Spell Checkers / Essay Correctors: Their Limitations

Can Spell Checkers Replace The Editing Process?

What Is The Right Way To Use Tools Like Spelling And Grammar Checkers?

Should You Use Them At All?

      Most modern word processing applications have automated checking tools, usually for things like spell-checking, grammar checking, or even a built-in thesaurus. Many writers understand and appreciate the value of these tools and use them to help ensure a level of quality in their writing. When they are used properly, spell checkers can be valuable tools to assist in writing, However, it is important to understand and recognize the limitations of these tools or you may unwittingly leave mistakes in your writing. If you’re going to rely on these tools to correct writing mistakes, then there are some points you to consider.

If you’re going to rely on these tools to correct writing mistakes, then there are some important points for you to consider.

Spelling And Grammar Checkers Cannot Fix All Writing Mistakes

      It is important to remember that a spell checker cannot cure all writing mistakes. They can save you huge amounts of time, especially if you write a lot, but you must bear their limitations in mind. Modern word processors like Microsoft Word, have features which instantly highlight spelling mistakes and allow you to go quickly through your text and correct obvious errors before you undertake proofreading. This is where many authors go wrong or fail to appreciate what the spell checker is doing and what it’s checking for.  Writers often mistakenly believe that because the spell check is complete that all the mistakes have been corrected.

       Generally, a spell checker only confirms that all the used words are in the software dictionary, and not whether you, the writer, have used them in the right place or even in the right order or context. Think about common mistakes when using ‘affect’ and ‘effect.’ These are two words that are commonly used in research papers, and they are easy for non-native speakers to confuse. Because they are both English words, a spell checker will not indicate where you might have used the wrong one. This is one example of how an over-reliance on spell checkers can leave your writing with mistakes.

      At this point in time, spell checkers are also unable to help with consistency, since you can easily use different, but still correct, spellings of the same words within a single document or article. For example, you could include both ‘authorize’ and ‘authorise’ in the same document without necessarily attracting a spell checker error. Mistakes like this can be seen by editors and journals as a significant inconsistency in your work. There are many spelling differences between British and American English. As technical and academic authors with the goal of getting published, it is important that your writing is not only consistent, but suitable for the country in which your target journal will be published. For technical writers, there can sometimes be a project or customer-related style guide to tell you which spelling version is acceptable.

      Keep in mind that a spell checker is a piece of programmed software, which uses preset rules and algorithms to compare your text with what it believes to be correct English. A particularly irritating tendency can be the highlighting of long sentences for correction. While in some cases a long sentence can be shortened and made more readable, there are many times, especially in scientific and academic writing, when a well-constructed long sentence is needed, despite what the grammar checker may highlight as an error.

      It should also be pointed out that some automated checkers will confuse the subject-verb relationship and suggestions should always be taken as such; suggestions for you, the writer, to consider. Every writer must understand what automated grammar checkers and spell checkers are able to provide in the way of assistance and improvement, but an understanding of its limitations is also vital.

Understand that spell checkers can be wrong. They only offer suggestions for you, the writer, to consider. Spell checkers and grammar checkers are made to complement the writing, editing, revising, and proofreading process – not replace it.

      After hearing about all the possible problems with using spell checkers, some writers may not want to use them at all. Other writers may presumptuously think that they are too good to need to use them. Although an over-reliance on spell checkers can lead to many different errors and mistakes in your writing, it is important not to ignore using them entirely – especially if you are self-editing and not hiring a professional editor to proofread your work. Spell checkers work best when they are used in combination with a person who has a solid understanding of the language. When you understand their limitations, you can better use them to correct some of the basic mistakes you may have otherwise overlooked. Spelling and grammar checkers can be excellent for catching small typos like repeated words, missing words, or double spaces, and they can help to keep the quality of your writing high. However, they do not replace a thorough manual proofreading of your work. It is highly recommended that all writers have someone else proofread and edit their writing. Fresh eyes are often able to identify mistakes that the writer can pass over, even when looking for them multiple times. The absolute best way to ensure that your writing is free of errors is to hire a professional editor. There is no real substitute for a thorough proofreading by a professional who has a fundamentally firm grasp of grammar and language usage.

 Spell checkers and grammar checkers are made to complement the writing, editing, revising, and proofreading process – not replace it.

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