Spelling and grammar errors: How to leverage software to avoid mistakes

I empathise with my poor elementary school teachers, not only because they had to read my illegible handwriting but also because of my atrocious spelling and grammar. Which is why I chuckled when on January 6th the Toronto Star earned the crown for the “The Typo of the Year for 2017.” Whether one was offended or managed to see the humour in the blunder, it reminded me that spelling and grammar serve a paramount role in the impression one leaves. Although I have, and continue, to rely on spellcheck for term papers, resumes, and these articles, it is not infallible. Therefore, I employ a number of alternative tools to make sure my work is up to par.

As a graphic designer, I either typeset my content in InDesign or import the text in from Word. Most word processing programs have a dynamic spelling and grammar feature; usually used so spelling and grammar can be assessed throughout the writing process instead of running the diagnostic at the end. This tool, while useful, has limited capabilities. For example, if the program is not set for a particular language, or if one is using obscure terminology, names, abbreviations, or acronyms the operator encounters a sea of red highlights indicating typos, even if everything is spelled correctly.

This is when editing the dictionary becomes imperative; adding, ignoring, or removing words from a program’s dictionary helps improve the dependability of the software. Removing words, especially inappropriate language, will mark them as incorrect when they are typed and generate a warning for the operator. The challenge is, depending on the software, if one leaves their computer at home sometimes the carefully crafted dictionary with all the adjustments stays as well and the next device the document is opened on reverts to the original dictionary.

InDesign is even more versatile. Once a custom dictionary is built (Edit>Spelling>User Dictionary) the user can then create a preflight profile rule to detect dynamic spelling errors. As a result the preflight panel warns users to check their work before they export it. As a final precaution, spellcheck can be run in Acrobat, but this relies on the content actually being editable text as opposed to an image or outlines.

In addition, there are plenty of online tools available as well. Grammarly is frequently advertised in Youtube pre-rolls to young professionals. I tend to use Grammarly as a secondary check. Selecting the appropriate language and updating the personal dictionary in the user profile can optimize the tool to catch many basic grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes, providing feedback about each error. While a fairly comprehensive tool, the drawback is more critical grammar corrections are hidden behind a pay wall.

Another free tool I use for its writing suggestions is Hemingway Editor. This website offers linguistic editing and evaluation features. It assesses the readability of the content and uses a colour-coded key to designate various issues, such as mixed tenses, complicated sentence structure and readability, and excessive adverbs. When writing for a diverse audience one should consider the literacy level as readers can become frustrated by convoluted language and excessively complex sentences.

Even with all these checks in place, I still have printed projects with embarrassing typos. Because writing is a reflection of professional acumen, any mistakes will create a negative impression to whoever is viewing the piece. While these tools are useful, taking the time to proofread or having an editor review one’s work can be indispensable. Sometimes only a human can truly understand the nuances of your writing and appreciate your candour.