Wrong word errors are the most common mistakes made in writing. Words that the writer thinks she means to write are unintentionally skipped or do not come out quite as intended. Often, we turn to the spellchecker software on our document programs to catch and fix issues, without doing our own editing. There’s no doubt spellchecker is useful. The program I use highlights all my split infinitives, for which I am thankful as I am a repeat offender, but it’s up to me to fix the errors. So, there’s while spellcheck is helpful there is one thing it cannot do, and that is to catch all the mistakes.
I do love the spellcheck/autocorrect feature on my phone as it’s provided me with some of the funniest and worst possible word choices. Visit http://www.damnyouautocorrect.com if you need a good laugh.
Putting in a word that sounds like the word you want to use but isn’t is one of the most common mistakes. For example, affect and effect are often used incorrectly.* So is stationary or stationery. While quite similar, there are huge differences. Spellcheck won’t tell you that you’ve incorrectly used stationery when you meant to refer to an object that is not moving. To my students I recommend they develop tricks to help remember which word is correct. One trick I use with stationery is that when I want to reference letters and paper, I use the word with the “e” in it because the “e” in stationery relates to the “e” in envelopes.
Don’t rely solely on your spellchecker, however. Be sure to take the time to proof and edit your document. Spellcheck also won’t acknowledge words that aren’t already programmed in unless you make those changes. So when you can, enter new words into your spellchecker’s dictionary including names, non-English terms and other special words you use on a regular basis. Spellcheck won’t always catch when proper names need to be capitalized either, or when you have a typo – using “from” instead of “form.”
It’s still up to you to read and proof your work carefully. This is especially important when crafting an e-mail – once you hit “send” it’s nearly impossible to bring it back and make a correction.
*(Affect – to act on; to produce a change. Effect – something that is a result or a consequence).