The best thing about these tools? No need for an English colleague to check your work.
By Jacqueline Schaalje
Writing isn’t easy. I presume you’ve downloaded my writing guide, “Improve Your Writing,” which was free during the past days.
Even with all the best tips and best guides, writing is still hard work.
Luckily, there are a few tools that you can use to make your life easier.
Yesterday, I interviewed three new students at a high tech company and this taught me a lot about things that ESL learners find frustrating. The two men and a woman were engineers and of course highly intelligent. They were successful in their jobs and knew everything about their fields of expertise. I didn’t have to teach them about interface and motherboards, because they knew the English words for that.
So what was their problem?
Their company has merged with a larger company in the UK, and now they have to talk and email with their colleagues and manager in the UK. They also have Skype conversations with engineers in Sweden, a country where they also have stellar (= amazing) English, even though English isn’t their mother tongue. Oh dear! All three engineers are having trouble communicating. They feel they make tons of mistakes and that the other side doesn’t understand what they want.
I’m not going to talk about the problem of talking with those English-speaking colleagues, because I’ve done that in other articles. This article will be about writing, and writing tools that you can find online.
So how did the engineers solve their problem of poor English writing skills?
Simple. They put their emails through Google Translate.
Brilliant idea, right? Well, as you know, Google’s translation isn’t perfect, and for sentences you need to be extra careful. Google doesn’t always translate the correct meaning of your sentence, and the grammar may be wrong too.
So here is what I suggest.
If you want to use Google translate, I don’t have a problem with that, although you may not learn correct English with this, or no English at all, actually.
At least use the following tools as well.
Online Writing Software and Apps
These tools are useful and the great advantage of using these tools is: your English will get better. These writing aids will honestly teach you English. They aren’t just gimmicks.
First of all Grammarly.
Grammarly is great. First you need to create a new account. This is free.
Then upload a document. You can upload your own document or view a demo document.
On the right side of your text you’ll see notes appear, like so:
The mistakes are in red.
The green words are what the program fixed for you.
Grammarly picks up on: wrong spelling, wrong grammar, wrong punctuation.
The free Grammarly highlights the basic grammar mistakes. If you want something more sophisticated, upgrade to the paid version.
Update: Grammarly has also brought out a web application. All you need to do is download it to your device. Then you will get a green G icon in your browser bar. Anything that you write on the internet will get checked. So when I’m writing this article, I get red marks here and there (I ignore most of them, but sometimes when I make a typo it’s very handy, because Grammarly immediately finds them.). Here is a picture of what my browser window looks like:
You see the green thingy in the top right of the screen? That’s the one.
You can also enable Grammarly in your Word documents. In that case you get a screen on the right side of your page with notes. I have to say that I don’t use this myself, because I only want to check for typos, and Word Spell Check is good enough for me. Here is a picture of Grammarly in Word:
Bad name for a wonderful app. Hemingway was a famous writer with a great style, but his spelling was so awful that he gave his editor a lot of work to correct his manuscripts. Nevertheless, what was good about Hemingway’s work was that he never said anything in a complicated way when it could be said simply. This should also be your aim: write intelligent, intelligible, clear English. Intelligent doesn’t mean long words from the dictionary. Don’t use difficult words where you can say the same with a simple one-syllable word.
Like in Grammarly, Hemingway will show the corrections and suggestions on the right side of the screen.
Here is a screen-print:
Yellow means your sentence is too long and hard to read.
Orange means your sentence is very hard to read (oops!).
Pink means you should use an easier word.
Blue means you’ve put in an adverb too many (but adverbs aren’t always bad.)
Green is a marker for passive voice. You don’t want to use too many passives in your text, as this can make it dry and dull.
Finally, there is a handy readability score at the top right of the screen. What does that mean? You should aim for a readability score of 6 or 7. This means that high school students can read your text. Anything above that means your text is too hard. Can your text also be too easy? Yes, it’s possible, but it’s better when it’s too easy, because at least everybody will be able to understand what you’ve written.
Hemingway lets you paste enormous texts which it will then proofread for you. But a good tip is to paste only one page of a text, directly after you’ve written it. Look at the corrections. Then write the next page (or paragraph) and try not to make the same mistakes. The idea is that you become so good you can be your own editor.
Here is another app that I recommend: Evernote.
I use this myself. With Evernote you can make notes and sync them on all your devices (pc, laptop, tablet and smartphone). This means that, when you have a good idea, don’t use yellow post-it notes or a notebook. Just open your device, whichever one you’re using, and write it in there. Then later you can use and develop your idea on your laptop.
With the Evernote web clipper you can save webpages in your Evernote. For instance you find something you want to use in your email or article. You can save it for later use. You can also leave it open on the screen, where it will appear on the right side; meanwhile you’re writing in your regular Word document.
With the clipper you don’t need to save the whole page, if you don’t want to. Say you only want to save one article, this is possible too. Or you can save a screen shot.
If you only want one sentence, for instance a quote you want to use, copy this onto a note.
You can save each clip under a name and put them in a file of your choice, so you can easily find all your clips back when you need them.
Because it’s web-based, you can share your notes and clips with colleagues or friends. This might be handy when you’re working on a project together.
If Evernote isn’t enough for you, you need Scrivener, the professional writing tool (not free). With this in-depth document manager, it’s much easier to keep track of where you are in your document. You can file information and notes under different chapters and easily find them back. Like with Evernote, you can have those notes open on your screen whilst you’re working, so you don’t need to switch screens.
This tool is great for doing research. Go to Google Search, or use your Chrome browser. Type any keyword(s) + statistics. Google will dig up the most relevant statistics on your chosen subject.
Here is an example: I’ve typed grammar + statistics. (not a very specific keyword.)
Google has found the most relevant documents with statistics on grammar in them, including PDFs. Nice, isn’t it?
Hope you will become a real pro in your writing!
How are these tools working for you?
Do you use any other writing or editing tools? Let me know!
You may be interested in reading more writing tips here.
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