Oh, the typos you’ll see — even on the best websites. While advances in technology have opened the door to a number of improvements that make our lives easier and more simple, some of these technological breakthroughs have made us lazier. You can blame a group of six linguists at Georgetown University in the late-1970s for one such advance — spell check.
The Georgetown linguists first developed an automated method for checking spelling and grammar on word processing programs for IBM. While these folks likely had good intentions, their creation has lulled us into a state of reduced vigilance. No longer do we actually spend time on the onerous task of checking our own work for errors — we tend to rely on the ease and allure of a spell-checker.
As the program suggests fixes for your incorrect grammar or offers alternative recommendations for your dubious choice of words, spell check has undoubtedly failed you — oftentimes with amusing or cringeworthy results. Since your website is oftentimes the most important media channel for your organization, and other written communication offers customers and prospects a glimpse into how your organization operates, you don’t want to produce copy that’s poorly edited and grammatically erroneous. Clients and potential clients alike won’t think you’re very intelligent if your quality content is riddled with spelling mistakes and grammar errors. In fact, marketing experts believe your content has less than one second to impress viewers that it’s professional before they leave. Additionally, correct spelling is a key ingredient to great search engine optimization (SEO), so if you want to rank higher in the search engine’s results pages, ensure you’re spelling words accurately.
Applications and writing-enhancement platforms designed to help with proofreading and editing can help you avoid many of the common pitfalls associated with content creation, but rigorous proofreading done by an actual person is irreplaceable. Throughout the rest of this blog post, I will highlight some crazy examples where typos aren’t caught and discuss how relying on spell check could bite you in the end.
BEWARE OF HOMONYMS
Homonyms are, according to merriam-webster.com, “one of two or more words spelled and pronounced alike but different in meaning.” For example, lead, as in the metal, and lead, as in the verb meaning “cause (a person or animal) to go with one by holding them by the hand, a halter, a rope, etc., while moving forward,” are homonyms. Ads and adds are also homonyms. Peak, peek and pique, you get the drill. It’s astounding how often you can use the wrong word even though it sounds right in copy.
An example of a homonym tripping the spell-checker up came on a local monthly meetup page:
While we do work in Colorado, where recreational use of cannabis is acceptably legal, I tend to doubt that the host of this group is informing you that the freelancers available through the linked website were “higher” than other freelancers. We think the intended word was “hire,” as in “Hire Freelancers.”
WRONG WORDS, EVEN WHEN SPELLED RIGHT, ARE… WELL, WRONG
Your spell-checker will not notice errors if you use the wrong word, but spell it correctly. The difference between “accept” and “except” is often overlooked despite the spelling and meanings of the two words being completely different. Even the smarty-pants at Harvard Business Review who drafted this article was tripped up by spell check:
In the second sentence of this example, the author asks “Where are we know?” However, I’m confident they meant to say “now” instead of “know.” Sometimes your fingers get in the way and add letters that even spell check won’t catch. You can write something utterly nonsensical merely by adding or subtracting a letter or so, and it’ll still go through the spell-checker as perfectly okay.
POORLY WORDED SENTENCES RE ALLOWED THROUGH
Misplaced modifiers. Errant quotation marks. Multiple hyphens (-) in lieu of proper dashes (—). Redundancies. None of these errors will be pointed out as wrong, so that article, blog post or webpage you’re ready to publish might leave readers shuddering in horror at the fact that you’re allowed to write anything at all. Some examples:
- “Actual fact” — A fact, by definition, is actual. Saying “actual fact” is redundant.
- “Forever and ever” — Again, forever, by definition, implies evermore, so in saying “forever and ever,” and ever is redundant and unnecessary.
- “More and more” — Another example of redundancy.
- “Whether or not” — Often or not is redundant after whether, but not always. The phrase may ordinarily be omitted in these cases:
- When the whether clause is the object of a verb: She wonders whether the teacher will attend. (The clause is the object of wonders.)
- When the clause is the object of a preposition: The teacher will base his decision on whether the car has been repaired. (The clause is the object of on.)
- When the clause is the subject of the sentence: Whether the car will be ready depends on the mechanic. (The clause is the subject of depends.)
- But when a whether clause modifies a verb, or not is needed: They will play tomorrow whether or not it rains. (The clause modifies play.)
- Misplaced Modifier — Modifiers add descriptions to sentences and can be words, phrases or clauses. Sometimes, writers place modifiers too far away from the word it should describe:
- “Churning in the Gulf of Mexico, we anxiously watched the weather report for additional information about the hurricane.”
- In this example, Churning in the Gulf of Mexico is a participle phrase describing the pronoun we. Unfortunately for the writer, this sentence construction is illogical as we cannot churn in a gulf, but a hurricane can.
CHECK YOUR DICTIONARY AND STYLE GUIDE
As much of the writing we do is focused on the media, a lot of the copy we create at MAPR is written in accordance with Associated Press (AP) style. AP style provides guidelines for news writing and many newspapers, magazines and public relations offices across the U.S. use AP style. In many cases, words don’t mean what we intend them to and checking our dictionaries and style guides can help us avoid critical mistakes.
In this example, students in Pratt, Kansas, took advantage of a mentoring day to visit local businesses and learn about different jobs. One job the kids clearly did not learn about was copy editor of the local paper. The editor did not check their dictionary nor their AP Stylebook, or they would have caught this salacious error in the headline. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the editor should’ve used firsthand, which works as an adjective or adverb. AP agrees: “We go along with the dictionary here and use \”firsthand\” as one word in both adjective and adverb forms.” Firsthand job experience is collected from specific sources directly involved in doing a job or personal experience while first hand job experience is probably not something a local paper should be writing about.
Whether you’re writing a page on your website, an article, a blog post, a brochure, newsletter, white paper or press release, it’s important to thoroughly go through your work to ensure that it’s error-free. Relying on a program that will only catch typos is sure to land you in trouble — it won’t catch many errors, you won’t learn from your mistakes, it makes you lazy/dependent, it can be wrong and you won’t always be able to access it. The most reliable spelling and grammar checkers are still humans. Our eyes and logic are able to carefully proofread text and the human touch has become necessary, because our brains can discriminate meaning.
Today, your website acts as one of the most important media channels for your organization. In addition to being visually appealing and working flawlessly across devices, it is important that the copy on your website is free of both spelling and grammar errors to make a positive impression on your audience. While you should always run your finished text through the spell-checker, relying on spell check to catch every error is a fool’s errand.
Have you ever experienced a spell-check disaster? Let us know in the comments!