A few weeks ago, my son was completing his GCSE history coursework about the New Deal. He insisted he’d run it through an online grammar tool, so there was no need for me to read through and check for typos.
I picked it up as it came off the printer and spotted that “new deal” was in lowercase – just one of several issues which hadn’t been picked up by his online writing tool.
When I’m running writing courses and the discussion turns to proof-reading and editing, my advice is always to have a writing buddy who will look over your copy to spot those errors that technology can’t.
Even better, ask them to read your copy out loud, as that’s when you spot the parts which are hard to read and which don’t flow well.
Despite this, there are a number of really useful tools which you can deploy to improve your writing, spotting grammatical mistakes and finding alternative words to make the language you use more interesting.
So here is my list of preferred tools to help your writing:
- Dictionary and thesaurus: Let’s start by going old school – a basic dictionary and thesaurus are you starting point and both of these are now available online as well as in book form
- Microsoft Office: The thesaurus is one of the tools which comes as part of Office, along with functions to check your spelling, grammar and accessibility, offer language alternatives via its synonyms option, plus an AI-powered Editor which comes up with ideas for how you might improve your copy and Text to Speak, which enables your computer to read your written words out loud to see how they sound.
- Grammarly: This is a cloud-based typing assistant which reviews spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity, engagement, and delivery mistakes in English Once you load it onto your computer, it will automatically review everything you write, whatever the platform you’re writing on. It also detects plagiarism, suggests replacements for errors and allows you to customise your style, tone, and language.
- Hemingway Editor: This online app highlights common errors and suggests ways to tighten up your writing and strengthen the copy. It uses principles followed by the writer Ernest Hemingway, who was known for his simple, yet strong and direct, prose. When you load in a piece of copy, it checks your sentence length so you can see what needs to be shortened, spots instances of the passive voice, identifies unnecessary adverbs, and finally, gives you a readability grade. This costs $20 to download.
- Grammarcheck.net: This is an online grammar and spelling checker which also has an incredibly useful blog full of suggestions about how to enliven your writing and infographics with titles such as 44 Idioms about Food (Infographic) and 39 Literary Devices Every Writer Should Know (Infographic)
- Word Hippo: This was recommended by branding expert Lidia Rumley. It is a really simple website, in which you enter a word, and it comes up with alternatives. For example, I’ve just loaded in the word “advice” and it’s offered me a hundreds of synonyms, from “guidance” to “word to the wise”. It also offers antonyms (“Misguidance”, “deception”, “discouragement” and so on), plus definitions, rhymes, translations and more.
- Pro-Writing Aid: This was recommended by the PR professional Michelle Kelly and is an AI tool which provides everything from grammar checking to style improvements to rephrasing suggestions. This has a basic free version and a premium version which is £10 per month.
- ChatGPT: This is probably the most famous AI tool. You can ask it any question and it offers answers – which might be to draft a piece of writing for you, or to furnish you with some ideas. PR trainer Emma Ewing suggests using it to come up with ideas for headlines. I just asked it to recommend AI writing tools, and it’s offered me four: Microsoft Word, Google Docs (for collaborating on documents), Scrivener, which is specifically created for authors and screenwriters, and Grammarly.
- Elevate App: This is a brain-training app with over 40 different games, focusing on writing, reading, comprehension, vocabulary, memory and maths. I use it daily and can get a bit obsessed as the challenges get harder the more you do. Again, there is a paid-for and free version.
These tools are all suggestions to help get your writing and I hope you find them useful. Let me know if you have any other ideas.
My biggest recommendation, however, is that if you want to write better, just get on and do it. The more you read, the more you write, the easier you’ll find it to write well.