Don't Let Spell-check Bite You in the Butte

When it comes to error-free content, there’s no substitute for a trained proofreader.

By: Tracy Marsh, Copyeditor

Spell-check is handy, no doubt, but here are a few reasons it’ll never win against a pair of eagle eyes.

Life as a proofreader is no picnic. We make our spouses leave perfectly good restaurants because we can’t abide the typos on the menu. We’re so upset by inconsistent capitalization schemes on billboards that we nearly drive off the highway. We’ve even been known to break up with people because their love notes contained a comma splice. Hmmm … Now that we’re thinking about it, maybe it’s harder to live with a proofreader than to be one. But that’s not the point. The point is proofreaders aren’t OK with just OK. We’re only OK with perfect.

In your line of work, whatever that may be, you probably spend untold hours and dollars identifying your audience, pinpointing their needs and tailoring your message to fit them. One mistake is all it takes to dull that message. Spell-check is handy, no doubt, but here are a few reasons it’ll never win against a pair of eagle eyes.

1. It doesn’t know what you’re missing.

Reading though 200 pages of text searching for errors isn’t just time-consuming—it’s fun!

Did you catch the typo in that sentence? The second word is missing an “r”—“though” should have been “through.” If you didn’t spot it, don’t be too hard on yourself. Our brains are wired to fill in missing letters, words or information, kind of like a biological autocorrect. In this example, spell-check would have been none the wiser, since “though” is a valid word. But any proofreader worth his or her salt knows the job is about more than what is on the page; it’s also about what isn’t there.

2. Transposed letters or words sneak past it.

Eevn thuogh the lettres in tehes wrods are all jubmeld up, yuo're sitll albe to raed tehm bceuase yuor brian rceognzies enitre wodrs isntanlty jsut by seieng tehir frist and lsat ltetres.

It’s another way our amazing brains help us out. And while spell-check would be all over such an extreme example, it couldn’t be trusted to ferret out wrong—but not misspelled—word choices (like “there” and “three”), or words transposed within sentences (like “I have must been typing too fast.”)

3. Homophones mean nothing to it.

Despite all its helpfulness, spell-check doesn’t know what you’re trying to say; it’s just comparing words you’ve typed to a list of correctly spelled words. That means homophones—words that are pronounced the same but differ in spelling and meaning—don’t register. While proofreaders understand context and carefully read every sentence to ensure the wrong words don’t creep into your content, spell-check is blissfully unaware of the differences among homophones like these:

  • There/their/they’re
  • To/too/two
  • Affect/effect
  • Compliment/complement
  • Site/sight/cite
  • Its/it’s
    (A quick note on this set because it seems to trip up lots of folks: Its is an adjective that shows possession or belonging, as in, “His note is sweet, but I can’t see past its bad punctuation.” It doesn’t take an apostrophe. It’s is a contraction of the words “it is,” as in, “Jeez. A comma splice isn’t the best, but it’s no reason to break up with someone. Lighten up.”)

4. It doesn’t face facts.

Great proofreaders don’t stop at making sure copy is free of spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. They dig deeper, verifying names, dates, titles and quotations to ensure accuracy, consistency, clarity and logic. It’s time-consuming—even tedious—but hey, proofing makes perfect.

In their free time, the content QA team at iostudio diagrams sentences. For fun. It’s weirding the rest of us out. They need less free time. Please consider hiring them to make your messaging flawless.

 


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A self-confessed grammar nerd, Tracy wields her eagle eyes to ensure our messaging—and our clients’—is flawless. She’s been writing, editing and proofreading content for iostudio for six years. Before that, she wrote a best-selling comic book about Godzilla. And before that, she studied English and journalism at the University of Tennessee. She can discuss epic kaiju battles and the Golden Age of Volunteer football with the best of them, but if you really want to get her fired up, start talking about the debate on the Oxford comma or the difference between hyphens and dashes.


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