All major browsers, save Internet Explorer 8, have inline spell checking as a feature out of the box and even IE can be trivially updated to do so. This has been a boon for bloggers who do much of their writing in the browser and having the spell checker built into their browser has probably prevented millions of typos from seeing the light of day.
However, when Automattic purchased After the Deadline (AtD) last year, I knew it was important. This was reaffirmed when Matt Mullenweg said, when referring to the plugin, “When I first tried After the Deadline I was blown away; it was so much better than other checkers I’d used.”
Though AtD is already standard for all WordPress.com blogs, many self-hosted WordPress users (.org users) are unaware of it or its free plugin and aren’t using it.
With that in mind, here is a quick overview of AtD and why it should be in almost every bloggers must-have plugin list.
What it Does
The idea behind AtD is a relatively simple one, rather that merely checking for spelling errors, AtD looks at grammar and style errors that bloggers often make.
Once you install AtD a “Proofread” button is added to your “Add New Post” page in the formatting bar. It appears in both the HTML and the Visual editor. Once you’ve finished typing your post, you simply click the link the AtD goes to work, analyzing your post for any potential mistakes.
Those errors are broken down into three kinds:
- Spelling Errors: Highlighted in red, these mistakes are the same ones your default browser spell checker is designed to find.
- Grammar Errors: Highlighted in green, these are errors in grammar such as punctuation mistakes, subject/verb agreement and so forth.
- Style Errors: Highlighted in blue, these are not necessarily mistakes but are passages that AtD believes can be written better, either simplified, clarified or tightened. Includes unnecessary phrases or and overly complex expressions.
The goal of AtD is that, if you use it, not only will your writing be more correct, but actually better and easier to read. By working to improve your spelling, style and grammar, it helps you write a more clear and concise post.
How Well it Works
AtD is an amazing plugin but its far from perfect. All it does is offer suggestions, you still have to provide a human analysis of those recommendations and, at times, ignore ones that are off-base.
For example, when I use it on Plagiarism Today, AtD often guesses wrong when dealing with discussions about the law as the terminology often times throws AtD for a loop. Despite that, If ind myself agreeing with about 75% of the recommendations of AtD, including style ones.
The biggest drawback to AtD is that, unlike inline spell checkers, it does not run automatically as you type. Though you can set it up to automatically check posts and pages upon submission, it requires activation on your side to run. This causes many to forget about it or rush through it.
However, that is a limitation of the plugin caused by the fact it isn’t native to your browser and there isn’t much that can be done about it.
The plugin also isn’t always the fastest. Since it sends your text to the AtD server for checking, it often has to wait a time before it provides suggestions. With shorter articles it is barely noticeable, with larger ones it can seem like a drag.
But despite these rather small limitations, AtD is an invaluable tool and I can say comfortably that it has greatly improved my blog writing and should, if possible, be a plugin every WordPress user has at their disposal.
Editing your own work, even for the best writers, is almost impossible. Though you can reread a work multiple times and even use tricks such as reading your work aloud, it doesn’t always help and mistakes seep through. AtD may not catch all of those errors, but it certainly will reduce them.
If you bear in mind that AtD is not a substitute for human judgement, as no spelling/grammar checker should ever be, but it can be used effectively with it.
If you are smart about how you use AtD, I can almost guarantee it will make you a better writer, or at least help you create better writing.
Considering that the plugin is completely free and there’s no risk in trying it, there’s no reason to not set it up and give it a shot. The worst that can happen is you learn you are a grammar genius with no need for outside help.
That’s certainly not something that will ruin your day…