An AI-powered Academic Grammar Checker vs. Human Editor

Writing has become a skill that is necessary for many professions. Academics, students, and researchers in particular must know how to write clearly so that their ideas can be understood, shared, and discussed. In the past, writers have had to spend hours with a dictionary and grammar guides trying to find mistakes in their own work or employ human editors to review their writing. This was both labor-intensive and took a great deal of time. While editing provided by humans is still very much a thriving industry today, AI writing tools have begun to do a lot of work that was done by humans in the past. It is true that natural language processing (NLP) has helped AI develop significantly in the past several decades. However, there are still many tasks that human editors can perform that AI either cannot perform at all or cannot perform well. These include stylistic and developmental edits and contextual editing, particularly for specialized topics. That said, AI is improving all the time. So, is AI set to overtake the role of humans in the editing process?

New Features of AI Grammar Checkers

Grammar and spell check programs have been with us as long as computer word processing tools. The first spell checking program was actually developed in 1961 back at Stanford. Early spell checkers used a list of words to check documents for mistakes, but by the 1990s it was common for spell checking tools to be able to understand context. This meant that spell checkers could tell when a writer used the wrong word more frequently than in the past (too/to/two, for example). Microsoft Word and Google Docs use versions of these programs. Grammar checking tools have developed in a similar manner. Over time, they began to rely on syntactic analysis, which is what tools like Grammarly and Microsoft Word use today to parse sentences and detect grammatical errors.

These days, automated grammar checking tools are getting better at understanding how to parse and correct a variety of errors thanks to machine learning. Such tools are capable of making style suggestions, although the types of problems they identify remain limited. Existing AI tools are pretty good at identifying stylistic problems like overuse of words or when a sentence is written in passive voice. But there are still reports of some AI grammar checkers making style suggestions that change the meaning of a sentence. In addition, style edits are difficult for AI grammar checkers to handle because style is so context dependent. While passive voice is frowned upon in many types of writing, it is used frequently in scientific writing, for example.

Some developers have responded to this by developing AI grammar checker tools that are specifically tailored to particular types of writing. Trinka is one example of this. Designed to help academic writers and researchers, Trinka is capable of making style suggestions appropriate to academic writing and identifying contextual word use. Because of its innovative use of NLP, Trinka can distinguish discipline-specific use of words that other grammar checkers cannot at this point. This makes it a helpful tool for scientific writers especially. These types of more specialized tools are becoming increasingly common, like Fictionary, which is designed to help writers of fiction.

The Advantage of the Human Touch

While AI grammar checkers are becoming better and better, there are still some situations where the human touch of an editor can   to the writer. As mentioned above, while grammar checker tools can detect many spelling errors and commonly confused words, they may still flag words used in an unusual context or fail to detect misspellings that are still words (form vs. from, for example). Grammar checkers can also have a difficult time correctly parsing longer, more complex sentences, and therefore struggle to correct them. When the grammar checker indicates a sentence is wrong, it may not be obvious exactly what the error is, or whether there even is an error.

Style is another important element that human editors can contribute. Humans can make sure that a writer’s style sounds consistent or that the tone is appropriate to the subject matter. After all, writing is intended to convey ideas to other humans. For this reason, it is usually quite important to have a human double check how your writing sounds before publishing it. This is particularly true for non-native speakers, who may compose technically correct but awkward phrasing or use unconventional grammar structures that confuse readers.

With these factors in mind, it is generally still recommended to have a person read your manuscript, dissertation, journal article, or book before submitting it for publication to increase your chances of success. The professional editing industry is a thriving one and can provide different levels of service tailored to your needs. Whether you are a freelance journalist in need of proofreading or a science Ph.D. student working on your thesis, there are professional editors available to help you and increase your chances of publication.

AI vs. Human: The Pros and Cons of Each

So should you use an AI grammar checker, pay a human, or both? Or even neither? The answer depends on what you are writing and who your intended audience is. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses. Let’s look at a summary of the pros and cons.

AI Grammar Checker

Pros:

Free or cheap monthly subscription

Detects errors in spelling and grammar as you write and makes suggestions to fix them

Can free up your mind from worrying about spelling and grammar

Can make some suggestions to improve style

Can fix errors in citations that are formatted incorrectly

Cons:

May not understand academic or technical jargon

Can miss words that are incorrect if they are spelled like another word

May not be able to provide useful suggestions for highlighted errors

Can miss bigger style and clarity issues

Cannot check for consistency in tone

Cannot notice logic or commonsense errors due to lack of real-world knowledge

Human Editor

Pros:

Able to carefully read the paper and find deep language errors such as sentence structure or cohesion

Can make substantive suggestions on content (organization, clarity, etc.)

Can identify missing or invalid citations

Can ensure style and tone are consistent and appropriate to the topic and audience

Can provide detailed feedback on errors or suggestions

Cons:

More expensive than AI

Editing can take a long time

Can miss errors in grammar or spelling

So Which One is Better?

As we can see, both AI grammar checkers and human editors have their pros and cons. While AI is improving greatly and now capable of providing more tailored assistance to writers, especially academics and researchers, the most successful writers employ both tools. For writing that is important to your research or career, it is critical to both take advantage of AI assistance and get the input of a real human.  Improve your writing today by utilizing the AI writing tool that is best for you, and finding a reliable, quality professional editing service to offer those finishing touches and deeper substantive edits.

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