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

29 Oct

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

  1. Mike White

    October 29, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Excellent post. I’m surprised that some writers don’t automatically use spell check before they send the manuscript to an editor or proofreader. As you say, correcting errors the author could have found distracts the proofreader. Maybe a proofreader should charge per error found! I always have it switched on, together with show formatting, which I know infuriates some people. But it does enable you to spot things like stray spaces straight away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Liz Dexter

      October 29, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Thanks for your comment, Mike. Yes, it surprises me, but there you go. I pop show formatting on for a bit to see what there is, then turn it off as it does distract me. I’m not sure charging by errors found would work, as it would be hard to give a price in advance!


  2. Sophie Playle

    October 29, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Excellent advice!


  3. Sarah Kolb-Williams

    October 29, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Fantastic post. New authors might not be aware that there’s an etiquette component to this, and it’s not always easy to find a neutral time to bring it up. Thanks for putting this out there!


    • Liz Dexter

      October 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      Thanks, Sarah. I don’t usually bring this up as such, but thought it was time to write it down. Maybe I should put together a handbook for authors dealing with editors …!


  4. clara_w

    October 29, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Great advice! : )


  5. cafitzsimons

    October 30, 2014 at 9:45 am

    I’d say that using spellcheck shows me you care about your writing; you’re not going to let anyone – even someone you are paying to help you make it better – see anything that is less than ‘the best it can be right now’.*

    That, in turn, implies that you are likely to take the time to read and think about changes I might suggest, and that you will make the effort to ensure that the finished piece is the best it can be, full stop.

    *A favourite phrase of Jo Roberts from The Writers’ Hub, Coventry.


    • Liz Dexter

      October 30, 2014 at 9:48 am

      Very true – that’s a good point.


  6. wolfshades

    November 3, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    You know what bugs me? Picking up an indie author’s book, where he’s used his spell check – and then decided that since he’d caught all of the spelling errors he didn’t need an editor’s services at all. I’ve had to leave a few books unfinished because of the frustration that comes up as a result.


    • Liz Dexter

      November 3, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, that is a common misconception, and, as I point out, spell check isn’t even always correct itself, let alone the things it doesn’t catch!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. D.G.Kaye

    November 3, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    Great post. Many new writers aren’t aware of eliminating as many errors as we can before edits, if only to cut down time costs. 🙂 Shared! 🙂


    • Liz Dexter

      November 3, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      Thank you for your comment and for sharing my post – much appreciated! I hope it helps a few people, editors and writers alike!



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