A good grammar and spell checker is required if you write for a living. Although it can't replace a careful proofread of your work, it can help you spot things you may have missed, recognize your weaknesses and polish your writing and spelling skills. Here are several free grammar checkers, spell checkers and word processors with built-in grammar/spell checking capabilities.
Free Spell Checkers and Grammar Checkers
Whitesmoke is a free online grammar checker. Paste your text into the online form, submit and receiv instant results. The program catches spelling errors too, but is most valuable for its ability to catch common grammar mistakes. Receive a Whitesmoke writing index score on a sliding scale of 1 to 10 for each block of text you analyze. I'm not sure how relevant this is, but it's a feature none-the-less.
The program seems to work very well for a grammar checker, but don't expect it to do all the work for you. There are some things software will never catch, so make sure to proofread your work even after you've put it through an automated grammar check.
Spellchecker.net is an online spelling and grammar checker. It is simple to use - just paste your text into the box on the website and submit. It works well and even offers suggestions for grammar and spelling mistakes, but it doesn't recognize mistakes such as using "their" instead of "there," etc. If you really need an online grammar check, I'd recommend Whitesmoke over this one.
Spellchecker.net does have one unique feature, known as thesaurus checking. Again, I'm not sure how useful this would be, but it offers alternate words from a thesaurus for the words in your text. It's kind of cool, but I'm at a loss to find a good use of the feature for general content writing.
Spell Check and Grammar Check Plugins
After the Deadline is a free open-source grammar and spell checker plugin for Wordpress. You can use the plugin to check spelling and grammar in blog posts, and it appears to work quite well (I haven't used it). Features include spell check, detecting misused words, grammar check, writing style check and error explanations. Click here for more information. Although it has only limited use (Wordpress blog posts), it could still be helpful if you blog frequently and want to polish up your posts.
If you use Firefox as your internet browser, you already have a built-in spell checker. This checker works any time you type text directly into a web page or form. If you aren't using Firefox as your web browser, download it here. You won't be sorry. :) Unfortunately, no grammar checker exists for Firefox at this time. Maybe some day...
Passive Voice Checker
The Passivator is the only free tool I could find that accurately detects the passive voice. You simply drag the bookmarklet to your browser's toolbar and click. All possible occurrences of the passive voice and adverbs are highlighted. Most web writers understand the importance of the active voice, and learning to recognize when you're writing passively is a great help. The tool works well, but it cannot be used in your word processor. You'll need to paste the text into the browser first. Click here for more information about the Passivator. It's easy to use and you can also analyze other people's writing. Please stay away from this blog, however. :)
Free Word Processors with Built-In Grammar and Spell Check
OpenOffice.org is the best free word processor out there. I use it exclusively for word processing and I actually prefer the program to Microsoft Word. OpenOffice makes a great alternative to MS Word and has most of the same functionality. The program looks great and is easy to customize. Another cool feature that freelance writers might find useful is the ability to export a document as a PDF file. It has a built-in spell checker, but you'll have to download an extension for grammar checking. Don't worry, it's quite easy.
- Download OpenOffice.org and install the program. It's a small download and doesn't take very long to install.
- Download the language tool extension from the OpenOffice.org extensions page.
- Install the extension by opening a new OpenOffice document and then choosing Tools>Extension Manager.
- Click the "Add" button on the bottom of the extension manager, then choose the language tool extension from your hard drive.
- Restart OpenOffice and use the grammar checker in your OpenOffice documents.
Like most other grammar checkers, the language tool won't catch everything, but it's always helpful for obvious mistakes you may overlook. It won't alert you to the passive voice, as Microsoft Word can do, but it will provide all the basic functionality of a grammar checker. Plus, you can't beat the price for a complete Suite of office tools with spell and grammar check.
NeoOffice is a free set of office applications including a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tools. It is available only for Mac OS X, however, so I haven't used it. I've heard good things about the program and it has access to the Mac OS X spell checker, grammar checker, media browser and address book. It's also supposed to be faster than OpenOffice.org for Mac OS X users. Click here for a more thorough review or visit the NeoOffice website.
Microsoft Word, while not actually free unless it was already installed on your computer, also has a built-in spelling and grammar check. The great thing about MS word is that it can detect the passive voice in your writing, alerting you to potential problems. You can get a free 60 day trial of Microsoft Word here.
The passive voice checker is far from perfect, as it highlights everything that could be considered passive voice with no understanding of context. If you struggle with writing passively, however, it can be an invaluable tool. Here is a great article on how to identify and eliminate passive voice in Microsoft Word. I'm not sure which version is used in the tutorial, but the steps should be similar for all versions of MS Word.
Have I left anything out? What's your favorite spell checker or grammar checker?