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  • Kat Taylor

Proofreading: Man or machine?

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

Spell check, autocorrect and tools like them are great, but they have their limits.

If I spell a word incorrectly, that helpful red line will pop up to alert me to my mistake. Great, thanks very much, spell check, you're quite right, I did mean to type 'proofreading' and not 'poofeeding' (not even joking, I actually did write that once).

But what about when we have two words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean something else entirely? Sew / So, for example. Write / right is another one. Are / our. Or typos that are still actual words, typos with missing or additional letters, or misplaced spaces. These ones can be quite embarrassing; I've seen a 'peeface' at the start of a book, where, clearly, a 'preface' would have been much more appropriate.

Would your spell checker understand the context of your text enough to notice that you've used the wrong word? It has no way of knowing that what you wrote is not necessarily what you meant. A great example of this is the poem, below, by Jerrold H. Zar. Run this through spell checker, will it find any errors? No! Does it make any sense? No, not even slightly.

I have a spelling checker, It came with my PC. It plane lee marks four my revue Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it, Your sure reel glad two no. Its vary polished in it's weigh. My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing, It freeze yew lodes of thyme. It helps me right awl stiles two reed, And aides me when eye rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen Eye trussed too bee a joule. The checker pours o'er every word To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker's Hour spelling mite decline, And if we're lacks oar have a laps, We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling Is checked with such grate flare, Their are know fault's with in my cite, Of nun eye am a wear.

Now spelling does knot phase me, It does knot bring a tier. My pay purrs awl due glad den With wrapped word's fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet Of witch won should bee proud, And wee mussed dew the best wee can, Sew flaw's are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays Such soft wear four pea seas, And why eye brake in two averse Buy righting want too pleas.

Jerrold H. Zar.

It isn't just typos either. Spell check won't pick up on inconsistencies in your text. For example switching between tenses or from first to third person, or using singular possessive when you meant to use plural.

A lot of time goes into writing; words don't just spill onto the page like water, there is thought and feeling behind them. Whether you're writing your PhD thesis, a book or a business report, when you've spent all that time (and possibly money) on your work, proofreading ensures clarity of message and gives peace of mind that your work is the best it can be. It can help avoid embarrassment (more than once, I have spotted a blush-inducing misspelling of 'public' in reports) negative feedback, damage to your brand, and the time and cost of correcting mistakes later.

There really is no substitute for proofreading your work yourself or, better still, having a qualified professional proof it for you. In this case, man really is better than machine.

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