Improve your writing

Limitations of Spell and Grammar Check Programs

There is no excuse for not using spell and grammar check programs. They’re fast and simple, and catch many common errors. However, they’re not foolproof. Spell check has three important limitations you should be aware of:

Studies on grammar and spell check programs show that they are more effective when used as a first (not final) step in proofreading. After you’ve clicked your mouse through grammar and spell check, print out a hard copy of your essay and complete proofreading manually by checking the errors in grammar and mechanics.

There is no excuse for not using spell and grammar check programs. They’re fast and simple, and catch many common errors. However, they’re not foolproof. Spell check has three important limitations you should be aware of:

1. Non-Word versus Real-Word Errors

Most of us think of spelling errors in the first category – that is, a string of letters that does not make a real word. You might type “sevn” instead of “seven”, or “th” for “the”. Spell check is an excellent tool for catching these types of mistakes.

However, if you are discussing the seven years of piano lessons you have taken, and you leave off the “s” in the word “seven”, the result is “even”, which spell check won’t flag, because “even” is correctly spelled. This is known as a real-word error. You have typed a legitimate, correctly spelled word; it’s just not the word you meant to type, and it doesn’t convey the meaning you intended. Spell check can’t find these types of errors.

2. Proper Nouns

Spell check uses a dictionary that does not include most proper nouns and words in other categories, such as the names of chemicals. You can always add a word or words to the dictionary once you are sure of its spelling, but the first time, you will need to use another source (a reliable print one is best) to verify the spelling.

3. Errors Spelled Similarly to Other Real Words

If you misspell a word in such a way that it is now closer, letter by letter, to a word other than the one you intended, spell check will probably offer the wrong word as a correction. For example, if your article includes a coffeehouse scenario, and you type the word “expresso”, spell check will correct the error with “express” rather than “espresso”. Similarly, “alot” will be corrected to “allot”. You must pay careful attention to spell check’s suggested corrections to ensure the right selection.

Grammar check programs are also effective but not foolproof. They can make two kinds of mistakes: missing errors, and flagging errors that are actually correct. The first problem, missing errors, is illustrated by the following examples. A grammar check on the following sentence did pick up the subject/verb agreement error (I / is), but did not notice the participle error (I studying).

-       I is ready to take the exam after I studying my notes and the textbook.

Similarly, the punctuation problems in the following sentence were not flagged.

-       The recipe, calls for fifteen ingredients and, takes too long to prepare.

When grammar check does highlight an error, be aware that it may in fact be correct. But if your knowledge of grammar is limited, you will not know whether to accept grammar check’s corrections. To further complicate matters, you may be offered more than one possible correction, and will be asked to choose between them. Unless you are familiar enough with the specific problem, this may be no more than a guess. It is important to understand the type of error highlighted, and get more information if you are not sure about it.

0
Liked it

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply
comments powered by Disqus
Click the icon to the left to subscribe to Writinghood with your favorite RSS reader.
© 2009 Writinghood | About | Advertise | Contact | Submit an Article
Powered by