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This post is written by Don Sheridan, an Associate Professor of Information Systems at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Don works in the ISOM Department and as a member of ILT seeking innovative, practical systems and solutions to improve learning and teaching. Twenty years ago he and his colleague David White created Cecil, the world’s first learning management system and he continues to publish widely in the field.

Here Don tells us how Grammarly can be used as an aspect of supervisory practice with doctoral students.  We hope you enjoy it. Regards, Claire

Many supervisors and advisors who support doctoral writing may not know about one software product that is a useful addition to our armamentarium: Grammarly, http://www.grammarly.com. At the University of Auckland, our first impression was it was immediately helpful to ESL students, particularly those from Asia as it appears to identify ‘subject-verb agreement’ issues that some of these students struggle to master. We now suggest that it is useful for all students because it reveals blind spots: errors and typos that authors can no longer see because they have read through their own manuscripts so often.

Grammarly is not perfect but it’s better than many similar solutions, such as the grammar checker in Word™. It is possible for students to embed Grammarly within the Google Chrome browser at no charge. Access to a licensed version provides an upload service and access within MS Office and MS Outlook. (Personally, I find the Chrome browser solution a nuisance but students may disagree.) The institutional licensing fees for Grammarly are thought reasonable. It’s also possible to hire the product on a month by month basis which makes it attractive to those writing dissertations or theses.

It’s certainly attractive to supervisors who can specify its use before committing time to a second rate effort! One quick ‘win’ is to ask doctoral students to use Grammarly to first vet their writing and then make changes to improve grammar, syntax, punctuation and avoid plagiarism. Setting this whole process somewhere in the first year of the doctorate will give supervisors an indication of their student’s commitment to deadlines, writing skills in general, and the scope of remediation required. This process also provides the student with an opportunity for self-awareness—it won’t just be the supervisor muttering about literacy levels. There will be objective evidence provided by a non-biased software review.

A more complicated deployment is as follows. It’s been my experience that students not only benefit from using Grammarly, but improve even more so when required to demonstrate how it was used to improve their writing. The Teaching Professor is always worth a squiz and in this case several articles related to feedback provide some insight on how to get more value from Grammarly. If doctoral students are in cohorts who regularly work together, they could discuss what they learn on Grammarly to anchor those points and establish that it is normal to have grammar errors somewhere in a lengthy document and usual to need to take time to fix them up.

Grammarly is helpful when preparing to submit dissertations and thesis. The Grammarly report is sufficient to cover the usual list of typos and other mistakes that some examiners object to. Keeping examiners happy with grammar, spelling, syntax and punctuation makes them more favourably disposed towards the work when they evaluate its deeper levels.

If you’ve got any other stories about the use of Grammarly, as a supervisor or a student, we’d love to hear from you.

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