1. Identify and correct spelling errors in draft documents.
2. Plan, write, revise, and edit short documents and messages that are organized, complete, and tailored to specific audiences.
With the help of technology such as spellcheck features in Microsoft Word and online apps, as well as auto-correct and -complete on mobile devices, we can be better spellers than ever. We also must be better spellers than ever because, assuming we’re making full use of these technological aides, audience expectations demand impeccable, error-free spelling. At the same time, the secondary school system has for decades relaxed its teaching of writing basics such that many students enter the post-secondary system lacking basic writing skills (“University Students Can’t Spell,” 2010). Between high school and the professional world, college students must not only quickly learn these basics, such as not confusing its and it’s, but must also develop the attitude that such details matter.
Using technology close at hand to improve your spelling is crucial to helping you get there. Follow the procedure in §184.108.40.206 above (and shown in Figure 220.127.116.11; click on the thumbnail above-right to return to it) to set up your spellchecker in Microsoft Word so that it identifies errors as you go. Though it’s a good idea to draft quickly and leave the pace-killing attention to detail for the editing stage (see §4.3 above), you can look up spellings for words that you struggle with as you go by just highlighting them, going to the Review tool ribbon, and clicking on the Spelling & Grammar tool at the far left (or alt + R, S). The feature will activate to suggest the correct spelling of just that word. Always also run a spellcheck sweep of your entire document by scrolling up to the top of your document and, without anything highlighted, following the same procedure to activate the spellchecker to examine each error and the tool’s suggested corrections before you finalize your document for submission.
What about spellchecking when writing outside of your word processor such as in an email? For this you must ensure that your internet browser spellchecker is on and properly set up. In Google Chrome, for instance, you would just:
- Click on the Settings icon (three stacked periods at the top right).
- Click on the Settings option from the drop-down menu
- Scroll down and click on Advanced Settings.
- Scroll down to the Languages section and click on the Spell check to expand the control panel.
- Click on English (Canada) to toggle on the feature so it turns blue. You will see there that you can also add custom words.
With the spellchecker turned out, your browser will identify misspelled words with by red-underlining them. If you have any additional difficulties, you can also move text to your word processor, use its more advanced spellchecker and editing features, then copy and paste your draft back into the email.
As good as the spellcheckers can be if you set them up properly, you must also know what to look for on your own so that you know what to approve when the spellchecker suggests edits. We’ll divide this self-editing skill into two of the biggest challenges to spellcheckers:
How do you feel when someone misspells your name? If you’re like most people, you feel a little insulted, especially if the offending person had easy access to the correct spelling. Spelling people’s names correctly is not only an essential principle of netiquette, but also key to maintaining your credibility in correspondence. If you’re addressing a hiring manager in the cover letter to a job application, for instance, and her first name happens to be one of the 155 unique spelling variants of the name Caitlin (Burch, 2001), your livelihood depends on spelling her name just as she does herself. Otherwise, your lack of attention to detail becomes an invitation for her to deposit your application directly in the shredder.
Be especially vigilant with names during the proofreading stage of the writing process and use technology to help. With naming trends in the last couple of decades tending towards unique spellings both for people and products, spellcheckers may be of little help at first. Your best bet is to carefully confirm the name of the person in question by finding multiple sources that confirm their name (e.g., documents at hand, as well as their LinkedIn profile online), or the name of the product by consulting the company website, and add it to your spellchecker. When your spellchecker is doing an active sweep and grapples with the unfamiliar name, click on the “Add to Dictionary” option. That way, you can teach your spellchecker to be vigilant for you.
Many spelling errors involve homophones, words that sound the same in speech but are spelled and used differently in writing. When you mean there but write their or they’re in your draft, a sophisticated grammar and spellchecker will mark it as an error because it’s incorrect in the context of the words around it despite being spelled correctly on its own. Just in case your checker is fooled by it, however, familiarizing yourself with the most common homophone-driven spelling errors is wise. Ensure at the proofreading stage that your writing hasn’t fallen into any of these traps.
|Misspelling||Correct Spelling||When You Mean to Say|
|ad||add||to put together|
|advice||advise||to guide (verb)|
|already||all ready||everyone is ready|
|are||our||belongs to us|
|bin||been||past participle of to be|
|cite||sight / site||vision / place|
|compliment||complement||matches or pairs well|
|could of||could have||maybe|
|ensure||insure||take out insurance|
|fair||fare||cost of transportation|
|fare||fair||honest / light / carnival|
|hour||our||belongs to us|
|it’s||its||belonging to it|
|led||lead||in front / heavy metal|
|male||letter sent by post|
|mist||missed||didn’t get it|
|our||hour / are||60 minutes / form of to be|
|pair||pare / pear||peel / fruit|
|pare||pair / pear||couple / fruit|
|pear||pair / pare||couple / peel|
|plain||plane||flat surface, airplane|
|principle||principal||main, one in authority|
|sale||sail||wind-catching boat sheet|
|seam||seem||appear to be|
|seem||seam||joining line in a garment|
|should of||should have||ought to|
|sight||cite / site||credit a source / place|
|site||cite / sight||credit a source / vision|
|story||storey||floor of a building|
|their||there / they’re||that place / they are|
|there||their / they’re||belongs to them / they are|
|they’re||their / there||belongs to them / that place|
|to||too / two||also / 2|
|too||to / two||toward / 2|
|tow (the line)||toe (the line)||foot digit (conform)|
|two||to / too||toward / also|
|ware||wear / where||put on clothes / what place|
|wear||ware / where||pottery / what place|
|where||wear / ware||put on clothes / pottery|
|who’s||whose||belongs to who|
|would of||would have||didn’t get to do|
|you’re||your||belongs to you|
For more on this topic, see Homophones (Singularis, 2013).
Near the end of the editing stage, proofread for spelling errors with a combination of a spellchecker and your own editorial vigilance, looking especially for problems with homophones, as well as people’s and products’ names.
1. Go through the above sections and follow the links to self-check exercises at the end of each section to confirm your mastery of the punctuation rules.
2. Take any writing assignment you’ve previously submitted for another course, ideally one that you did some time ago, perhaps even in high school. Scan for the punctuation errors covered in this section now that you know what to look for. How often do such errors appear? Correct them following the suggestions given above.
Burch, N. (2001, February 1). You say Caitlin, I say Katelynne… Irish Names from Ancient to Modern. Retrieved from http://www.namenerds.com/irish/Katelyn.html
Singularis. (2013, July 28). Homophones. Retrieved from http://www.singularis.ltd.uk/bifroest/misc/homophones-list.html
“University students can’t spell.” (2010, February 1). Maclean’s. Retrieved from: http://www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/university-students-cant-spell/