Strengthen Your Writing: Apps to Improve Grammar and Vocabulary
Writing is one of those skills that all professors expect you to have but rarely take the time out to teach. Outside of a traditional English class, it's just expected that you'll learn the mechanics of good writing. But what is good writing? The "tenets" of good writing are infinitely complex and each field has its own style. Scientific writing, for example, tends to be concise and straightforward while the Humanities may throw in some additional adverbs and variations in sentence structure to convey additional meaning. Science writing also has the added advantage of using diagrams and charts to convey points that are too difficult for text alone.
Thankfully, there are many resources out there that offer tips for improving your academic prose, whether it's scientific to creative writing. Moreover, Leo Babauta over at ZenHabits recently posted some good recommendations for Training to be a Good Writer.
At its foundation, good writing comes from a mastery of grammar and vocabulary. You could spends weeks studying the MLA Handbook and The Elements of Style but that's no fun. Below are some apps to that are guaranteed to strengthen your writing by improving your grammar and vocabulary.
There are many ways to construct a sentence and each possibility conveys a different message to the reader. Thus when you master good grammar, you have the ability to change the sentence structure in a manner that allows you to guide the reader as they progress through your work.
Grammarly is arguable the most sophisticated web-based application when it comes to grammar correction. Once you sign up for a free account, you can upload your documents or paste a snippet of text and immediately identify errors in your work. You can also download a plug-in for Windows, Chrome, Microsoft Word and Outlook, allowing you to edit within each application. Grammarly stands out because it not only highlights errors, but gives detailed explanations for each one, describing why the word or phrase is incorrect and how to improve it. The paid version offers additional suggestions for sentence structure and vocabulary usage. But even with the current promotion of $140/year, it's still pricey. The free version should suffice for most people.
If you want a completely free option, Hemingway Editor is a favorite among many. Hemingway focuses more on readability and sentence structure as opposed to specific grammar recommendations. Copy and paste the text into the box and let the algorithm run it's magic.
Most people improve their vocabulary through incessant reading. But for those who don't read outside of their required school work, there are some web-based applications that can expand your vocabulary in interesting ways.
For a no-nonsense thesaurus, WordHippo offers a wide range of tools in an intuitive web format. For those who are more visual learners, however, a visual thesaurus is the way to go. A visual thesaurus uses webs to map out related words and their relationship to each other.
My web-based application of choice is WordVis. Simply search a word and it unleashes a web of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that can be used in place of your existing word. Nouns and adjectives are denoted with different colors and definitions are available in a list on the left side of screen so you can find exactly what you're looking for without having to go through each word, one-by-one.
If you haven't tried these application before, test them out for your next writing assignment. If you have tried them, let us know what you think in the comments below.
[Image by Fickr user Mobil Yazılar]