How Writing-Assist Tools Like Grammarly Ruin Your Copywriting Skills

4 min read

Hands typing on keyboard

If you ever learned to ride a bicycle, you probably started with training wheels. They’re great for keeping you from falling on your face during those formative rides around the neighborhood cul-de-sac.

But after a few weeks of practice, the training wheels become obsolete. They aren’t just unnecessary. They cramp your style. You can’t make sharp turns or go full speed. They certainly aren’t winning you any points in the coolness department.

So like every other kid in the neighborhood, you had a realization: The training wheels gotta’ go.

Grammarly (and similar writing-assist programs) are training wheels for your copywriting skills. And like training wheels, they have a time and place. But Grammarly doesn’t position itself as an educational tool. Rather, it’s a permanent solution: a safety net for your writing, from now until eternity.

That’s a slippery slope. Because writing-assist tools aren’t just inefficient, they’ll kill your development as a copywriter. Here’s why:

Word suggestions stifle your vocabulary.

Anyone who wants to improve their writing should want a bigger vocabulary. Most writing-assist tools will provide one—or at best a few—alternate word suggestions. That can be the difference between finding a word that works and a word that pops. Why say “go” when you can say “run” or “drive” or “dash” or even “sashay?” Remember: It’s all about speaking to your audiences in a way that demands their attention.

If you’re really struggling to find the right word, use a good old-fashioned thesaurus so you don’t limit your options.

You’ll sound like Mr. Roboto.

As the inimitable Anton Chekov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” While we aren’t all necessarily working on great works of literature, the point remains: Writing-assist tools suck the life out of your ability to express yourself in a way that’s true to your personality. They kill your ability to show without telling. Don’t let some algorithm tell you how to sound like you.

You’ll never grasp grammar.

Imagine if your grammar teacher in elementary school always told you the test answers. You would have loved it.

But down the road, you’d probably realize you have no idea how to use semicolons. Or hyphens. Or that you should spell out numbers lower than 10. Without Grammarly to hold your hand, you’ll be writing like an elementary schooler again.

You won’t be clear.

For all its functionality, Grammarly can’t take a 30,000-foot-view of your writing. It can make suggestions to make individual sentences clearer, but that doesn’t do much good if your thoughts are poorly organized, or if the information you’re conveying is boring or irrelevant. When you have a bunch of “clear” sentences that don’t play well together, you’re well on your way to understanding anti-gestalt theory.

Paraphrasing will become your best friend.

And that’s no way to grow as a copywriter. Grammarly includes a plagiarism detection tool, which almost begs writers to steal copy and change it just enough so they won’t get caught. The irony is that writing it yourself is often faster, and always less stressful.

You can’t break rules you don’t understand.

The real masters of language break the rules. Think of Hunter S. Thomson. Emily Dickinson. Shel Silverstein. Jane Austen. Lewis Carroll. All notorious for their abuse of grammar. It’s part of what made their writing so interesting, and what gave them a unique voice. Breaking the rules isn’t recommended for amateur or even intermediate copywriters, but once you find your voice, it can be a mighty weapon. If you’re constrained by Grammarly, you’ll never get to use it.

There are better tools to help your writing.

You have options that are less of a crutch and more of a helpful assistant. One of those is the Hemmingway App. It’s a free tool that grades the readability of your document and flags overly complicated sentences and constructions. While not a perfect app (it could also be a crutch if you’re not careful), it encourages you to think through copy changes rather than simply providing an answer.

Google Docs and Microsoft Word also offer writing-assist functionality, but Google Docs in particular will take over with auto suggestions if you aren’t careful. A strong copywriter won’t lean on these tools for much more than a spellcheck.

Being a great copywriter is hard; it can take years, maybe decades, to develop your true voice. But that’s what makes this job so great: There’s always more to learn and new ways to get better. That’s why copywriting is a rewarding pursuit—and why Grammarly spoils all the fun.

So ditch the training wheels. Learn the rules and find your voice. It’s the only way you’ll thrive in this game.