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Is Spelling Still Important for a Writer?

What is your reaction when you find a misspelling in a book or on a website? Do you wonder about the author’s professionalism and commitment to producing good content? I do. I have to admit that it bothers me, and I wonder about the author’s credibility.

As a writer, you want to effectively communicate your thoughts to your readers. Standardized spelling helps readers understand what is written. It also aids in communication and ensures clarity. Your readers will form their opinions of you based on the content and the presentation – errors may lead them to form a poor opinion.

As Mignon Fogarty, aka “Grammar Girl,” told USA Today:

We still evaluate people based on how we present ourselves in writing. It suggests how detail-oriented you are, how rushed, how much care you put into your writing.

Here are five tips for proofreading your content before hitting publish:

  1. Use your spell check software but don’t rely on it – Computer spell check software is great, but sometimes it doesn’t alert you to a misspelled word. Also, you might be spelling a word correctly, but it isn’t the word that you want to use at that time.
  2. Use the dictionary – It may seem old fashioned but dictionaries are still relevant, and there are some great ones for online use, such as Merriam-Webster.
  3. Take a break – Put your writing aside and leave it alone for a while. Come back in a few hours (or days) and read it again with fresh eyes. You might want to print it out to reread it.
  4. Read it out loud – Hearing your words, rather than seeing them, may help in finding errors.
  5. Ask someone else to read it – A second set of eyes may see errors that you did not.

Typo vs. Misspelling

Often typographical errors (typos) are not really spelling mistakes, and vice versa. Some common typos are related to poor typing skills not poor spelling, such as:

  • letters are doubled, or more frequently double letters tripled, such as “betwween” and “betweeen”
  • letters are singled, such as “betwen”
  • keys are transposed, so “the” becomes “teh”

15 Most Misspelled Words in English

In 2010, Spellchecker.net published an infographic of the 15 most misspelled words in English. Grammar.net shared it on their website. See more at http://www.grammar.net/misspelledwords#sthash.STg4HRMJ.dpuf.

The list includes:

1: Their–confusion may come from “thief”.

2: A lot–“alot” isn’t a word.

3: Received–there’s that “I” and “E” thing.

4: Separate–confusion is probably caused by the pronunciation.

5: Until–one “L”: “Till the earth until it’s ready.”

6: Because–“A” and “U” are commonly swapped.

7: Beginning–two “Ns”.

8: Different–spoken, the first “E” isn’t enunciated, so it’s often left out.

9: Occurred–two “Cs”, two “Rs”.

10: Believe–it actually follows the old rule.

11: Behavior–no “U” for American spelling.

12: Which–don’t forget that first “H”.

13: Truly–“true” loses its “E” when adding “ly”, but–

14: Really–“real” gains an “L”.

15: Definitely–an “A” often sneaks in.

Spelling is a skill that can set you apart as a writer. If you have a problem with spelling, go the extra mile and take the time to edit or outsource your work to an editor for additional help.

Let’s Talk about Basic Grammar Rules

Word processing programs usually come prepared to help you with built-in grammar checks, but you should have a basic knowledge of the English language to make your writing flow and read smoothly.

There are probably over one hundred rules of grammar so finding a consensus on the number one rule is unlikely. I found sources that agree on 11 basic rules for English grammar – see 11 Rules of Writing, Grammar, and Punctuation and 11 Essential Rules of Grammar. YourDictionary also has an excellent discussion of Basic English Grammar Rules. They also provide an infograph of the Top 10 Grammar Errors.

Some of the most common grammatical mistakes writers make fall into two categories: Technicalities and Punctuation or Word Confusion. Here are some of the most common mistakes in each category.

Technicalities and Punctuation

Improper use of the apostrophe – This is such a common problem that there is actually a cause on Causes.com to Stop Improper Use of the Apostrophe and a website to Free the apostrophe. Basically, the apostrophe is used to show possession or to indicate the omission of letters or numbers. Scribendi has an excellent discussion on the proper use of the apostrophe.

Incomplete Comparisons – An incomplete comparison is a comparison that leaves out one of the items being compared. “My mom is prettier than yours” is an incomplete comparison. Prettier than your what? See the explanation from Grammarly Handbook:

A comparative sentence must clearly identify all the items that are being compared. This will help to ensure the comparison is complete. Complete comparative sentences also help to strengthen the delivery and clarification of the comparison. Below are some examples:

Incomplete Comparison: My car is newer than his.

Complete Comparison: My car is newer than his car.

Comparative sentences often use the words “more” and “most”. When the situation calls for the usage of these words, “than” and “that” must also be used.

Use of commas – This is a topic for an entire blog post, but for now here are the eight basic uses of commas:

  1. when listing items in succession
  2. between multiple adjectives that are modifying the same noun
  3. before conjunctions linking independent clauses
  4. after introductory words or phrases
  5. around nonessential clarifying phrases
  6. with dates and addresses
  7. when directly addressing someone
  8. at the salutation and close of a letter

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Word Confusion

They’re vs. Their vs. There –  These three words all have the same pronunciations, but they have entirely different meanings. One is a contraction for “they are” (they’re), one refers to something owned by a group (their), and one refers to a place (there).

You’re vs. Your – You’re is a contraction of you areYour is the possessive form of you and is used to describe something as belonging to you. If you can replace the word with you are, then use you’re.

It’s vs. Its – It’s is a contraction for it is. Its is a possessive pronoun. If you are not sure which spelling to use, try replacing it with it is. If it doesn’t work in its place, then use its.

Which vs. That – Grammar Girl says that “you use that before a restrictive clause and which before everything else.” So, if the clause doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence, use which and insert commas around the clause.

Affect vs. Effect – In their discussion of affect vs. effect, Grammarist says:

Affect is usually a verb, and effect is usually a noun. To affect something is to change or influence it, and an effect is something that happens due to a cause. When you affect something, it produces an effect.

FYI: Grammarist has a large collection of words that are commonly mixed up and used improperly – Easily confused words

Has the Internet Changed the Rules of Writing?

The Internet has definitely brought different rules to writing than were taught to us in high school English classes. When people read blogs, eBooks or web content on the Internet, they have a tendency to skim the words and overlook some mistakes.

Readers want short sentences and paragraphs and don’t really care if a preposition hangs at the end of a sentence. Serious English students and teachers of English will cringe at the new rules, but if you’re writing for an online audience, you’ll want to know the basic facts.

Writing for the Internet means that you’ll want to cut the fat out of your writing. You’ll want to know what the rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling are, but how not to go overboard with them.

You should be consistent in your writing style – and that means you should also develop continuity in how you put together a phrase. People tend to follow a writing style that they like and are comfortable with.

Don’t make readers cringe with your lack of rules, but don’t make your sentences look like you went overboard in being a stickler for every rule in the book, either.

The Internet has definitely changed the rules and made them more relaxed. But there are some basic polishing maneuvers you can do to ensure your content looks professional. We will discuss them in the next few posts.

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What do you think? Has the internet changed the rules of writing and grammar?