You might think that your spell checker is your savior. After all, how many thousands of times during your academic and professional life have you used it? Each time you needed to touch type an essay, report, or letter you knew you could rely on your spellchecker to identify misspellings and suggest the right spelling of words. Talk about relief!
But did you know that spell checkers aren’t what will save you from spelling mistakes? In fact, it’s a spelling mistake to rely on spellcheckers and autocorrect features, because they won’t always make sure your content is error-free. In fact, spell checkers have many weaknesses. They cannot identify atomic typos: misspellings where the misspelled word is a legitimate English word. Examples of atomic typos are “four” and “for” or “nuclear” and “unclear.” These errors are almost impossible to catch if you only rely on a spell checker, because these are all correctly-spelled English words, even if they don’t make sense in context.
What’s more a spell checker will flag “ur” – but it might not suggest the right spelling for the word you want. Worse, it might suggest irrelevant ones instead of what you intended to write (like “urn” and “us” rather than “your”). In the end, a spell checker can make things worse instead of better.
However, the most counterproductive thing spell checkers do is affect people who use them. If someone relies entirely on machine-assisted checks, they’ll start to assume that if nothing is flagged in the document, that means everything is fine. They get too complacent, they assume their content’s perfect, and so they don’t proofread or don’t proofread as rigorously. The result: a lot of embarrassing misspellings and misused words.
Don’t despair, though! You can improve your spelling skills easily so you don’t have to rely on anything but your own foolproof spelling knowledge.
Use a Dictionary
Invest in a print dictionary that’s small in size and easy to have around so you can quickly look up words in it. Thankfully, the best dictionaries have online versions too; try the Oxford and Merriam- Webster ones.
Consult your dictionary each time you’re uncertain of a word’s spelling. Then write it down using pen and paper a few time to really learn its spelling, and you’re good to go. You’ve just learned how to spell that word, and you will most likely never have to question your spelling of it ever again.
Use Spelling Software
You can substantially improve your spelling skills with the help of technology. Practice using spelling activities and play fun spelling games with programs like eReflect’s Ultimate Spelling™. Before you know it, you will become a competent, confident speller!
Be a Smart Proofreader
Proofreading is 95% being intuitive and shrewd, and 5% being attentive to detail. You know which words give you trouble, so look out for them. Words with suffices and prefixes are the usual suspects of many misspellings, so know when the endings –able and –ible are used (as in “formidable” and “responsible”). You’ll immediately be able to spot the incorrect spellings once you’ve mastered this technique. Check it out for yourself with this quick quiz: Is it “impartial” or “imparcial”? What’s the right spelling, “significance” or “significence”?
And then of course there are the homophones and near-homophones, words we all mix up from time to time. Know your “eminent” from your “imminent,” your “proceed” from your “process,” and of course, let us never forget the unholy trio of “their,” “they’re” and “there” – and remember that none of these words would be flagged by a spell checker, even if you use them incorrectly.
Such tricky words often sneak up on us and ruin our writing, but if you’re smart about it you can prevent them from ever messing up another essay of yours. Improve your spelling knowledge and never rely on a spell checker again!
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