Some writers are under the misguided notion that they can press the F7 key in a Word document, and most of their spelling and grammar errors will magically disappear. This is not so, as many of us have learned the hard way. Not only is the spell-check unable to correctly identify words that are misspelled, but also it often suggests incorrect grammar as well.

Let's start with the spelling function. First, your spell-check will generally miss many homonyms, which are words that sound alike but are used differently, such as they're, there and their. Sometimes the improper use of these words is picked up in a spell-check and other times it's not.

Second, if you make a typo and create a word that's not in the dictionary like garrgantuan, your spell-check will let you know. But if you mean to write one word but you write another by accident, and the latter is in the dictionary, you have a problem. For example, you want to say that your friend is kind, but instead you say that your friend is kin. Kin, of course, is a proper word and will not be flagged, although it wasn't what you wanted to say.

What's worse is that there are times when your spell-check will suggest changing a correct sentence to make it wrong. When I was editing work for a client recently, I came upon the following sentence: "Being poor was a fact of our lives and it was only painful to dwell on it." My spell-check wanted to change the second "was" to "were," probably because it noticed the coordinating conjunction "and," which was in the middle of the sentence. It then assumed that a plural verb should follow two separate clauses ("being poor was a fact of our lives," and "it was only painful to dwell on it.") But of course, it was wrong and I didn't change the sentence. If you rely on your spell-check and make all of its recommendations, you run a high risk of inserting errors into your paper or manuscript that weren't there in the first place.

Use caution when clicking the word "ignore" or "ignore all." If you do that with haste, you may inadvertently skip a word that needs to be corrected, and consequently misspell it; worse, it will continue to be misspelled throughout the document.

With all of the failings of the spell-check, is it worth using? Absolutely! It's like using condoms with a stranger; you're still taking a chance, but you're reducing the risk. Always spell-check your articles, manuscripts and e-mails; however, for a polished product, reread everything carefully with the human eye to catch those typos you missed the first time around. And use your own good judgment. If your grammar program is telling you that a sentence is wrong but you know that it's right, ignore the machine. Go with your gut instinct.

Author's Bio: 

Sigrid Macdonald is a copy editor, a book coach, and a freelance writer. Originally from New Jersey, Macdonald currently resides in Nepean, Ontario. She’s written three full-length books including Getting Hip, D'Amour Road and Be Your Own Editor. Her articles have appeared in Canada's largest newspaper, The Globe and Mail; The Women's Freedom Network Newsletter in Washington, D.C.; the American magazine Justice Denied; and the Toastmaster, a publication of Toastmasters International which is read in 80 countries.

Sigrid edits fiction, non-fiction, short stories, websites and biographies, and helps people who feel stuck with their writing. She believes that a muse is someone who isn’t afraid to make mistakes because more is learned from failure than success.