Three mistakes a spellcheck won’t help you with

Posted on November 18, 2019

 

Before publishing any writing, or submitting it to somebody for consideration, it’s important to run a spellcheck on it. Microsoft Word will help you by underlining possible errors as you type, but it doesn’t always do this “dynamically”. This means that if you paste text into it from elsewhere, it might not pick up on a problem until you physically perform a spellcheck.

Even then, there are times when the tool can misunderstand the context or grammatical structure of a sentence, so there’s often no substitute for a human editor. Sometimes it will suggest something that makes no sense, and other times it might ignore a spelling error because it recognises it as a different, correctly spelled word. Mistyping ‘from’ as ‘form’, for example, is a common mistake and one spellchecks rarely pick up on, since both are English words.

Here are three other examples of when writers and editors need to be vigilant, because their spellcheck will simply shrug its shoulders:

1. “Santa Clause”

We’ve now reached that time of year where, as an editor, I start to get really fed up of Santa Claus acquiring an ‘e’ at the end of his name. It doesn’t seem to bother Word though, which lets it through a spellcheck.

This is because not only is ‘clause’ a word meaning a section of a legal document, but ‘The Santa Clause’ is the title of a 1994 film that uses this play on words as the theme for the story.

Presumably, whenever Word sees ‘Santa Clause’, it presumes the writer is referring to the film, even when there’s no ‘The’ before it. Myself, I think it would be better to presume a typo rather than a reference to a 25-year-old film, but the Microsoft grammarians clearly disagree.

2. Numbers in the middle of words

On a QWERTY keyboard, the line of numbers is just above the top row of letters, so it’s common for fast (or careless) typists to accidentally insert a number into a word. If typing the word ‘writing’, for example, they might produce something like ‘wri5ting’, because they’ve hit the ‘t’ and the adjacent ‘5’ at the same time.

Word won’t detect this in a spellcheck, perhaps because it simply sees it as an alphanumeric string, such as a password. Luckily, such mistakes tend to stick out like a sore thumb, so careful proofreading should weed them out.

3. Mistyped abbreviations

Lastly, anything typed in block capitals is not thought by Word to be a mistake, so it’s important to take extra care with acronyms and abbreviations. For example, last week I was editing something about the colour printing model CMYK where the writer had referred to it as ‘CYMK’ throughout – clearly an error, but not one Word notices.

This also means you have to be careful if you’re typing in capitals for emphasis, as nothing looks worse than emphasising misspelt words!

These three examples show why human editors are important. If writers publish their own work, using only their own eyes and a Microsoft Word spellcheck as a safety net, it’s inevitable mistakes will slip through. At Engage Web, we don’t publish anything until it has been edited by somebody other than the person who wrote it.

John Murray

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.

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