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  • Carrie Scott

If you can understand it, spelling doesn’t matter. Or does it?

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind!

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.

The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm.

Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!


There – that proves it, right?


Language changes over time, new words are invented, and spellings change. For example, the Middle English spelling of “doubt” was “doute”; “fault” was “faute” and in the 1920s, “phantasy” changed to “fantasy”.


There has been, and still is, continued debate over changing English spelling to simplify the language. In 1806, Noah Webster introduced spelling changes that stuck in the United States, changing “centre” to “center”, for example. In the UK, we have resisted change for centuries, despite many attempts. See the website, The English Spelling Society, for ongoing arguments.


In the UK, we’re good at inventing new words, but not open to change spelling, even when great arguments are offered in favour. Have a look at the 2019 BBC report for some advantages of how spelling reform could be advantageous. “One group that might be helped by simpler spellings is people with dyslexia. In linguistic terms, English is opaque, meaning that there’s little correlation and consistency between its spoken and written forms. What you read and what you say can seem quite different.” And “the language of IT and the internet increasingly influences how English is written. Globally, Google returns more results for US spellings.”


However, this isn’t an article about the case for changing our spelling, though I’d say it “has legs”!


So, does spelling matter, and if it does, why?

To some, spelling doesn’t matter, so long as the writing makes sense. To others, it matters a heap.


I managed a team of five, with varying ages from 19 to 59. Two had terrible writing habits, one was good, and two were what is fondly known as grammar warriors. The grammar warriors were the youngest in the team, which flies in the face of businesspeople who claim our school leavers aren’t equipped with the basic skills for an office. Interestingly, the two with terrible writing said they hadn’t been taught grammar at school (in a way that caused them to remember it), and they didn’t care too much, so long as people got the gist of the message. This is ok, until one of them gave feedback to a manager following a presentation he’d given, and said this:


“you were a bit rushed through the slides and their were lots spelling and grammer mistakes”


The point is, this matters, because if you’re going to criticise someone’s spelling and “grammer”, the least you can do is spell your criticism correctly! The manager receiving the feedback simply deleted the email and took no notice – what a waste of effort from my team member.


Another story springs to mind. A colleague was looking to buy her first house and found one advertised she liked but wouldn’t go to see it because the estate agent’s website had typos and the specification was confusing and contained typos. She later found the house through another agent with somewhat fewer errors (she was learning that estate agents are far from perfect!) and went on to buy the house!


Errors in writing might be overlooked on social media, sharing with friends. Indeed, your friends probably won’t care because they’re, well, your friends. Even work emails between colleagues, so long as it’s understandable, may not matter if there are errors. But, if you’re aiming at professional people, or even for a social blog where people you don’t know might read it, then it does, because it can dent your credibility. If your credibility is called into question, you can lose trust and respect from readers.


Most people rely on inbuilt spell checkers when typing their work. This can be another minefield so far as spelling is concerned. Most spell checkers are set to US English, which is fine if your audience is in the US. If your readers are UK-based though, you might lose them, either because you’re writing in “the wrong language”, or they think you’re American and so not applicable to them. You lose their confidence in the way you’re trying to connect with them. Of course, you could mix and match languages – see what you think of this…


“Blake arrived at the house, expecting the realtor to be waiting for him. The man wasn’t there, so he had a walk up the road to look at the matching blocks of apartments. Some were well maintained, but many looked as though they needed a bit of tidying up. And that was polite. He realized the neighborhood wasn’t going to suit him – he was looking for a more upmarket environment. He would tell the estate agent when he turned up”.


Don’t know about you, but when I read a book, I want to picture the place. Is this an outskirt of Swindon or Chicago? Who can tell? Now I’m distracted, questioning clarity and credibility, and losing trust and confidence in the author. I know I would stop reading.


The other thing that spellcheckers often fail to pick up is if a wrong word (technically called a homophone) is used and the English language is a minefield here! How about, “there is no write way to do that”; “we both wanted to sit at the front so we could here better. Sally did to”; “she reads a fairy tail to her children every night”; “thank you for your patients”. At the best, the mistakes amuse. More than one might irritate. Too many, and you lose your reader.


How do you make sure your writing is error-free?

It’s almost impossible to pick up every error in your own work. You’re so close to what you’ve written your brain will read what you intended to say, not what you actually said. If you could read the opening paragraph in this article (and statistically 85% of people can), that proves how your brain works when reading.


Ask someone else to read it for you; someone who has a good eye for spotting mistakes that is. I will ask my husband to read this before I release it to the world, despite being a professional proofreader (yes, we make the same mistakes when writing).

If your work is a critical piece, then engaging a professional proofreader is a good idea, so you can get your piece as good as it can be.


What has this article said to you?

Sometimes, spelling isn’t as important as the message; other times it’s vital. If you look at the BBC article mentioned on my website home page, there’s a reference to a company whose revenue was doubled following a typo correction on their website. Now if that’s not an incentive to check your writing, I don’t know what would persuade you.


Poor spelling, using wrong words, or just a typo can have negative unintended consequences. Your readers stop reading, they lose confidence, trust, and respect for you, just because of a typo. And, unfairly perhaps, but true, your reputation is damaged as you look less credible and less intelligent than you are.


What do you think? Drop me an email to let me know!


Carrie


If you want help proofreading your writing, then contact me at www.cscottediting.com or email carrie@cscottediting.com

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