You’re Smarter Than Spell-Check

Spell-checking features are often lifesavers, but they are not all-knowing. An editor learns quickly to read every there/their/they’re and you/your/you’re carefully to make sure the correct version of the word is used for the particular context. As you get to know your clients, you should also build a list of their most easily mistaken words. You’ll probably learn these the hard way, but once you do, don’t let it happen again. For example:
  • Clients who focus on financial “policies” are probably not talking about “polices” all that often.
  • International “country” organizations don’t usually wade into “county” matters.
  • Pharmacies are concerned with your “health,” but not with your “heath.”
  • A real no-no is when a charity seeks to help the “underserved” but calls them the “undeserved.”
  • Perhaps because I can see the Capital Beltway from my desk at work, the most frequent mis-type I find is about the good old U.S.A. These states are “United” – not “Unites” or “Unite” or (I’ve seen it so many times) “Untied.”

Spell-check doesn’t see these distinctions. Often a quickly reading eye won’t either. Slow yourself down when you get to these trick spots or, even better, search for each applicable one before you start your edit. It will take just a little time, and then you can read without the panic that you might accidentally endorse something called the Untied Kingdom.

You should also keep an eagle eye out for VIP names. The CEO, program director, or celebrity spokesperson whose name appears time and again should be double-checked in each instance. Unless an editor is fact-checking, a one-off name is assumed to be correct. But internal consistency must be maintained if a name is mentioned more than once in a document, and it’s considered part of the client style that we master the spelling of their frequently used names. And don’t commit them to memory – cut and paste the right spelling to your style guide so that each time you need it, you know you’re seeing the correct name. Or go old school and write it on a printed style sheet – the one I used for a government client for years had Condoleezza with the correct number of e’s and z’s handwritten on page 1. Until that was crossed out and Hillary with both her l’s took over.

Spell-check is a good partner for an editor, an excellent back-up. It’s best used at the start of a job, to flag obvious errors so you can concentrate on the rest of the words. If you use spell-check at the end of your editing, you risk getting lazy, thinking spell-check will catch everything later. Remember, it will never catch everything. My computer would be happy to title this article “Your Smarter Then Spell-Check” – does that hurt your eyes as much as it hurts mine? What are some words you’ve trained yourself to search out? Did you learn them the hard way?


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