Built-in spellcheckers are a valuable tool. If you type reder when you intended reader, the little red squiggly line will call this to your attention. But when if you meant redder? The spellcheck software won’t know what you meant, and you shouldn’t rely on its suggestions to correct the error. Maybe you intended to convey that the color is a deeper, darker shade of red and not a person with a book in her hand. A human must select the correct word, and the best answer isn’t always on the list of suggestions.
There’s another shortcoming to spellcheckers, and it lies not in their features, but in how they are used. Over-reliance on them can be perilous. A spellchecker will only catch what it does not recognize as words. What happens when you accidentally type a recognized word, but it happens to be the wrong one? Consider the impact of omitting, transposing or changing just one letter:
Stairs vs. Stirs
Public vs. Pubic
Loose vs. Lose
Fried vs. Fired
Panting vs. Planting
Hare vs. Hard
From vs. Form
Smack vs Snack
Tears vs. Years
A spellchecker won’t catch such errors. An editor, reading critically for content, might not catch such errors. It’s important to proofread – to look at each letter as an individual unit, and make sure it’s the correct one.
Proofreading takes training and practice. Our brains tend to insert missing letters, or correct simple errors. If you are having trouble seeing the difference between an and and, you are not alone. It’s probably because you are seeing the letters as clusters, and not individual units. Restrict and focus your vision by laying a ruler on the paper, under the line you are reading. This prevents you from reading ahead. Try it. You might be surprised how this simple act helps you see errors you previously hadn’t noticed.
Writers struggle with proofreading their own work. As authors, they know what they intended to say, and they believe that the written words convey that message. Oftentimes, it takes another pair of eyes, belonging to a person less invested in authorship, to identify typos and other errors. Don’t hesitate to commandeer a qualified friend, or even employ a professional proofer, before your work is published.