A photograph of a young man sitting on steps and holding an open pocket dictionary

Source: Dictionary, Marshall Segal, Flickr

Let’s talk about the last part of the three-part strategy. You need all three steps to meet your goal of submitting perfectly spelled papers. The first line of defense is the spell-checker, but you have learned that although it is necessary, this step is not sufficient to protect you from looking foolish. Spell-checkers don’t take the context of a word into account, so if you write that you “plan on going weather or not we have good weather,” the spell-checker won’t catch the error.

Another reason a spell-checker is not a Band-Aid that will cure all spelling ills is that each spell-checker contains a limited dictionary. New words are added to our language all the time, which means your software’s dictionary might not be up-to-date. In fact, one recent addition to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is the word “spell-check.”

The second step, making a list with mnemonics, will help you approximate the correct spelling of a word so your spell-checker doesn’t get flummoxed. If your spelling is the “apidimi” of bad, this step is essential.Your list should include the homophones that you often mix up such as cite, sight, and site. With an awareness of these problematic words, you’ll check the context so you don’t write “You are a site for sore eyes.”

The third step is to use the dictionary to look up any doubtful words. You definitely need to confirm the spelling of rare words in a dictionary. Spell-check dictionaries don’t contain rare words such as those used in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. For example, when the winning words cymothricous and guetapens are added to a Microsoft Word document, they appear underlined with a red squiggly line. When you try to correct them with the spell-checker, the software states, “No spelling suggestions.” However, both words can be found in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.