid versions, I am only reviewing the free version.

And here is how I feel about it:

Grammarly did a good job catching most of the spelling errors and punctuation mistakes, but was not helpful in catching passive voice, run-on sentences or vague descriptions.

If what you want from a spelling and grammar app is to double check your work as you move quickly through your draft, then Grammarly is a fantastic choice and has been one of my favourite tools.

Expresso App

The Expresso App is an interesting product because it is not designed to help you correct errors but help you understand certain trends that might be appearing in your writing.

This app has a lot of details and can be a little confusing to use especially if you are not too confident with spelling or grammar in the first place. I recommend clicking into each category individually and understanding why this word or phrase is highlighted. Not every highlight is a suggestion to change, it’s more or less just telling you why it’s noted for you to consider.

Paste some of your writing in and see if you can spot any notable and you get to decide how you want to use that information. Good luck.

There you have it, those are 4 free spelling and grammar apps that can assist you as you write. My personal favourite is Grammarly because they offer a Chrome Plugin. What’s yours?

Are there other apps or tools that you are using? I’d love to check it out. Please share.

For more tips on editing your writing, check out this YouTube playlist: Editing Your Epic Novel

How to Write a Page-turner like Game of Thrones and Goosebumps

Have you ever read a Goosebump book by R.L. Stine? Maybe when you were a kid? Remember how they were structured? At the end of every chapter, there is a cliffhanger. You know, to keep your young mind reading.

R.L. Stine was a master at doing this, however, as we got older, we became more suspect — you can only trick us so many times with a “sound coming from behind a door” page-turning trick, and have it turn out to be a cat or something else inconsequential.

Example:

Last line in Chapter 26: I suddenly felt a chill. A dark shadow slid over me. And I realized I wasn’t alone in the house.

 

First paragraphs of Chapter 27: I spun around with a gasp.

Was it Shockro? Some other scary creature?

A tall figure leaned over me. I squinted in the darkness, struggling to see his face.

“Dad?”  I cried as he came into focus. “Dad I’m so glad to see you.”

-Shocker on Shock Street – RL Stine

goosebumps

You can do better. Yes, better than RL Stine.

When you write your compelling story, you can structure it in much of the same way as a Goosebump book. A cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. However, not every cliffhanger should be life or death. There needs to be a variety. You need to balance it.

 

The 10-Episode Structure

The structure I want to share with you today is taken from modern day 10-episode-seasons-television series, such as Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad.

At the end of every one of these episodes, you get emotionally invested. You have to keep watching. It’s not even a question. However, the only reason that you are emotionally attached to the story is that each chapter or episode itself has a Freytag’s pyramid to build up the tension.

When it is done well and when you reach the end — call it a cliffhanger or call it a hook, either way — you are hanging on until the very end of the season (for an ultimate hook that gets you anticipating the next one).

So like a novel, a television season has a story arch. From episode 1 to episode 10, John Snow or Walter White goes through an inevitable and surprising change.

What’s interesting is the way each episode when pulled out of the rest, can be analyzed and found to have its own story arch.

So you have the season’s story arch, which spans all 10 episodes and looks something like this:

story archAnd, each episode within itself will have its own story arch. Like this.

story arch10So each episode should begin with an inciting incident, followed by a raising action, culminating in a climax, and then a denouement where you can hint at the next inciting incident, which is why we never return to the same level of drama as the beginning. Things have changed.

Take, season one of Game of Thrones. I use this example because this season is as close to the book as you will find in any adaptation.

There are two main stories happening:

A) Ned becoming the hand of the king

B) Dany becoming Khal Drogo’s wife.

 

Game of Thrones (Season One) Endings Breakdown

Episode one: We start off by introducing all the characters and what their objectives are. Robert Baratheon arrives and encourages Eddard to leaves Winterfell. And that is the main conflict in the episode, will Ned leave his life or not. We find out that he does, and the episode ends with Bran getting pushed out of the castle window by Jamie. That is an epic cliffhanger.

Each episode after that offers a little more details and increases the stakes. Each ending with another cliffhanger.

love

Episode 2 ends with Bran waking up (oh no, is he going to reveal who pushed him?)

Episode 3 ends a shot of Ned watching Arya train, the sounds of real blades clashing, echoing in his head. (uh oh, he’s getting worried… what’s going to happen to him)

Episode 4 ends with Catelyn Stark arresting Tyrion Lannister in a tavern, accusing him of being the one who hired the assassin to kill Bran, concealing the Lannister’s secret. (this is surely a mistake, but is it?)

Episode 5 ends with a battle between Ned and Jamie out on the streets, Jamie has discovered that his brother has been captured. Ned ends up being stabbed in the knee.

Episode 6 ends with the B story about Daenerys in Essos. Remember what I said about building cliffhangers with variety. This is what’s happening, now it follows another character. The Dorathkis give her brother a golden crown, pouring gold on his head, thus freeing her from Viserys. And so the plot thickens on that end.

crown

Episode 7 ends with Joffrey claiming the throne after his father’s death and Ned accusing Joffrey of not being the rightful heir. Thus watches his men get slaughtered and Ned arrested for treason. (at this point, we still think Ned is the good guy and he can surely get out of this mess).

Episode 8 ends with Sansa begging mercy for her father to Joffrey. And Joffrey seems reasonable, offering that all Ned will have to do is confess his crime. (oh good, surely Ned will come to his senses)

Episode 9 ends with Ned having his head chopped off. (this is probably the most intense cliffhanger in the history of television.)

Episode 10 ends with Daenerys’ dragons hatching in the fire of Khal Drogo’s pyre.

dragon

End of season 1.

In the end, the story we set out to understand is made clear. We find out about Ned Stark’s journey as the hand of the king and we find out Daenerys experience as Khal Drogo’s wife, a Khaleesi. But as two stories are resolved, many more are revealed.

 

Exercise

Once you have the first draft of your story, you can start breaking it apart like a television series. Finding the micro story arch within the macro story. Once you have that you can create little cliffhangers at the end of each chapter or part, increasing the stakes each time.

Give this exercise a try and let me know how it turns out in the comments.

If you found this article helpful, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

Why You Should Write More Than You Need

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I come from an acting background and the dogma that I had entering any audition was to give more the first time.

What do I mean when I say “give more”? I mean overdoing it a little, hamming it up, being more emotional, more passionate, more vocal than what the script calls for. I put it all on the plate — like at an all-you-can-eat buffet during the last call — and then letting some spill off. I do this because it is easier for the directors, producers, and fellow actors to tell me to dial it back as opposed to adding more after.

If I come into the scene with subtleties and that is not what the director wants, then it is more challenging for me to increase the levels or expand the emotions, especially on the spot. It’s always easier to cut or reduce than to fill or to add, especially on the spot. Always give more the first time.

Of course, this theory can be applied to many aspects of life and other professions. As a writer, I will give my editors more. If they ask for 500 words, I’ll give 600. From there, they can trim. You can’t style hair that isn’t there, and you can cut what is not written.

For more tips on editing your writing, check out this YouTube playlist: Editing Your Epic Novel

How to Spell Definitely | Common Spelling Mistakes

Back when I was in film school, I was a big deal. At least, I acted like a big deal. I had all these wonderful ideas for stories, and now and then, my scripts would be picked to move into production.

As a young filmmaker, there was nothing better than seeing your vision come to life… except for the fact that a simple misspelling can often ruin the impact of a line or description and assault your credibility — thus leading to embarrassment — and definitely was a word that I would misspell often.

Definietly

Defineity

Definantly

Definetly

… and on and on.

Thanks to auto-correct, I never really understood where my error was. I knew there were some ‘i’s and ‘e’s, but I didn’t know where they went… sometimes I even thought there was an ‘a’ in there.

I finally decided to examine why I kept spelling this word wrong. Was it me? Was it the word? Was it a little of both?

Then I tried something, instead of simply writing the word and hoping I would nail it. I decided to stop and say it out loud.

If you speak with any editor, they will tell you that reading out loud is one of the most basic methods of catching errors such as typos and grammar.

That was when I realized, I was jumbling up the syllables at the end of ‘definitely’. By mumbling the end of the word, my brain was not able to comprehend what letters are actually there and in which order.

The word that once confused me, now made sense structurally. There were no silent letters trying to trip me up. Like many words, it was logical. It wasn’t trying to be fancy. Yes, due to its nature, it’s still a tricky word to spell, but it’s much less of an inigma now… sorry enigma.

Sounding out words doesn’t always work when trying to spell, but sometimes it does. As we grow as writers and keep adding vocabulary to our arsenal, we must remember to keep our tools sharpen and not constantly rely on autocorrect to save us, because autocorrect might not always know what we are actually talking about. One of the oldest tools is saying the word out loud. Are you seeing a lot of red lines under a specific word? Pronounce it and see if it helps. 

Thanks for reading. I’m documenting my writing journey here and on YouTube. Please join me as we become “legitimate” writers together.

Student apathy and other problems for the editor-in-chiefs of the ‘Other Press’

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A conversation with six leaders of Douglas College’s newspaper

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. July 8, 2016

You are a runner in a relay race. As your teammate approaches you, you see her hand extend, holding the baton. Your feet move to keep pace as she draws nearer. The fingers in your hands blossom out, creating a target, not just for the baton, but also for the responsibility, the confidence, the weight of the entire collective. You are the runner; you are the next editor-in-chief of the Other Press.

 

The Other Job

The sprint is a year long and starts in September. Douglas College gathers for orientation, and the parking-lot-like building that is the New Westminster campus fills up with young minds. Sitting at a foldout table in the concourse is an optimistic individual, driven to make a mark on the long legacy that is the Douglas College newspaper: the Other Press.

With a welcoming smile, the editor-in-chief of the only student newspaper on campus showcases the publication to new students entering the post secondary institution and sometimes to students who have been enrolled in the college for years already.

“When you are talking to people and trying to recruit people to the newspaper,” says Natalie Serafini, editor-in-chief from 2014–15, “they are often surprised that we have a newspaper.”

“It’s also surprising the amount of people that say that they read it,” says Jacey Gibb, editor-in-chief from 2013–14. “It sounds bad to say surprising.”

During the length of the orientation, the editor-in-chief is not only present to increase readership, but also to recruit contributors by introducing the variety of roles that goes into running a publication: writers, designers, illustrators, photographers, distributors, etc. The editor-in-chief is not only the boss, but also the ambassador.

“You only need to get one person for these events to be worthwhile,” says Sharon Miki, editor-in-chief from 2012–13). “You are never going to have an event and get like 20 new writers and 1,000 new readers. It’s Douglas College. It’s such a small community. You only need to get one.”

The Other Press, like a collegial program, is a revolving door for students to collaborate and gain experience in preparation for the real world. Each year, the editor-in-chief position opens up. The incumbent can choose to reapply and serve another term, or choose to leave the shoes for someone else to fill.

While much of it feels like training for the job of the future, being the leader of a student newspaper is a responsibility that weighs heavy, especially when working with a group of unseasoned writers, editors, and contributors. With ego and inexperience colliding, it is the job of the editor-in-chief to both calm the waters and steer the ship.

“I felt like a lot of my time was spent dealing with the personnel,” says Liam Britten, editor-in-chief from 2008–10. “That was challenging: dealing with people who should just not have been there. You just can’t get rid of these people. It took a while.”

“I’m sure everyone else had this experience,” says Gibb, “where I’ve gotten a piece—especially as a section editor—and you are just reading it and you’re like there is no way this person reread what they wrote, because this doesn’t make sense and it’s just total garbage.”

“[The Other Press] equipped me with skills like dealing with problem children and persevering through really challenging experiences where you don’t know what you’re doing and you are just flailing through it,” says Cody Klyne, editor-in-chief from 2011–12. “And you do and you are kind of just given a lot of responsibility and you can take that and really run with it or you can sit on it and not really have any ambition for the newspaper for your term.”

 

The Other News

Hidden away on the first floor is the Other Press headquarters in Room 1020. During the Fall and Winter semesters, the collective gathers weekly in the bowels of the campus to produce a newspaper. The issues will sit on black metal stands at entrances and high traffic areas of the school, but with only 50 per cent pick up—roughly 500 hundred hard copy readers per week—it often seems like a job that is supplying without demand.

Without a need to feed the beast, it’s easy to become apathetic. The editor-in-chief term at the Other Press is indeed a marathon, but the leader is not running alone. Leading a team and keeping them from falling into the grips of apathy is as challenging as keeping up with all the emails that pile up. The job is not just about meeting deadlines; it’s about producing quality work.

“I guess one of the main points is showing that you care,” says Eric Wilkins, the current editor-in-chief of the Other Press. “If you don’t, nobody else is going to follow. First and foremost is making yourself as enthusiastic as possible.”

“I know as editor-in-chief, one thing that was very frustrating was how hard it was to get people to write Douglas College-centered stuff,” says Britten, “or even Lower Mainland-focused stuff can be a challenge. Let’s be honest, nobody reads the Other Press to find out what happened somewhere else in the world last week, right? But that’s what people’s instincts are; that is what’s interesting to them. You have to look for not the most obvious story, I guess. Look for opportunity to localize things.”

“If you are a sports editor, go watch the damn Royals play,” Britten adds. “Or if you are the arts editor, you might have to go see a Douglas College play.”

The Other Press began in 1976 and it has always struggled to find its place within the Douglas College ecosystem. Splintered from the rest of the institution, the Other Press requires the editor-in-chief to bridge the gap between the different societies and communities, while staying true to the publication’s journalistic values.

“It’s so rare that anything noteworthy happens,” says Miki, “that if it ever does happen you have to talk about it. We’re not a PR magazine for Douglas College. But if we were, then yes, we wouldn’t say anything critical. But if something happened—and it’s true—we have to report on it.”

 

The Other Problems

The Other Press is an organization with many moving parts. It’s often hard to keep track of the squeaky wheels. In an effort to produce a newspaper on a weekly basis, there are going to be mistakes. The lesson is in how one recovers. Consider all the errors that take place in a classroom: spelling mistakes, incorrect facts, plagiarisms, etc. All these problems are magnified when it is printed a thousand times and handed out to the general public. The editor-in-chief’s face is on every issue printed. If there is a problem, there is no hiding and there is no blaming; he or she must face the hard light.

“My worst fear was that I was going to do something that would end the newspaper,” says Gibb. “I’m sure everyone had that fear. I actually had the opportunity to end it, in that our contract with the college student levy was up for renewal in my term. It happened to come upon a very funny time.”

It was a funny time indeed. A humour article mistaken as legitimate news got the Other Press in hot water at the tail end of 2013. Gibb was the editor-in-chief at the time and he received the brunt of the backlash as the article involved the New Westminster Police Department.

“If the paper hadn’t been on such strong foundation,” Gibb adds, “who knows what would have happened?”

At the time, it was no laughing matter for the publication. But Gibb laughs it off now, reminding us that the words printed on the paper have impact. Being the leader of a media organization, even one as small as the Other Press, carries a certain responsibility. It’s not just for the people who speak out, but for the people who don’t as well.

“You focus in on the fact that you get surprised when people say ‘I’m surprised that there is a newspaper at the college,’” says Klyne. “Like you are kind of taken aback by that statement. It’s just, you do pour so much of yourself into it, but there are a lot of people who do read and don’t make their voices known or participate, and they are just the readers. And that’s their place in life and they are just happy to do that. And it’s our job to just be there and supply that.”

Each week, the editor-in-chief of the Other Press chases the clock, rallying the collective to produce a high-quality publication for the readers. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first few steps in September or the last leg in August, they know their efforts will be visible in print and digital not just for Douglas College to see, but for the whole world. They also know that their time is fleeting. This learning experience they treated wholeheartedly as a “real job” will soon be over.

“I feel like there was so much I wanted to do that I never got around to doing,” says Serafini. “There would always be a fire—not a literal fire—to put out. I feel like by the end of my first semester I was so exhausted, I was just trying to find the next person to fill a position—put out the next fire.”

You are a runner in a relay race. You receive the baton—but it’s not really a baton, it’s a fire extinguisher. You are the next editor-in-chief of the Other Press. You want to make your mark, but it’s actually an environment to make mistakes. If that’s the case, the best mark is to continue the legacy, improve the organization incrementally for the next generation, and allow room for the leaders of the future to solve the problems that are as ingrained into the institution as student apathy.

“You don’t need to be a born leader for anything,” says Wilkins. “You grow your way into it. You learn things. You figure out how stuff works.”

For over 40 years, the Other Press has been a fixture in the Douglas campus community. While it might be considered fringe, because there are no academic programs linked to it, it a necessary part of the institution. The craft of writing, editing, and communicating is a key to professional success, regardless of the student’s career path.

Why does a school have gym? Not because we want our students to become body builders or professional athletes, it’s because we want them to establish a healthy lifestyle. The same goes with a student newspaper. It’s not about the product; it’s about the work itself, and it’s about getting better and stronger at the craft. For the editor-in-chief, it’s his or her chance to learn what no course in Douglas can teach, and that is a unique opportunity.