Friday, February 18, 2011

Spellcheck: A Lovely Tool with a Dark Secret

by Ida Rosenthal

“I defiantly want to sea the Sahara Dessert before I dye.”
—a typical sentence from your latest essay

The good news? Your sentence is full of correctly spelled words.  However, they aren’t the correctly spelled words you meant to use.  Because of that your sentence makes very little sense, and not even spellcheck can save you.

These days, many writers are dependent on software like Microsoft Word or Word Perfect to catch common spelling and grammar errors. Although these tools are great at helping us improve our writing, sometimes they can act as a crutch that prevents us from catching our own mistakes. After all, why would we bother learning how to spell “Mississippi” if spellcheck can figure it out for us?

Ultimately, even if a word is technically spelled correctly, only the human brain
can detect the difference between words that sound the same (there/their, die/dye) or commonly confused words like definitely and defiantly. There is no substitute for direct proofreading, no matter how advanced technology has become. Sometimes, it might be difficult to reread an essay for the millionth time, so ask a friend to help you catch any additional mistakes you may have missed. And stay tuned… in next week’s blog post, writing consultant Chuck Sebian-Lander shares a great tip for proofreading your essays.

In addition to these proofreading strategies you can practice on your own, consider making an appointment with the Writing Center!   While we won’t proofread your essay for you, we do use several techniques to help you catch your own mistakes, even when everything technically seems correct on paper. 

In short, don’t be afraid to look at your paper with fresh eyes, because even though Microsoft Word’s spellcheck is a glorious tool, it just can’t distinguish between “desert” and “dessert” like you can.


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