The Curse Of The Spell-Checker Strikes Again…

7 Nov

I put out a post on Hallowe’en about why editing needs to involve more that just hitting the spell-check button which I illustrated this with what I thought was a rather witty example.  I now have another amusing example of the danger of indiscriminately using spell-checkers. Well, it will be amusing to others, it’s cringe-worthy to me as, this time, it come from my own work. My original article was about how if you make a mistake and it happens to be a real world, it won’t be picked up by a spell-checker. This time round, the error comes from a different issue arising from the use of spell-checkers.

In between writing, I run training courses for people on various things, and this involves putting together course manuals. For the course I’ve just finished, I was in a rush and didn’t give the manual quite the proof-reading I should have. Instead, I relied on the spell-checker. This meant I wasn’t too shocked when one of the students put up her hand and said, ‘I think there’s a mistake here’.  When I asked her what she read out the following sentence: ‘To measure the difference in prostitution between the two data sets…’ Now that really surprised me as it was meant to say, ‘To measure the difference in POSITION between the two data sets…’ One wrong word, but two very difference sentences. It quickly dawned on me that, much to my own embarrassment, the spell-checker had replaced a wrongly spelt version of the second word with the first because I’d accepted a suggested correction without really reading it properly.

The lesson here don’t simply rely on a spell-checker to pick up mistakes in your work, and in particular, be very careful about accepting suggested changes without making sure that they are definitely correct. Spell-checkers are powerful tools, but they can also create a false sense of security, and lead to new and embarrassing errors if you don’t use them carefully. At least I was lucky, my mistake was only broadcast to the small number of  students on my course (although it will live on forever within their copies of the course manuals – and now of course this post). Yet, there was also another lesson to learn here. Out of the twelve students there, only three of them actually noticed this glaring error. It seems students rarely take the time to properly read the instructions given to them, which might explain why they, themselves, make so many mistakes, but I guess this is part of the learning process.

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4 Responses to “The Curse Of The Spell-Checker Strikes Again…”

  1. Laura 12/11/2012 at 15:24 #

    “My original article was about how if you make a mistake and it happens to be a real world, it won’t be picked up by a spell-checker. ” I thought it was quite clever to use “world” instead of “word” in that sentence!

    • cmdrysdale 12/11/2012 at 15:39 #

      Well spotted! I’d love to be able to say this was intentional, but alas, I cannot. I could sneakily go back and correct this in an edit, but it’s probably only write (or should that be right!), that I leave it their (or should that be they’re or there?), along with your comment, as a cautionary tale to others. The lesson to learn here folks is, if you’re going to provide advice about taking the time to edit things properly, you need to make very sure you don’t make the same mistakes you’re warning others to look out for!

  2. brynbenning 22/11/2012 at 13:43 #

    LOL. Great post. It reminds me of the time my roommate sent out a bunch of resumes with her degree in “Pubic Administration.” I swear I never would have believed it if she hadn’t shown me and I had seen the look of horror on her face. Too awful….

    • cmdrysdale 22/11/2012 at 14:31 #

      Very amusing (at least when it’s not your resume!). I think that particular mistake might be more common than you’d expect. I once saw it six inch high letters in a poster at a scientific meeting that was titled ‘Pubic Attitudes To Cetaceans In Western Scotland’. The author was mortified when this was pointed out to them (on day three of the four day long conference!)

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