Digital tools can certainly support our writing, but human diligence still rules, says Liz Bury.

Fancy being stranded on a dessert island?

Now, to me, that sounds amazing (especially if it features some of Editor Kat’s delicious cakes) and spellcheck agrees, as it does not flag it up for me to check whether it is what I meant to say…

Technology is great, but…

We are all writers in some form or another – and you, our fabulous R.I.S.E. contributors, more than most! Modern life has produced many innovative tech tools to help us with writing, but it doesn’t mean we can trust them implicitly. Just as EdTech is no substitute for a great teacher, equally, spellcheck is no substitute for paying attention to the details ourselves. Yes, it can help us spot things that may be wrong (and we all make mistakes when we are typing at 90 miles per hour to get our ideas down on the page) – but relying on it to pick up everything that might be troublesome in a piece of writing? Not wise.

Here are three things to watch out for when using spellcheck:

1. It lulls us into a false sense of security.

If you use Word’s spellchecker, you will know that it underlines certain words with a dotted blue line and suggests improvements you could make. For example, for words and phrases like ‘several’ and ‘lots of,’ it recommends replacing them with an actual number or specific examples instead. That’s fair, and in some cases, it could help to improve your sentence and make things clearer or more informative for your readers. But, because it does this for you, you think it has your back and is helping you to sharpen up your writing across the board – when it isn’t. It only goes so far, and the rest is up to us. A good tip when reviewing your work is to put yourself in the place of someone reading it for the first time – would they understand everything immediately or is extra explanation needed?

2. If a word is spelled correctly but it’s the wrong one, it won’t highlight it.

Not spotting this can lead not only to confusion for your readers but also embarrassment for you, believe me! As an editor, I’ve seen many instances of the wrong word in the wrong place, but the most excruciating ones are the words that turn into something quite different with a single crucial letter dropped: shirt, treat, public and so on (you get the picture). I’ve edited all of these and more over the years – even in the writing of an extremely learned academic – so nobody is immune!

3. It won’t show you where there’s a missing word.

This goes back to the first point; spellcheck does not have your back in terms of sense and readability. It is what it is: it checks spellings. So, it’s down to us to ensure no words are missing. The best way to do this is to read your piece aloud when you’ve finished writing it. If you read it silently to yourself, your brain thinks it knows best; it skims over the words and makes your sentences make sense (after all, it knows what you intended to write), rather than seeing the actual words on the page in detail.

Reading aloud slows things down just enough to make you notice what you’ve written, compared to what you think you have written. Try it. It really does work!


  • Liz Bury

    Liz is Group Editorial Manager at NetSupport by day and, by night, a musician and violin tutor for adult learners. A self-confessed word nerd, she is interested in psychology and what makes people tick, as well as being a champion of the contribution that music and the arts make to everyone’s wellbeing.
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