Word processors like Microsoft Word and OpenOffice have certainly made writing easier.
But they’ve also made writers lazier. Traditional proofreading is often an afterthought in a world of intelligent auto corrections and real-time grammar checking.
Consequently, it’s tempting to leave error-hunting to a spell checker. But effective proofreading isn’t as simple as a spell check, and running a spell check shouldn’t be a replacement for spending some time carefully re-reading text before you print or publish it.
Because your spell check will lie to you. It will tell you that everything you’ve written is fine. Don’t worry. Breathe easy. It’s got you covered. But while context-sensitive spell check algorithms will catch many basic mistakes, they are far from perfect.
Don’t trust your spell check
A spell check won’t, for example, pick up on some correctly spelt words used incorrectly in a sentence. It won’t recognise the correct spellings of most people and places. Nor can it query facts, dates or events. Truth be told, a word processor isn’t actually that good at spotting clumsy grammar.
A spell check wouldn’t, for example, have objected to the way a Baltimore news channel once subtitled Prince Harry as the ‘Prince of Whales’ instead of the ‘Prince of Wales’.
Don’t get me wrong. A spell check is a useful tool as part of the proofreading process. But good text-checking requires a human eye. A proofreader’s eye. Preferably two. You want proof? Here’s how clever the average spell check is…
Take a look at the text excerpt that follows and see how many mistakes you can spot.
— copy starts —
Simone pointed his finger the boy and smiled wicked smile. “So you’ve peddled all night to get here?’ He said. “Impressive. We’ve not too far from border here. You may also see also Scotland if you climb up to top of that hill over there too.”
“Thank you Simon,” replied the boy.
“One more thing… I cut my knee earlier and hadn’t brought a 1st aid kid along. To be honest, my memory hasn’t been goof over the past few years as it used to be. Do you have one that I could burrow?”
— copy ends —
How many did you find? There are actually 19 deliberate mistakes in this short passage and Microsoft Word 2010 doesn’t find any of them. The spell checker baked into Google Drive finds only two, as does Ginger Software’s free online spell check (but not the same two). Still trust a spell check? No, neither do I.
You can find the 19 mistakes highlighted and explained in our book: Don’t Trust Your Spell Check, available on Amazon.
image credit: Multitool.org