Spellcheck and Grammar Check: Evil Writing Superstars – Their Luster Needs to Fade!

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Timmy Whitherspoon, university student and aspiring business entrepreneur, had in front of him an assignment to write his legacy essay for an advertising class (the assignment: create a product, then sell it to readers).  He knew it would not fail: the idea was perfect, his outline gave a great structure, and the gathered research fit nicely; remaining was simply to write it. He began thusly: “Two the element of reign their was defiantly a softness in the err. ‘Your going to filly enjoy the surprise tis reign will bring ewe,’ said the scientist, unwinding duck tape to cover a whole in a bucket that was used to cat the reign. This was a promise: the every day sound of reign will change the feel of err, and its smoothness will bee amazing. Not how much bettor the skin feels. Introducing the knew whether discovery:  GentleReign!” Timmy Whitherspoon smiled: his old friends Spellcheck and Grammar Check didn’t let him down; he could now relax, knowing his essay would have a strong impact on his professor.

Technology for the writer – student or non-student — has made the craft of writing much easier and more efficient in a variety of ways. No longer written products need be fully retyped due to some minor editing and revising; rather, computers allow for nearly instant corrections and movement of text.  Words no longer need be counted by hand to meet an assignment’s length; instead, an on-going word count is visible on each computer page. There is reliable software that can assist with vocabulary choice, selecting antonyms and synonyms, and presenting a myriad of available research options with quick internet searches. But the reliance on technology can also become such an easy crutch and quick fix that the use of critical thinking and hours to achieve writing mastery are often tossed aside. Enter the two evil software superstars: Spellcheck and Grammar Check.

For many folks good spelling is a challenge. The rules of spelling are many, and it can seem there are just as many exceptions to the rules. To use a dictionary takes time, and the average writer wants the writing over as fast as possible. Complicating all this, more words are added to the English language annually. Enter six linguists from Georgetown University who developed the first spellcheckers in the 1970s. Since then the need to learn how to correctly spell has taken a nosedive: why go through all the work, all the effort to correctly spell a word when Spellcheck is always available? A quick look at the student’s initial writing effort in the first paragraph tells of Spellcheck’s primary fault: it knows nothing of a word’s context – how the word is meant to be used in a sentence – but only cares if a word is correctly spelled.

As for Grammar Check this seems like an easy “go to” for that area of writing so many writers find a major challenge: getting grammar correct. This type of software has also been around since the 1970s, and was initially called Writer’s Workbench. While its name has changed over the years it remains an easy-access tool for (hopefully) giving one perfect grammar in any writing. Of course, this does not happen; Grammar Check often gives incorrect suggestions, and the most common one appears in Timmy Witherspoon’s beginning efforts in the opening paragraph: “Your” is often suggested for “You’re,” even though ”You’re“ is correct. Additionally, Grammar Check’s little green squiggly line – indicating a grammar item is amiss – will appear when nothing is incorrect. An example is found in the second paragraph (above) phrase “No longer written products need be …”: Grammar Check insists this should be written “No longer need written products …” which makes no sense in the context of the writing. While similar and improved software tools have come along (but certainly not 100% correct), such as  Grammarly,  Grammar Check (like Spellcheck) is a free application on Microsoft Word, the writing software overwhelmingly used by most students (in any level school) and non-students, and thus is just a click away – too easy to pass up!

How can student Timmy Witherspoon be helped? Extra time spent with a dictionary (dictionary.com is an excellent source as it offers possibilities if a word is misspelled) and a writing handbook, as well as asking another for input, would produce an easier-to-read piece – with correct spelling and grammar. If Timmy Witherspoon had taken these steps his writing would certainly be improved:

“To the element of rain there was definitely a softness in the air. ‘You’re going to fully enjoy the surprise this rain will bring you,’ said the scientist, unwinding duct tape to cover a hole in a bucket that was used to catch the rain. This was a promise: the everyday sound of rain will change the feel of air, and its smoothness will be amazing. Note how much better the skin feels. Introducing the new weather discovery: GentleRain!”

Spellcheck and Grammar Check are okay tools to give input on spelling and grammar, yet they should never be used as primary assistants to improve one’s writing; as with nearly all technology these have flaws, and the flaws could cause irreparable damage to a person’s writing, and transition over to the author once read by another. Good writing takes patience, time, and effort, with an unshakable understanding that achieving respected writing means first depending on oneself, not a piece of software. For it is not Spellcheck’s name or Grammar Check’s name on the written product; it is the writer’s name. Too bad Timmy Witherspoon didn’t realize this, but no doubt the submitted writing did make a strong impact on his professor.

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