Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Service Review: Grammarly {Plus an early look at the next Heart Torn in Two chapter!}

I use Grammarly to check plagiarism because a future author failing high school English class doesn't look good to publishers - or book buyers!

Introduction

When I first received an email from a Grammarly representative offering to sponsor a review, I decided to try their free test service on the website first.  I copied and pasted the first scene from the rough draft of Beila and the Griffin.  It took only a few seconds for them to give me my score of 54 out of 100 - which matches my vague idea of where my first drafts generally stand.  Apparently, I had 10 spelling issues, 1 commonly confused word, 2 incorrect uses of prepositions, 1 comparison problem, 1 confused modifier, 8 wrong uses of punctuation within a sentence, and 8 problems with my writing style.  The areas I passed?  Original vs. plagiarized text, ignored words, closing punctuation, formal punctuation, and vocabulary use (score! I'm proud of that one :] )

For a story I haven't looked at since Camp NaNo, I'd guess that to be spot-on.


So I emailed the representative back and told him I'd be glad to review Grammarly and go through their free trial.  At this point, I was pretty excited.  Yeah, yeah, an online proofreading service doesn't seem exciting... until you consider the fact that right now I'm simultaneously (a) writing a stack of essays for college scholarship contests, (b) still keeping up with this blog!, (c) writing my fanfiction Heart Torn in Two, and (d) writing Heart of Ember.  Not to mention all the non-writing stuff demanding my attention.

To say my plate is full would be an understatement.  Anything to speed this process along will be a huge help right now.

How Grammarly Works

The user uploads or copies and pastes a portion of text.  Grammarly scans the text, looking for plagiarism, passive voice, spelling, commonly confused words, prepositions, comparisons, modifiers, punctuations, writing style, ignored words, and vocabulary.  Then, the scanned text will be displayed with problem areas highlighted in pink and a list of the issues found on the right sidebar.  Your score will be displayed at the top of that sidebar, a number out of one hundred.  To fix any issues, click on a highlighted portion and the issue will be explained in a little gray box - you can choose the short or long version of the explanation.  Then, you can choose to either fix the problem yourself, click the suggested fix to have Grammarly automatically fix the issue (in certain cases), or ignore the problem.  Once you've looked through the whole text, you can click "review changes" and see what your new score is.  If there are no issues left, a score of 100 out of 100 will shoe and weak word choices or words the text has in abundance will be underlined and possible synonyms offered.

For this review, I decided to use two very different texts: an essay for one of those college scholarship contests and the next installment of Heart Torn in Two.  (You get to see it here before it's live on Fanfiction!  Woot woot!)  The reason I chose these two texts is because Grammarly has different settings: General, Business, Academic, Technical, Creative, and Casual.  The essay I'll put through on Academic, and the fanfiction chapter on Creative.

Service Review: Academic Setting

Original Text:

In the summers when my family visited the grandparents, there was always one thing I could count on: my grandpa's shed would be emptied out, just for me.

I spent several hours of my childhood in that miniature-barn-shaped shed.  By the time my family packed up and returned home, the walls were covered with crayon drawings and spelling lists.  The floor was lined with colored plastic chairs filled with neighborhood kids or every doll and stuffed animal I could find.  The back wall of the shed was even imagined into a dusty green chalkboard.

Now a high school senior, my dreams haven't changed that much.  While my concept of the ideal classroom may not include a one-room barn-shaped building, I still long to nurture children and help them grow into the best adults they can be.  That's why I need a degree in elementary education.

Experiences with children have been a large part of my life.  I've volunteered in church nurseries, Vacation Bible School programs, and free babysitting opportunities.  This past summer I went with my youth group to Dominica, where we ran a one-week summer camp for local children and teenagers.  These activities have only strengthened my love of and desire to work with children.

Education and my faith have always been important to me; now I want to help the next generation learn such values.  My future place is a classroom.  I will change the world - one child at a time.

Grammarly Score:

5 issues found.  Score: 76 of 100.  Issues: 3 passive voice use and 2 writing style.

Edited Text:

In the summers when my family visited the grandparents, there was always one thing I could count on: my grandpa's shed would be emptied out, just for me.

I spent several hours of my childhood in that miniature-barn-shaped shed.  By the time my family packed up and returned home, I had covered the walls with crayon drawings and spelling lists. Colored plastic chairs filled with neighborhood kids or every doll and stuffed animal I could find lined the floor.  Imagination even transformed the back wall of the shed into a dusty green chalkboard.

Now a high school senior, my dreams have not changed that much.  While my concept of the ideal classroom may not include a one-room barn-shaped building, I still long to nurture children and help them grow into the best adults they can be.  That is why I need a degree in elementary education.

Experiences with children have been a large part of my life.  I've volunteered in church nurseries, Vacation Bible School programs, and free babysitting opportunities.  This past summer I went with my youth group to Dominica, where we ran a one-week summer camp for local children and teenagers.  These activities have only strengthened my love of and desire to work with children.


Education and my faith have always been important to me; now I want to help the next generation learn such values.  My future place is a classroom.  I will change the world - one child at a time.

Service Review: Creative Setting {Here's that early look for Heart Torn in Two readers!}

Original Text:

Caspian

I exit the tunnels through the upper doorway onto the rock wall and sit with my legs hanging down over the edge.  Gazing at the sky without truly seeing much, I struggle to make sense of the disaster that just played out in Aslan's tomb.  The one thought I keep coming back to, is that of those who raised me.  Am I more like Miraz than I thought?  I cannot believe I came so close to betraying those I loved, just as he did when he murdered my father.

Professor Cornelius sits down beside me.  I speak without looking at him.  "Why did you never tell me about my father?"

He sighs.  "My mother was a Black Dwarf from the Northern Mountains."

I look down at him.  A dwarf?  His physical appearances matches - the long, gray beard, the short stature.  But how did a Narnian half-dwarf become tutor to the Telmarine crown prince - to me?

He stares forward through his tiny gold spectacles and resumes speaking.  "I risked my life all these years so that one day, you might be a better king than those before you."

I look away into the sky, taking in his words.  The events with the Witch consume my mind, and I look down in shame.  "Then I have failed you."  I have become so much like Miraz.

He turns his blue eyes up towards me.  "Everything I told you... everything I didn't... it was only because I believe in you."

I turn to look towards him.  He has heard of the events with the Witch, I know.  Yet still he thinks me worthy of a throne?

His tone is gentle but serious.  He means what he says.  "You have the chance to become the most noble contradiction in history."  He looks away.  "The Telmarine who saved Narnia."

I turn my eyes back to the heavens and we sit in silence, watching the sunset.  I wish I could believe him.  I long to believe him.  I want to save Narnia and the Queens and Kings.  I want to protect Susan and her people, to become one of them, even.  But I know I am not worthy... and I fear I am incapable.

* * *

Susan

I stand alone in the tunnel, leaning against the wall, far from the light of torches or noise of battle preparations or the conversations of others.  After such a long few hours, I am alone.

Finally alone.  Completely alone.

So I let the tears fall.  I do not sob, or wail, or cry out.  I am not one for hysterics, and I am also well aware of how easily a sound can echo through these tunnels to others' ears.  My cries are silent and still, but I let them come.

Aslan has left us.  Lucy and Edmund are still just children, even if they were adults once.  Peter is too full of himself to be reliable.  And Caspian...

Caspian betrayed me.  Only a few hours ago, he betrayed me.  He chose the Witch.

The tears fall harder, hot and thick against my face, spreading dark, wet shadows across the skirt of my dress.  I cover my mouth with my hand and slide along the wall onto the floor.  Pulling my knees towards me, I wrap my arms around them and sob into my skirt.  The pain is unbearable, tearing the very fabric of my soul apart.  I press my mouth into my knee to smother a scream.

How could he?  How could he?  How could he?

I love him.  I loved him.  I don't know which.  My stomach churns and my breath comes in shudders as the tears continue to flow.  How could he hurt me like this?

How could I let him?

I clutch my legs and rock back and forth, back and forth.  I look up at the ceiling and send a silent cry to Aslan.  How could you abandon us?  Why call us back, just to let Narnia fall, to let everyone die, to let my family fall apart?  Why did you let this happen?

Why did I fall in love?


Time passes.  I don't know how much.  The sobs and the pain continue to come in waves, crashing over my body before ebbing away for a moment's relief.  Eventually they come more slowly, until finally I lay down and let sleep take over my body.

Grammarly Score:

10 issues found.  Score: 90 of 100.  Issues: 2 use of articles, 2 subject and verb agreement, 3 punctuation within a sentence, 2 spelling, 1 vocabulary use.

Edited Text:

Caspian

I exit the tunnels through the upper doorway onto the rock wall and sit with my legs hanging down over the edge.  Gazing at the sky without truly seeing much, I struggle to make sense of the disaster that just played out in Aslan's tomb.  The one thought I keep coming back to, is that of those who raised me.  Am I more like Miraz than I thought?  I cannot believe I came so close to betraying those I loved, just as he did when he murdered my father.

Professor Cornelius sits down beside me.  I speak without looking at him.  "Why did you never tell me about my father?"

He sighs.  "My mother was a Black Dwarf from the Northern Mountains."

I look down at him.  A dwarf?  His physical appearance matches - the long, gray beard, the short stature.  But how did a Narnian half-dwarf become tutor to the Telmarine crown prince - to me?

He stares forward through his tiny gold spectacles and resumes speaking.  "I risked my life all these years so that one day, you might be a better king than those before you."

I look away into the sky, taking in his words.  The events with the Witch consume my mind, and I look down in shame.  "Then I have failed you."  I have become so much like Miraz.

He turns his blue eyes up towards me.  "Everything I told you... everything I didn't... it was only because I believe in you."

I turn to look towards him.  He has heard of our history with the Witch, I know.  Yet still he thinks me worthy of a throne?

His tone is gentle but serious.  He means what he says.  "You have the chance to become the most noble contradiction in history."  He looks away.  "The Telmarine who saved Narnia."

I turn my eyes back to the heavens and we sit in silence, watching the sunset.  I wish I could believe him.  I long to believe him.  I want to save Narnia and the Queens and Kings.  I want to protect Susan and her people, to become one of them, even.  But I know I am not worthy... and I fear I am incapable.

* * *

Susan

I stand alone in the tunnel, leaning against the wall, far from the light of torches or noise of battle preparations or the conversations of others.  After such a long few hours, I am alone.

Finally alone.  Completely alone.

So I let the tears fall.  I do not sob, or wail, or cry out.  I am not one for hysterics, and I am also well aware of how easily a sound can echo through these tunnels to others' ears.  My cries are silent and still, but I let them come.

Aslan has left us.  Lucy and Edmund are still just children, even if they were adults once.  Peter is too full of himself to be reliable.  And Caspian...

Caspian betrayed me.  Only a few hours ago, he betrayed me.  He chose the Witch.

The tears fall harder, hot and thick against my face, spreading dark, wet shadows across the skirt of my dress.  I cover my mouth with my hand and slide along the wall onto the floor.  Pulling my knees towards me, I wrap my arms around them and sob into my skirt.  The pain is unbearable, tearing the very fabric of my soul apart.  I press my mouth into my knee to smother a scream.

How could he?  How could he?  How could he?

I love him.  I loved him.  I don't know which.  My stomach churns and my breath comes in shudders as the tears continue to flow.  How could he hurt me like this?

How could I let him?

I clutch my legs and rock back and forth, back and forth.  I look up at the ceiling and send a silent cry to Aslan.  How could you abandon us?  Why call us back, just to let Narnia fall, to let everyone die, to let my family fall apart?  Why did you let this happen?

Why did I fall in love?


Time passes.  I don't know how much.  The sobs and the pain continue to come in waves, crashing over my body before ebbing away for a moment's relief.  Eventually, they come more slowly, until finally I lay down and let sleep take over my body.

Plagiarism Test

One last run-through!  This time, I decided to use Google to find some website to use.  Since I wrote a book report on The Portrait of a Lady for my junior year, I googled "summary of the portrait of a lady" and chose three results: SparkNotes (which I use for homework help sometimes), Wikipedia (which everyone's heard of), and one other I was not familiar with - Shmoop.  I tested each one, first of all by just copying and pasting the text, then by changing some things around before running through the check.  (It turns out that, while the regular check does not look for plagiarism, the plagiarism check looks for everything else along with plagiarism.)

SparkNotes One: Yes!  A citation issue and the link for the original text are shown.

SparkNotes Two: Fail.  No plagiarism or citation issue shown.

Wikipedia One: Yes!  A citation issue and the link for the original text are shown.

Wikipedia Two: Fail.  No plagiarism or citation issue shown.

Shmoop One: Hm... a citation issue and a link are shown, but the link is not for Shmoop - it's for a different website.  Clicking the link starts an Open Office document download for a The Portrait of a Lady summary document.

Shmoop Two: Fail.  No plagiarism or citation issue shown.

Okay, I'm seeing a trend here.  What about something that's not a top Google result or popular student website?  I decided to test a portion from Fanfiction.net (the first piece I came across on browse, which happened to be an almost-passable Wholock crossoer), the most recent post on Project Inspired, and a blog post of my own.  This time I didn't bother with the switching-around of words.

Fanfiction: Yes!  A citation issue and the link for the original text are shown.

PI: Hm... a citation issue and the proper link are shown, but according to Grammarly, only 97% is plagiarized.  I literally just copied and pasted the whole thing, so that should say 100%.

My Blog: Yes!  Sort of.  Haha I used a book review and the link that came up was for my review on Amazon... let's try something else, shall we?

My Blog Take Two:  Fail.  No plagiarism or citation issue shown.  That makes me sad.  Apparently personal blogs like mine don't go through the plagiarism check... just to be sure, let's give one more shot...

Bailey's Blog:  Fail again.  No plagiarism or citation issue shown.

Conclusion

For an automated program, Grammarly makes a great proofreader and copy editor.  There are some 'issues' pointed out that aren't actually problems, but it seems like Grammarly errs on the side of caution - better to catch a few non-problems than to miss a few real issues.

As for plagiarism, plain copying and pasting will ring the bell - but changing a few words around seems to fool the machine.  Not to mention, whatever system Grammarly uses for plagiarism check, my and Bailey's blogs - and therefore, most likely, a lot of other less-known blogs and websites - aren't in it.

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