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The Truth About Proofreading

posted: 10.30.12 by Traci Gardner

The online proofreading site Grammarly posted a simple truth about proofreading recently on their Facebook page:


There are questions about the usefulness of services Grammarly provides. Just last week, Karen Peirce, Associate Director of the Center for Writers at North Dakota State University, asked about Grammarly on the Writing Center mailing list. Bedford/St. Martin’s Director of New Media Nick Carbone responded with links to “scorching reviews” in The Economist’s Johnson Language blog and by Ben Yagoda in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Whatever your beliefs about computerized proofreading, you have to admit there is some validity to this particular meme cartoon. The reason for that truth is only partially the length and genre of the status update. Naturally, it is easier and faster to proofread a short status update five to ten times. Further, in most cases, status updates do not focus on things like long, complex arguments or extended descriptions.

I emphasize the word most in that preceding sentence. Updates also include political arguments in support of a particular candidate or persuasive pieces urging readers to support a fundraising effort, charity, or environmental action. Even in the case of these longer posts, though, I suspect the writer proofreads the piece several times before posting.

Why? What’s the difference between a status update and an essay for school? As writing teachers, we all know. Students usually have a stronger sense of audience and purpose in those status updates than in their essays for school. Their status updates are likely to be read by their friends, who will reply or take some action based on what they read. The updates have an authentic audience and purpose, so students put more effort into ensuring that they communicate what they mean. When writing assignments focus on authentic writing activities, students put in more effort there, too.

Of course, the irony of this Grammarly meme is that the reason students sometimes put less effort into proofreading essays is the same reason that Grammarly yields those scorching reviews. Grammarly is not an authentic audience. It’s a computer algorithm that will never be able to connect with a reader or feel inspired by what he or she has to say.

Now, I wouldn’t say Grammarly is completely useless. I urge you to follow them on Facebook. They regularly post cartoons like the one above that can open up interesting class discussions about grammar, proofreading, and writing. I avoid the cartoons that seem to support the grammar police, but there are plenty of others that I share online or show in class, like the one on avoiding clichés or an only partially true update on using zombies to avoid passive voice.

Do you know other resources for helping students think about writing? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.


[Photo: Grammarly on Facebook]


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One Response to “The Truth About Proofreading”

  1. Niki Armstrong Says:

    Very impressive article, I came to know new things regarding proofreading.