Tips for Using Spell Check

May 8, 2023 Breanne MacDonald

Most programs that deal with word processing in some form (think document creation, email programs, desktop publishing) include a spell check function that can check your spelling as you type and/or can be run to check spelling throughout your document. Many also include a grammar check as well. While these tools can be handy, there are certain things to keep in mind when using them because they aren’t perfect! 

Things spell check won’t catch 

Spell check is undoubtedly a useful tool, but it can’t be the only thing you use to proofread your work. There are some things it just won’t catch. If the typo made means the word is incorrect for your sentence, but still a correct word according to the dictionary, it won’t be flagged by the spell check (for example, if you meant to type think but you ended up with thing or thick or thins). 

Another thing spell check won’t catch are homophones – words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings (like horse vs. hoarse or their, there, and they’re). These are sometimes easy to mix up, but the mistake won’t be caught by spell check because the word isn’t misspelled. 

Check which dictionary you’re using 

Another thing to keep in mind is which dictionary your spell check is using to review your work. I am based in Canada, but often programs are set to U.S. English – meaning all my colours, favours, and neighbours get flagged as incorrect. Unless I’m writing for an American audience (which I often do), I need to be aware to ignore the suggested “corrections” for Canadian spelling (while making sure the program isn’t also flagging a real typo). In a lot of programs, I also have the option of changing my preferred proofing language so I can switch between U.S., Canadian, and U.K. dictionaries, for example. 

There can also be limitations to the program’s built-in dictionary. If you use more technical terms or a lot of proper nouns and names, these may be flagged as incorrect simply because they haven’t been included in the dictionary (more on that in my next blog!). 

Take grammar suggestions with a grain of salt  

If your spell check also includes a grammar check, be sure to review any suggestions before accepting them. While some may be correct, in other cases the program can misinterpret the meaning of the sentence or your intended structure and offer a suggestion that doesn’t work. This can still be a useful tool, but never accept grammar suggestions without first considering them carefully and ensuring they are actually correct for your intended meaning! 

Keep these tips in mind when using spell check to review your work, and remember that spell check can be a useful tool but should never replace proofreading your own work or having an editor review it. 

About the Author

Breanne MacDonald

Technical Editor<br><br>Fueled by her meticulous nature, an eye for detail, and a love of books, Breanne has been an editor for over 10 years. She has been a technical editor with ASCENT since 2019, and outside the office she is an avid volunteer with the Editors’ Association of Canada. Breanne holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wilfrid Laurier University and a certificate in publishing from Ryerson University.

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