How Reliable is a Spell Checker at Finding Spelling Mistakes?

Why a spell checker should not be relied on as it is fallible.The best way to fix errors is to read it, re-read it and then read it again.

When you are writing on your computer, do you rely on the spell checker? Do you find it to be a handy tool that helps correct any mistakes your fingers make as you type? If you have answered yes, you are not alone.

A spell checker can be a handy tool to help you pick up on some spelling mistakes in your writing but it is not something that should be relied on too much. It is very easy to click a button that checks your spelling, highlighting any mistake it finds and suggesting what it should be. Problem solved. Or is it? Spell checkers tend to only check each individual word for spelling, they don't take the context into account. You may have written the wrong word at the wrong time, maybe even placed an extra letter in, or missed a letter out but if it still makes a word, the spell check will not 'flag' it as wrong. So a spell checker may be good at finding spelling mistakes but only words that are spelt (wrongly) in such a way that they don't make another word (spelt correctly).

Consider the following sentence:

There are many ways to write well, but practice makes perfect.

You can clearly see that it makes perfect sense, it conveys a meaning and there are no spelling mistakes. What would happen though if it changed into the following?

Their ware many days too right will, butt practice takes prefect.

That sentence makes no sense, conveys no meaning and yet there are no spelling mistakes. Run it through a spell check and you will be told that it is perfect, no mistakes there. Clearly there are mistakes, it is plain for everyone to see. Now that may be an extreme example and it is highly unlikely that anyone worth their salt as a writer would make that many mistakes in one single sentence (if they did, they may want to think of a different career choice) but it does highlight why relying on a spell check is not the best thing to do.

As a writer, what can you do to avoid such mistakes? Well, the best bit of advice is to read over what you have written, making sure that what is written is exactly what was wanted. After which, read it again, and then re-read it. Maybe even print it out and re-read it. Get someone else to read it through for mistakes and then read it again. Sometimes it is hard to notice mistakes that you have made yourself when writing. It is as if your brain knows what you meant to write and just ignores any mistakes it spots. It doesn't matter if what you are writing is the most amazing thing ever, if there are too many spelling mistakes your reader may soon lose interest and go elsewhere.

In closing, a spell check may be a good tool to pick up on some mistakes but it should never be relied on fully to pick up on every mistake there is. Take your time to make sure what you write says exactly what you want it to say; spelling is a very important key to that.

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Sharla Smith
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Ileen Zovluck
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thestickman
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Posted on Nov 23, 2009