I’m editing some ELA modules on Common Core language standards, so right now I’m hyperaware of details like sentence structure, active/passive voice, and spelling. Let me tell you why I rely on spell-check as an editor.
One of my goals for a text is to make sure that all words are spelled correctly. I’m smart, I can spell, I’m good at English, right? I’m a trained editor, a careful reader, and I know when to double-check word spellings. So, for a long time, I assumed I didn’t need to use a spell-checker.
However, when a group of colleagues were discussing and swapping editorial checklists, I noticed that running spell-check was a task that appeared frequently. Huh, I thought.
Out of scientific curiosity, I started running spell-check on texts after I finished editing them, especially long ones… and wow, was I embarrassed at some of the howlers it caught. I mistype studnet and exmaple all the time, for example, and my eyes just skim over those, but there were typos and spelling errors in the original documents that I’d missed, too. How does that happen? Check out all the scrambled words in the brain teaser below, a chunk of text that’s crossed my Facebook news feed a few times with an unlikely statistic about the number of brilliant people who can read it:
The last line of the scrambled text says, “This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole.” According to BrainHQ, this is mostly true, but the patterns in the scramble are easier than other possible choices to unscramble, such as the maintained double c in according. Your brain might not catch the variation accordnig, either, but a spell-checker will. I mistype that all. the. time. And porblem — I’d probably catch porbelm, as in the image above, because the b and the l are too far apart, but the first three letters still blur together.
Spell-check won’t pick up correctly spelled but misused homophones, of course. It does flag quite a few names and terms (for example, metacognitively and postassessment are two words I added to Word’s dictionary), and it does come up with some grammar suggestions that are hilariously wrong. That’s why I, the human running the test, review each suggestion and decide how to handle it. I’d rather click Ignore a bunch of times and catch one real error than skip the test and have a PE come back and tell me that something was missed.
So, important as it is to read carefully and fix typos and misspellings, I always run spell-check after I’ve read through a text. A++ recommended.
We all know that spell checkers are not perfect, but I still use them to “pre-edit.” As editors, we know when Word’s red or green underlines are right and when they are wrong. But it never hurts to have Word asking us the questions. I remain amazed at how many authors don’t bother to run it. I run it to grab some low-hanging fruit, get an idea of how much work to expect when I start reading, and pull together an informal style sheet if needed. Then I edit the document two or forty times knowing it’d be even more work without the spell checker. A former employer told me to run a spell checker after an edit to be sure I haven’t introduced any new errors. That makes sense to me, and I don’t even like that former employer. :-)