Tag Archives: language

My work is being proofread – why do I need to use Spell Check?

Spell check buttonI recently posted a how-to article about using Spell Check (well, one for Word 2007/2010 and one for Word 2013, actually). Today I want to talk about why you should use Spell Check, even if you’re using an editor or proofreader of the human variety to check your work.

Using Spell Check before you send your work to your editor

So, you’re using an editor to check your work: why on earth should you need to run a spell check first?

I’m not talking about going through your document with a big pile of style guides and dictionaries by your side. I’m talking about taking maybe half an hour to press the spell check button and go through your manuscript removing the obvious errors. You know, the ones where you spell it obvis errrors.

As an editor, it can get a bit frustrating when you’re picking away at typos (form for from, fried for friend) which are composed of ‘real’ words (which obviously a spell checker program won’t notice) and then you find a load of fromms or frends which a spell check would have eliminated. And here’s the thing: we’re human. If we’re concentrating on picking up your incorrect spellings and non-existent words, we’re less likely to be able to concentrate in detail on what we’re supposed to be doing: making your language express your thoughts and meaning as clearly as possible.

Yes, we can run a spell check for you, and if I spot more than the odd error that this would eliminate, I will do that myself. But it’s time-consuming. And that’s another thing: time-consuming. Some editors charge by the time spent, some by the word. I’m a charge-by-the-word woman myself, but if you’re paying for someone’s time, why pay them to do something you can do yourself?

So, there are two points to bear in mind here:

  1. If your work isn’t spell checked, your editor will be concentrating on those issues and less able to go deeper into their work
  2. If you’re paying by the hour, you’ll be paying extra needlessly

I have to add here that it can seem a little impolite, too, to not run a spell check before you send the manuscript in to your editor. A little bit as if you’re the creative person with the big ideas and you’re sending it off to the paid help who will sort out things you’re too important to do. I’m pretty sure that this is NOT the case for the majority of authors, but it’s always best to avoid that impression if at all possible. See the caveats below …

What if I don’t know whether spell check is correct?

That’s fine. We’re the experts, you’re the creative one. If you’re not sure of your spelling and which word is correct, you can always either leave a note in the margin or let us know you ran a spell check but you’re not sure of a few things. In fact, spell check itself isn’t always correct (see below). All I’m saying here is that the fewer avoidable mistakes there are in your manuscript, the better the job that I’m able to do for you.

Times when pre-spell-checking isn’t appropriate

I’m not a monster and I’m not inflexible – nor are the other editors I know. We’re a kind and helpful bunch. If you have issues with your spelling, dyslexia or any other special situations, of course we’re not going to reprimand you over issues in the spelling in your document. Also, if you’re using voice recognition software, I’m not actually sure how the spell-checker works in that situation (if someone who uses such software wants to comment, that will be very so useful and I’ll include your notes in an update).

However, it is important to let your editor know if you have any special issues like these. It will help us to do a better job for you, and perhaps even to explain our choices and changes in a way that’s easiest for you. Also, we can look out for particular artefacts that might arise in your manuscript because of the way in which you’ve written it (voice recognition software is notorious for inserting homophones into the texts it produces). As I said, we’re an understanding and helpful bunch, and we want to help you in the best way possible.

Using Spell Check when you’ve received your work back from your editor

No – I don’t mean right away! Well, if you find a load of legitimate errors  you might want to speak to your editor (although nobody’s perfect and no editor I know can do 100% perfect work: we’re human). But, most of the time, your manuscript is going to come back to you either in Word with Track Changes turned on or in an annotated PDF which you then need to update. In both of those cases, you doing the corrections can allow errors to creep in. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just what happens.

I learned this the hard way when I received my last manuscript back from my editor. I accepted changed as I went along and did one final Accept all changes once I’d reviewed the document, but some oddities had crept in, especially in the spacing around punctuation. Luckily, I noticed in time, ran a quick spell check and got it all sorted out – but if someone who’s an editor herself can manage to introduce errors when dealing with her editor’s edits (sorry!), I’m going to assume that anyone can manage to do that!

Beware: Spell Check is not always right (gasp!)

There is a caveat here.

Much of English grammar is not totally prescriptive. There are often two ways of going about doing something, especially when you look at hyphenation and capitalisation. This means that when you’re spell-checking after the edit, you should bear in mind the style sheet that your editor’s sent you. If they’ve chosen a particular word form to make things consistent in your manuscript, I’d consider keeping it even if the automated spell check says it’s wrong (in its opinion). Microsoft software appears to use something called the “Microsoft Manual of Style“, but obviously if you’re working to a particular style guide such as Oxford or Chicago Manual of Style, they will over-ride Microsoft if there’s a clash. A classic example of this is “proofreader” – that’s the accepted way of writing the word in most of the major style guides, but Word Spell Check does like to change it to proof-reader. I’d kind of assume your editor knows how to (not) hyphenate that one, but do bear this in mind when you’re doing that final check.

Also, if you’re writing creatively, your editor might have left something in which is correct, but creative, while spell check (even without grammar check) might take issue with it. A classic example I find is spell check trying to change they’re to their, irrespective of the actual correct use of the word. So beware on grammar or word form choice issues like that – you can always check back with your editor or consult a style guide if you’re not sure.

This article has talked about why writers should use spell check even if they have an editor. If you’ve got an opinion on this, or a good reason NOT to use spell check, do please post a comment below! And if you’ve enjoyed this post or found it useful, please do share it using the share buttons!

Related posts on this blog:

Using Spell Check in Word 2007 and 2010

Using Spell Check in Word 2013



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Mrs or Ms?

DictionariesI got married recently (hooray!) and when I was buying a new camera to take on our honeymoon, first of all I confused the shop assistant by claiming that the camera was reserved in my new name (Liz Dexter) when my husband had temporarily forgotten he’d married me two days previously and had reserved it in my old name (Liz Broomfield), and then I confused her further, when she was filling in my details on her computer, by stating that my title was “Ms”. She’d never heard of this title, or didn’t know what it signified, and so I thought it would be a handy thing to explain …

Mrs denotes a married woman. English-speaking countries are some of the only places in the world where you can tell whether a woman is married just from her title. Women in opposite-sex and same-sex marriages are free to use this title – some do, some don’t.

Ms denotes a woman. Women in opposite-sex and same-sex marriages are free to use this title – some do, some don’t. You can’t tell if a Ms Dexter is single, married, divorced, separated … anything apart from the fact that she’s a woman. It’s like Mr in that respect.

To get slightly political, people do tend to assume that someone using Ms is not yet married or perhaps divorced. I have no objection to being Mr and Mrs Dexter and to people knowing I am married to Mr Dexter if we meet people out and about and we’re together, or we’re signing up for something in both our names, like the house insurance. But if I’m signing up to a service or buying something independently, I title myself Ms. If more married women do that, maybe eventually we won’t have to have people knowing our marital status when it’s not necessary.

Small print: that’s my choice; I respect people’s right to call themselves whatever they want to call themselves. This post is for informative purposes only. Oh and because I got married!

*Edited to add: please note – this is part of my series of posts on pairs of words which get easily confused and was initiated by my discovery of someone not having any idea what “Ms” meant. This is not any kind of (gender) political manifesto and was intended to provide a light-hearted mention of my recent wedding on my blog, plus to firm up the association of my blog and website with my new name. I’m not trying to incite long and heated discussion on gender politics, naming or patriarchy, or get into long discussions on the background to these two names. Thank you!*

Mrs Liz Dexter

Mrs Liz Dexter

Ms Liz Dexter

Ms Liz Dexter










You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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Formally or formerly?

DictionariesOne of my readers, Graham, suggested this troublesome pair – I always l like to receive suggestions of pairs to write about, so do drop me a line if you’ve checked the index first and I haven’t written about your favourite!

Formally is an adverb formed from the adjective formal, and means being done by the rules of convention or etiquette, officially recognised, with a conventional structure, form or set of rules. “He replied formally to her gilt-edged invitation”, “I was dressed formally as it was a high-class event run by the establishment!.

Formerly is an adverb that means in the past; before whatever is being discussed now.

“Formerly, for example in the 19th century, social visits were done much more formally, according to established rules and customs. Now everything is much more relaxed and informal, with people dropping in to see each other without having to leave a card in the hall first.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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Phase or faze?

DictionariesI find these two words being mixed up quite commonly, and it’s one of those ones that … I won’t say it annoys me, because I try to remain calm and focused on the sense of the writing in the face of errors, but it sometimes makes me a bit tense.

The incorrect usage is always in one direction of the confusion. I’ll show you what I mean …

A phase is a distinct period of time or stage (“we are doing the building work in three phases: foundations, walls and roof, with gaps to raise money in between”) and it has some complicated scientific meanings which are related to this idea of separateness and which we probably don’t need to go into here.* The verb to phase (in/out) means to carry out a process gradually (“We are phasing in the new hires so everybody doesn’t arrive at once”) and is used in those scientific contexts I talk about below.

What phased does not mean is confused or discombobulated.

To faze is to confuse, disturb or discombobulate – so the past tense is fazed. “I was fazed by the information he was bombarding me with and had to take a break”.

Faze – confuse. Phase – time period or other separate thing.

“I was not fazed when the phases of the traffic lights were altered, because I had read the notices and knew it was about to happen.”

*Oh, alright then, if you insist: in physics, it’s the relationship in time between the cycles of a system and a fixed point in time; in chemistry it’s a distinct form of matter that is separate from other forms in terms of its surface; and in zoology, it’s the variations in an animal’s colouring depending on the seasons or genetics.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

1 Comment

Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Appraised or apprised?

DictionariesThis one was suggested by my friend Lyndsey Michaels – thanks, Lyndsey! As she works with tender documents, and both of these are used in formal and business writing, I’m assuming that she’s found that they’ve been mixed up frequently in the raw materials that she’s sent to craft into official documentation.

So, to appraise means to assess the value of somebody or something. You often get a yearly appraisal at work these days, and an antiques expert might appraise a table, for example.

To apprise means to tell or to inform. It’s usually used in a phrase like “She apprised him of the state of the company’s finances”.

Interestingly, there is an archaic word, to apprize or apprise, which does mean specifically to put a price on something. I don’t know whether that meaning has continued in people’s minds, or whether the two would get mixed up anyway.

“He apprised his boss of the auctioneer’s appraisal of the table and suggested that they didn’t bother to sell it after all.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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Draw or drawer?

DictionariesAnecdotally, I’ve noticed that this distinction is starting to get lost or muddled. I can’t give you specific examples, although there is a furniture shop close to where I live with the rather wonderful advert for “chester draws” (I do try not to mock odd use of English, but I rather like the inventiveness of this one, hence sharing it here).

To draw (a verb) is to make marks on paper with a pencil, or on another material with another medium, in order to produce a picture. It also means to drag something along or across (a horse draws a cart, we draw the curtains when we close (or open!) them); to reach a certain point (“we hope that the meeting will draw to an end by 7pm”); to work out (you draw conclusions); to attract attention (“his miming act drew a smaller crowd than he’d expected”) and various other technical things to do with pipes and sails and water.

There is a noun, draw, but this means a process by which a winner of something is selected randomly. (“We will have a draw of the raffle tickets at the end of the fete”), a game that ends in the same score for both sides or, in cricket, where the match has to be abandoned because it can’t be completed in the time allowed (“The match was a draw. Both teams got 1 goal”), or an attraction (“her burlesque act was a  big draw and the variety show made a huge profit”). What it isn’t is anything to do with furniture.

A drawer (a noun) is the slide-out compartment in a piece of furniture, kitchen unit, desk, etc. It’s also a rather old-fashioned word for underpants, a drawer is someone who draws something, and you can be the drawer of a cheque when you write one. But the main use is the one to do with furniture.

“The winner of the prize draw received a beautiful chest of drawers. I’m going to draw a picture of it for the person who donated it, so they can remember it.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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Forward or foreword?

DictionariesIn the past two days, both I and a colleague have come across clients sending us the “forwards” to their books, so it’s worth me underlining the correct use of forward and foreword here, I think!

Forward means in the direction that you are facing or in the direction that you are travelling. As an extension, it means travelling or moving onward/ahead (literally or metaphorically – “the convoy moved forward across the plain” / “forward-thinking has enabled us to plan the future”), in the standard order (“the purchasing process is going forward”), and then further advanced than would be expected (“she is forward in her reading”). It has additional meanings of the front of a ship; being a bit bold and over-familiar (“she was very forward and flirted with all of the sailors as she served their drinks”); and sending on a letter from one address to a final destination (“When he was at university, his parents thoughtfully forwarded all of his junk mail to him”).

A foreword, which is the word that our author clients were looking for, is a short introduction to a book, which is usually written by somebody other than the author of the book – a celebrity or someone more experienced in the field.

While the foreword might be considered to go at the forward end of a book, it’s a fore word, as in words that come before.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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