Writer's Wednesday: Review of ProWritingAid

After last week's IWSG posts, where many people recommended ProWritingAid as a great way to be sure you have a clean MS, grammar-wise, I decided to give (the free version) a try. I know I have a few issues, many of them about commas. When I get my MS back from my proofreader I typically find I have used a lot of commas that don't belong there. Maybe left out some that do belong. 

I loaded in my whole MS for Washed Up With the Tide, and hit go. It came back indicating a LOT of grammar issues, which shocked me, though I soon found that most had to do with those dratted commas. Most of the software's suggestions in that area seem to be valid, as nearly as I can tell. A few reveal the flaws in automated software, as sometimes things aren't quite what they seem to a non-human "reader". Still, for punctuation and catching things like missing quotation marks, it is doing well.

When it starts looking at stylistic issues, it's a different matter. With no ability to understand context (it has little to no sense of irony and no appreciation of understatement), the machine is giving me lots of corrections that don't make sense, along with just enough that do to keep me pushing through the MS. But some of the responses are bloopers of great magnitude.

Example One: Curious what it would suggest for one flagged phrase, I found that it would have me rewrite "he was washed up on the rocks out by the reserve” into “the reserve washed him up on the rocks out.”

I get that they don't want me to use passive voice. But sometimes, passive voice is exactly what was called for. Leaving aside that the suggested rewrite doesn't even make sense, the point in the above sentences is what happened to the corpse. Not that the ocean washed him up, or waves did or whatever. I'm willing to examine each use of passive voice in my MS and have changed several, but most rules have exceptions.

Example Two: I wrote that someone wanted people "to be able to" do something. PWA suggests I "rewrite to avoid clutter words" and just say he wanted people to do it.

News bulletin: it's not the same thing to want someone to be ABLE to do something and wanting them TO DO it. 

Based on some suggestions, the software (I hesitate to call it AI, because though clearly A, it shows little sign of being I) is wholly unable to handle idioms. Its efforts to shoe-horn such expressions into its limited worldview are amusing when not annoying.

I could go on, but you get the idea. From this admittedly limited test of the software, I have to say it is a far cry from a human editor, and creates some extra work sorting out the good suggestions from the bad. Is it worth it? I think my answer has to be a resounding "it depends." It depends on how much you struggle with grammar. It depends on if you have a human editor who can use judgement in making suggestions instead of blanket corrections. It also depends if you feel equipped to judge the suggestions. And it depends on if you have the patience to do so. One thing: it's free, and it's making me look more closely at the prose in one more way, so that I do feel my MS will come out of this that little bit stronger.

Final note: a number of things it tagged are only elucidated in the premium (i.e. paid) version. I can often look at them and guess what it's bothered by, so that can be helpful even without paying. Some of those things I've even changed.

Really final note: Almost everything it says about dialog has to be ignored, unless the character is a college professor giving a lecture. People don't talk correctly, and you want to put the natural sound of the dialog over grammatical correctness. Also, I hate almost every one of the suggestions to "use stronger adjectives." Some of the suggestions aren't even any stronger, in my opinion. And sometimes when you say "nice" you mean "nice." Beware of using so many "strong adjective" that you have purple prose.

My conclusion:
I'll still be doing my old reliable checks, including reading the MS aloud. Will I use PWA again? That would be a big "maybe?"I certainly won't be paying for it.

The opinions in this review are my own, based on a little use of the free version of the software, and I received nothing from the developers/owners of said software in exchange for my honest opinion.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2024
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated. 

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