How well does Google Docs spelling and grammar check work?


For standard business writing, Google Docs’ grammar suggestions have improved a lot since the feature debuted in 2019. Here’s how much better it has become.

grammar suggestions for Google Docs in 2019, I tested it. The system successfully identified 2 out of 7 errors in my test text (Figure A). The best third-party grammar check systems, such as Grammarly and Sapling, found six out of seven errors. Three other third-party systems flagged three, four and five of the seven problems, respectively. All of the third-party spelling and grammar check options I tested performed better than Google’s built-in tools.

Since it has been more than two years since the initial launch, I decided to take another look to see how the Google Docs spelling and grammar check system has changed.

Figure A 

Google Sheets: Tips and tricks (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Additionally, if I add some sort of terminal punctuation to the sentence fragment (e.g., a period or exclamation mark), the system then immediately identifies that word “gooder” as an error (Figure B, right). The behavior may make sense, since a writer might use a phrase or sentence fragment as a title. This remains the sort of subtle error that a human editor could catch.

Based on this improvement alone, I recommend that people who use third-party grammar check apps test how well those systems perform. Run a few grammar and spelling checks on rough drafts of texts you typically type, then compare the issues identified to those found by Google’s built-in tools. If your experience is anything like mine, you might decide you no longer need to pay for third-party grammar checking services.

Figure B 

Correct your spelling & grammar in Google Docs) includes a brief acknowledgement about the limitations of machine learning, indicating that “As language understanding models use billions of common phrases and sentences to automatically learn about the world, they can also reflect human cognitive biases. Being aware of this is a good start, and the conversation around how to handle it is ongoing. Google is committed to making products that work well for everyone, and are actively researching unintended bias and mitigation strategies,” (Figure E). In short, sometimes machine learning systems get things very wrong.

Figure E 

continues to add features, it is important to keep in mind that machine learning-trained systems may be the most beneficial for the narrow field of mundane business writing. As an example, type the last two lines of Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” into a Google Doc: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” The system suggests the last two words be changed from “be it” to “do it” (Figure F), which signals to me that grammar check remains most useful in limited contexts. People who write dialogue, fiction or poetry may want to turn spelling and grammar checking off.

Figure F 


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