It’s Time to Upgrade Your Brain’s Grammar Linter

I read a lot of Medium/blog posts by software developers, and sometimes it’s excruciating. I spend more time making edit comments than it would take to read the article. Maybe I’m just a nice guy for doing that, and it is pretty awesome that Medium provides that functionality, but I’m tired… Honestly, sometimes I’ll stop reading because the writing is so bad. Also, I realize that English is a second language to some of these writers. I’m not talking about them — I’m happy to help those folks, and I give them extra leeway (and respect for writing about something technical in their non-native language.) But for Americans, Brits, Canadians, etc., there’s no excuse. You can do it!

Grammar-Checking Tools

It would be awesome if we had a grammar checker (EnglishLint?) built into Medium. Even something as basic as what Microsoft Word did 10 years ago would be nice. And honestly, many of the mistakes I see aren’t even that complicated — more complicated than spellchecking, sure, but stuff like basic subject-verb agreement, its vs. it’s, then vs. than, there/their/they’re, punctuation problems (too much, not enough)…

Ooh, this looks promising:

After the Deadline is made by Automattic, the creators of WordPress & Gravatar. There’s a Chrome extension, and a Firefox add-on, and a bookmarklet, and a whole developer API (‘hear that, @Medium?).

And another one:

Looks like they have Chrome and Firefox integration too. Grammarly actually looks pretty good; it appears to catch most of the common mistakes I mentioned.

So definitely make use of a tool like After the Deadline or Grammarly when you’re writing. You wouldn’t dream of not using spellcheck, right? Even though these tools are pretty good, natural language processing still has a long way to go. We’ll get there eventually. Lots of smart people are working on it. Imagine having an AI assistant that could tell you what you’re doing wrong. Like Clippy, but actually smart and useful. ;)

It looks like you’re writing a Medium post…

Or maybe like Her. ;)

ScarJo wants you… to be a better writer.

Until Then…

In the meantime, this is a call to all devs and engineers — level up your writing game. Seriously, if you’re writing a lot of posts about software, you owe it to yourself and your readers to make your writing better. Would you publish code that had syntax errors all over the place? Because that’s what it feels like when I read some of this stuff. I’m not advocating strict adherence to prescriptive grammar rules or anything (hopefully that’s obvious from the informal tone of this article), but when I read a poorly written post, my internal English compiler is spitting out error messages like crazy. Fortunately, our brains are more flexible than compilers (even though English is way more ambiguous and complicated than any programming language), so I can usually figure out what the writer is trying to say, but ouch ouch ouch.

If you can dodge common writing mistakes…

Here are some resources to help improve your writing:

Final Thoughts

I’m not trying to be mean or tell anyone to stop writing. By all means, keep creating stuff. Just spend a little more time making sure it’s good. Study the above resources, take an extra 10 minutes to proofread that article you wrote before clicking publish, have a friend read it if you’re not confident in your own abilities yet, use a grammar-checking tool… Most of the mistakes I mentioned could be caught with just a little extra effort, so come on, upgrade your English linter already!

Be like Mr. Pool.