Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Spell Check, My Favorite Enemy

Sure, we have spell check and sometimes it works.  It finds the simple stuff: too many spaces, careless typos, missing punctuation.

If we have spell check and use it, why do we have to worry?  If it works, why are there so many errors on blogs, in emails, even in the newspaper?
Writing is hard work: intense, time consuming, frustrating.  So, exhausted by our efforts, we allow the spell checker to take over and we don’t fight Mr. Microsoft or Ms. Macintosh.  Oh, but we should.
Years ago, when I was still using a Macintosh, I carelessly eliminated the “M” in Michael.  What came up as a suggested spelling? “Asshole” Did a programmer do it on purpose?  I never figured it out.
There’s so much I haven’t been able to figure out—like who put the pink TSA lock on my luggage when I flew to Montreal?  Thanks to the Canadian immigration person who used a bolt cutter to remove it. 
Back to our spell check issue.  Best of all was a tale from a medical researcher I met at a conference.  During a session on grant writing, she told her sad story.  She really did trust Microsoft.  Her research concerned osteopenia and she included the results in her thesis. Microsoft replaced every reference to osteopenia with osteopenis.  Just one little letter, but what a firestorm it created.

There are so many errors the spell checker misses that they’re hard to enumerate.  It confuses “it’s” with “its,” it doesn’t like fragmented sentences, even if the author does.  It will find a word unwittingly repeated, but doesn’t alert you to overuse of a word or term.
Only you, the author, can correct stylistic errors and unnecessary repetitiveness.  Read everything out loud before you hit the send button or the submit button.  You might sound dumb and not like the sound of your own voice, but, sometimes your oral reading can eliminate the need for an editor.  Trust yourself.  You can correct a lot of errors in your own work.  The fewer the errors, the less you will spend on time sensitive editing

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