Sense check the spell check

Written by Chris Tapley

We’re writers by trade and we use the grammar and spell checker functions just like everyone else. Anything to avoid an embarrassing typo right? But we always like to question what it tells us because – and we say this with love – it cannot be trusted. 

Whether it’s Word, GDrive or Grammarly, we’ve seen these tools commit some howlers in our time. If you follow their recommendations blindly you could end up looking the fool.

Here are our top tips on how to embrace the support without any risk to your own reputation…

If you're looking for a more comprehensive copywriting course, get in touch. Or, listen to our podcast on avoiding typos.  

Add a human proofread

Don’t just run the spell check and be done with it. Get someone else to read your document carefully. They will help identify anything the tools might have missed – such as correctly spelled words in very wrong places. Just because it’s a word, doesn’t mean it makes sense – as this classic internet poem so clearly demonstrates.

Sweep for homophones

As the artificial intelligence behind spell checkers has got more advanced, they have started to pick up on some of these – but they’re still prone to mistakes. We’re talking here about the old favourites that sound the same but are very different, like two/to/too or their/there/they’re. 

We spot these a mile off and start coming out in a rash if they’re mis-used. But quite often a spell checker will misinterpret context and just wave them through with a pat on the back. Slack checking.

Are you addressing royalty?

Quite often these tools will nudge you towards more formal language as standard. So you can end up coming across like you’re auditioning for a part in The Crown rather than writing a blog post. Thou does not require a tone of great formality and respect unless the occasion does call for it and such instances are indeed rare. So please revise appropriately beyond the tool’s suggestions.

Look beyond the spelling

Getting the words right is one thing, but it ain't the whole package on readability. You still have to consider things like sentence length. Mix things up. Add longer sentences to give certain ideas some room to breathe and really absorb the reader. Then come the short sentences. 

Without variety your content will be one-note. Spell checkers don’t offer this info up freely, but you can view your average by enabling readability statistics in Word. What should you aim for? Gov.UK set the standard on what’s best practice. 

Modify your dictionary

Don’t settle for the standard spell checker setup, that way lies avoidable mistakes. It’s common that business names are not recognised as standard dictionary words. If you face this problem make sure you add that word to the dictionary in your spell checker of choice. The alternative? One of these days it will auto-correct to something else and you will get your own brand name wrong. That’s painful.  

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