Posted by: Jane Dominguez, CPA | August 31, 2010

Avoid Public Embarrassment; The Perils of Trusting Spell Check

Avoid Public Embarrassment; The Perils of Trusting Spell Check

I recently presented a grant-writing workshop at a national conference for amazing professionals serving unemployed residents of their communities. They frequently use the word “public” in their grant proposals and written communications. You see where I am going with this? It’s is easy to leave out the “L” and have an embarrassing word in their documents, but still a word spell check programs will approve and not flag. One good option to avoid these kinds of errors is to customize your program’s dictionary, removing words that you don’t want approved, or words that the program tries to substitute for your words (this often happens with a company or unusual name). You can find instructions for your specific program in the help section or on the internet.

Spell check is only the first step in making sure our emails and documents are correct. It has numerous limitations and relying on it can cause embarrassment and documents with spoiled by errors. Spell check programs can show you a word that is misspelled, catch repeated words, reversed letters, and other common errors. Spell check CANNOT determine if the word you have chosen is the correct one for your sentence. The #1 word choice error in business writing is “your” vs. “you’re,” followed by “accept” and “except”. Our language is full of words that sound alike and have similiar spelling. Spell check programs can correct the spelling of the word you choose, but cannot determine if you used the correct one. Here is a list of a few of the most common errors:

When our writing contains errors, our audience focuses on the errors and not the content. Careless business writing errors may lead the reader to believer there are also errors in the facts and we lose credibility. Business writing that has common word choice errors can make readers feel they were not worth our time and effort to send correct material. Errors don’t sell, whether we are selling a product, a service, our recommendation, an idea, or our expertise. If we can’t bother to ensure our writing is correct, our clients and customers wonder what else we can’t be bothered with and are likely to take their business elsewhere.

There are many ways to proofread and some of my favorites are:

1. Print it out. Most of us will see the material differently in print than do on a screen.
2. Customize your spell check dictionary.
3. Read from bottom to top. This will help us to focus on the individual words rather than the content.
4. Read from right to left. Another way to focus on each word.
5. Keep a list of the types of errors you commonly make and refer to it when you proofread. My common mistakes include typing “form” when I meant “from,” “out” when I wanted to write “our.” I know that I often make these mistakes and use the search feature of Word to find and highlight these words so I can make needed corrections.
6. Read your text out loud. You may hear a problem your eyes didn’t see.
7. Put it away for a while and proofread again later. This allows you to see your document with fresh eyes.
8. Ask someone else to proofread. This is my best tool for important documents and emails. Another person with fresh eyes can see what I cannot.

What are your most common errors. What is your best method for proofreading?



  1. Many years ago a famous British Telecommunications company published a double page spread advertisement in a legal directory. It listed the virtues of the company, for example, “How Widespread?”, followed by “Very” and an explanation.
    This was fine until they asked “How Extensive?” which was followed by “Very”. Except the ‘t’ had been typed as a ‘p’.
    Five thousand copies of the directory had been printed and distributed before anyone noticed how very expensive they were.

  2. wow. I cannot believe that Hyatt sign. Thanks for the reminder, and for the practical tips.

  3. Thanks for sharing the useful tool to check the spell. You are right that spell checking should be our first step after writing email.

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