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Divas On Writing: Why Can’t I Trust Spell Check?

As an editor, I have open on my web browser Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, and the Urban Dictionary at all times while I work. I cross-check each site when I’m stumped on a word, the usage, or if it’s hyphenated. I really hate those hyphenated words. 

Oftentimes, authors use the same steps I just listed above when writing. But some don’t. Many just simply use spell check in Microsoft Word and leave it at that.

Here lies the problem with that way of thinking. Spell check is not foolproof nor is it always correct. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the wrong word used because it’s a victim of spell check. Hello, homophones.there

While spell check or the “magician” inside your Word program will insert that squiggly line under many of your mistakes or misspellings, the odds are it’s not 100% perfect. Therefore you can’t completely trust it will find everything. How many times have you gone through your manuscript and found misspellings, typos, words that are missing letters, or simply the wrong word? A lot, right? Now, how many times has Word found the same mistake? Odds are good that it’s more than you’d like.

Microsoft is aware of certain problems with their software detecting misspelled words or grammar/punctuations. There are a plethora of articles troubleshooting these problems. But the fact of the matter is, you can go through some steps to help you lessen your typos and stop relying solely on spell check.

Read your manuscript multiple times. 

Let’s get real, there are those out there that don’t reread their own work before they submit it to an editor or to a publishing house. They expect the editor to find their mistakes for them. Which editors do, but nothing makes an editor cringe more than getting a document that is clearly a first draft. Trust me, we know when it happens. Simple words are misspelled and obvious errors stand out like a sore thumb. Publishing houses on the other hand can and will discard a poorly edited or written manuscript at first glance because of these flaws. My advice: Reread your manuscript as much as you can before you hand it over to an editor or a publishing house.

Refresh your knowledge of homophones.

Along with misspellings, homophones are a close second that spell check will miss. Vocabulary.com has a great article explaining homophones and supplies a long list of different ones.

Check different sources.

Merriam-Webster is a go-to guide and a standard in the editing industry but it’s not always correct. This happens when you’re not sure of a word; cross-checking it on other sites is vital. Dictionary.reference.comThe Oxford Dictionary, The Urban Dictionary, and WordReference.com are great references to use.

Ask the Internet or a fellow author.

When all else fails, an Internet search isn’t all that bad. There are many articles or message boards online that have either asked your question or have the answer about a word or meaning. Fellow authors can also help you out. They are going through the same process you are and can be a wealth of information. Heck, editors ask other editors about spellings or hyphenations all the time.

Spell check, albeit a wonderful addition to your writing software, will always have its downsides. The object is to be aware that using it is not the end all be all when writing and editing.

What are some of the craziest words spell check missed or spelled for you?


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