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In Spellchecker We Trust... Right?

Jan Kovarik -- Spellcheckers are wonderful things, but the truth is that if the document that you just received and/or are about to send out to your client was checked only by a computer spellchecker, then it could contain some very embarrassing errors.

This article could have easily been titled "We Don't Need a Proofreader...right?" Businesses today are transforming printed text into computer-based documents and, well, all you have to do is run the computer's spellchecker to make sure there aren't any mistakes...right?

Spellcheckers are wonderful things, but the truth is that if the document that you just received and/or are about to send out to your client was checked only by a computer spellchecker, then it could contain some very embarrassing errors.

The English language (especially Americanized English) is a multi-layered honeycomb of word usages and nuances that can confound a computerized spellchecker's ability to produce a document that is 100% error-free. Although spellcheckers will stop at and highlight "sound alikes" (homonyms) such as "their" and "there," will it know that the word you actually need is the contraction "they're"?

Most spellcheckers will point out "you're" and "your," but what if you really want "yore"? What spellchecker will alert you to the possible misuse of "boost" for "boast"? And what about horror words like "lose" and "loose," "allude" and "elude," and those favorites "pique," "peak," and "peek"? A spellchecker can blithely sail over typographical faux pas such as this (or possibly worse) without so much as a beep.

Today, the world is becoming increasingly more dependent on the written word. Texts of every length and topic, and produced in the shortest amount of time possible, are being sped along the Information Highway as email attachments, FTP files, and as pages posted to a Web site.

Often, you are merely an intermediary; you receive a document, possibly to massage it to suit some end-purpose, and then send on to the next stop. Maybe you don't even stop to read it; maybe you just attach your name to it and send it to its final destination. When you do so, you've made the presumption (or worse, the assumption) that when the document was originated, someone made sure it was right.

Proofreading, a word that may connote a skill whose time is past, is still a vital part of the preparation of text that is meant for broad dissemination, whether in hard copy or electronic form. A proofreader checks for word misspellings and incorrect word form usages. A copyeditor, on the other hand, reads not only for content, but also for context and provides corrections as needed.

Combining these two skills creates a "Quality Assurance Editor" who can do all those things in one combined process. Performing quality assurance editing (QA) for a document means that unusual terms and terminologies have been reviewed for accuracy (spelling, usage, and topic relevancy) and that there is overall consistency within a single document or across several related documents. This process provides the end-user with a document that is as error-free as the combined talents of the human brain and the computer chip can achieve.

Proofreading, copy editing, or QA: don't let the document go without it! If you produce or utilize documents of any type for your personal end-use or for that of your clients or customers, then those documents need to be reviewed by someone whose sole purpose is to read that document for accuracy, grammar, word usage, and otherwise.

For documents that come to you from an outside source, you should ask about the level of proofreading or QA that was provided. For documents that you produce in-house, QA can be provided by knowledgeable staff or by an outsourced service. Either way, don't send that document along its way on the Information Highway until someone has made sure it is right!

Three questions to ask to ensure quality controls are in place

1. Do you regularly do Quality Assurance reviews (proofreading and/or copyediting) of texts before you finalize them?

2. Is the QA Editor/Proofreader someone other than the author of the text or transcript, and is that person knowledgeable about the topic of the text?

3. Does the QA Editor/Proofreader have access to the original manuscript and/or audio, as well as any resources necessary, to verify text-specific terms and terminologies?

The services of a reliable QA Editor/Proofreader/Copyeditor is a value-added investment. All it takes is one error to slip through in a document to create a cascade-failure-type debacle.

Next time you think you've produced an error-free document that is going to be used for an important business project or as a presentation to a client, and that document hasn't been subjected to QA proofreading...think again.

Jan K., The Proofer is freelance copyeditor and proofreader and provides QA editing/proofreading for a variety of clients. Visit for more information. Written in conjunction with Domenichelli Business Services -- Transcription with the Power of E. Nancy Domenichelli:

© 2005 Jan Kovarik

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