Friday, 20 November 2015

How to use spell check to improve your essay writing

The attached image comes from an essay I recently edited. Clearly, the intended word was "profitability." Fortunately, I spotted the error and corrected it. But it's unlikely that the client typed "probability." It's much more likely that she typed something else and the spell checker in M.S. Word flagged it, and she changed it to this word. Look what happens if I write a similar word to "profitability," but slightly misspelled.

Of the three suggestions for "profability," the correct word "profitability" is not included! It's so easy to choose the wrong word from the list. In fact, our brains are wired to see the word we expect to see. That's why proofreading your own work can be so hard. Once you believe that the correct word is there, you will see the correct word. Part of the skill of proofreading is teaching yourself to slow down and really see each word that's on the page, not the word that we think should be on the page.

Once you accept the wrong word, it becomes even harder to spot when you are proofreading. Because it's a correct word, it's no longer underlined in red. But now your brain really thinks you've corrected it, so it's even more likely to fail to notice the error when you proofread.

I actually think many people would benefit in their writing if they turn off spelling suggestions. This means you won't see any red underlined words at all, during the writing process. The advantage is that you can simply focus on the content of what you are writing. For anyone who struggles with spelling, or even keeping in mind the complex ideas that make up an essay paragraph, this means completing the whole sentence before even thinking about the spelling.

To do this, simply uncheck the "Check spelling as you type" option in the M.S. Word preferences. You can write with spelling errors and focus on your ideas. When you complete the whole document, you can still use the spellcheck tools to check your work.

However, as you can see, the options are still limited by the guess that M.S. Word has for what is the right word. In this scenario, you would still be wrong to pick the word from the list. You need to pay sufficient attention to the suggestions to realize that you need to actually type in the correct word. If you can get closer, then the spell checker can probably guess it.
And one more thing. Here's a screen shot from an on-line proofreading service, Ginger. Notice that Ginger, like MS Word, can't see the error. For accurate proofreading, there's nothing like a human.

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