How foolproof is your spellchecker?

Using a spellchecker is a convenient way to quickly check and correct errors in a text. Running it over your email before you send it or over your blog post before you publish it is highly recommendable. But does it find all the mistakes?

A spellchecker is ‘a computer program which checks the spelling of words in files of text, typically by comparison with a stored list of words’ (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/spellchecker). And therein lies the weak spot: it checks against a list of words. So what about words that are on that list and spelled correctly – but not where you want them? Have a look at the following ten examples that would pass a spellchecker with flying colours. Can you spot the error in each of them?

Have a go – beat the spellchecker!

1. Could you send me the text in an edible format?
2. During a conversion between three or more people, one person often unwittingly takes on the role of the moderator.
3. After giving birth, all he wanted was to hold her baby in her arms.
4. We are happy to except your offer and look forward to working with you.
5. It was all – in all – a successful launch.
6. ‘Let’s eat nan,’ she said, and sat down at the table.
7. The company is implementing the changes across all sectors and it’s ever expanding network of suppliers.
8. A fixed space can be used to keep two words together that is separated by a space.
9. Do something great – everyday!
10. By spotting only one the ten errors, you have already beaten the spellchecker.

You can find the answers at the bottom of this post.

A spellchecker is not a proofreader

It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security with a spellchecker. After all, it is supposed to check your spelling, so you would think that it will find any mistake. But as you can see in these examples, a spellchecker cannot find the error if the spelling of the word in the text matches the spelling of the word on its list. It cannot tell if a word is missing or in the wrong place. No wonder – it is only a program and cannot read and understand the text as such.

Human proofreaders, on the other hand, not only check spelling and grammar, they also read the text for sense. They don’t just look at the individual words but at the whole picture. This is why a trained proofreader can spot correctly spelled words in the wrong context and other inconsistencies. So if you really want to be on the safe side, don’t just rely on a spellchecker – run it past a proofreader as well.

Answers

1. editable [not: edible]
2. conversation [not: conversion]
3. all she wanted [not: he]
4. accept [not: except]
5. – all in all – [not: all – in all –]
6. ‘Let’s eat, nan,’ [not: ‘Let’s eat nan,’]
7. its [not: it’s]
8. that are [not: that is]
9. every day [not: everyday]
10. one of the [not: one the]

Five myths about proofreading – busted!

Have you ever wondered if you should ask a proofreader for help and then run a spellchecker instead, thinking: same difference? Proofreading is often perceived as something old-fashioned that has been replaced by technology or as a necessary evil for people who write books on typewriters. Here are a few common misconceptions explained.

1. I don’t need proofreading, I use a spellchecker.
Using a spellchecker is recommendable and a good starting point. It finds a lot of misspelled words and even some grammatical errors. However, it does not spot words that are spelled correctly but not intended: ‘form’ instead of ‘from’, ‘grain’ instead of ‘brain’, ‘men’ instead of ‘man’, etc.

2. Anyone can proofread. I always let my colleague/friend proofread my texts.
It is good to let someone else proofread your text. Proofreading your own text is difficult, because our brain tends to auto-correct mistakes as we read our own words, because it knows what should be there. However, there are plenty of terms, spellings and rules in the English language that many people are unsure about: is it ‘accept’ or ‘except’, ‘its’ or ‘it’s’, ‘affect’ or ‘effect’? Professional proofreaders may not know every single term by heart, but they know when to check (and where) and are trained to see what is actually there.

3. Proofreading is not that important.
Not everything needs to be proofread. No one in their right mind will disregard a personal letter from a friend just because of a spelling mistake. However, if you have created a text with the intent to achieve something with it (e.g. to get people to buy your product or service or to read what you have to say), consider it as a job application: you want to make the best possible impression in order to get the desired attention. The trouble is that all your efforts could be destroyed if the text is riddled with mistakes or if one big blunder slipped in which spoils the impression and distracts from the content. Imagine a website that promotes public services but one crucial letter in the word ‘public’ is missing. I have seen it. It might not be taken quite so seriously.

4. Professional proofreading is expensive.
Have you ever asked for a quote to get a text proofread? Then perhaps you were surprised by how reasonable prices for proofreading generally are. Proofreading is usually charged per hour or per standard page, and fees are often more affordable than you think. Is it worth it for some peace of mind? You decide.

5. Proofreading takes too much time.
It is true: you cannot rush proofreading because it requires reading slowly in order to spot errors and inconsistencies. Having said that, an experienced proofreader can check around four standard pages (1000 words) an hour, depending on subject and condition of the text. If you have a text of around 500 words (such as this one) that you want proofread before sending it out, you will usually get it back swiftly.

So there we have it: spellchecker and proofreader – not quite the same thing, but very useful in conjunction to help make your text stand out for all the right reasons.

Check out the proofreading services at ablewords.