Spelling and grammar checkers are useful tools in this technological age, but far too many students (and business people, among others) rely solely on their word processing program’s spelling and grammar checkers. Sometimes these checkers will catch mistakes, but they are not foolproof.
Some students will even admit that these tools have made them “lazy” about correcting their mistakes. They know that spelling and grammar checkers catch a few mistakes, and they’re okay with that. But it’s best for students to do their own proofreading. Only then can they be sure to catch a majority of problems.
There are many problems that checkers won’t recognize. One of the most common mistakes that spelling checkers overlook is when a word is spelled correctly but used in the wrong context. For example, if a student types “to” instead of “too,” spell checkers will usually miss it. Why? Because “to” is spelled correctly. It takes a human brain to recognize that “to” is not used properly.
Grammar checkers usually don’t understand the intricacies of speech, and they tend to suggest corrections that don’t always make sense. For example, if a writer typed, “Her jaw clenched, a feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach,” the phrase after the comma is meant to explain why the person’s jaw clenched. Most readers understand that. A grammar checker, however, will often flag this sentence and tell the writer to delete the comma. But deleting the comma completely changes the meaning of the sentence. Getting rid of the comma implies that her jaw actually clenched around a feeling of dread. Doesn’t quite make sense, does it? That’s why grammar checkers often tend to be even more unreliable than spell checkers.
Yes, spelling and grammar checkers will sometimes offer good advice. That said, however, the writer must always make the final decision. As in the examples above, a writer blindly accepting all the advice her grammar and spelling checker offers may wind up embarrassing herself.
There’s more to it than that, though. Writers will learn more by doing. In other words, how can a student improve his spelling and grammar? He can improve by doing it himself. If he’s not sure if a word is spelled right, he can look it up. If a sentence seems awkward, he can take it to a writing lab or ask a fellow student or even his instructor if it works or get ideas for revision. He shouldn’t allow his spelling and grammar checker to do all the work, because if he does, he might never understand the rules or learn to correct the mistakes he makes over and over again.
Certainly grammar and spell checkers can catch things that help students. But they don’t catch every mistake, and sometimes they tell students to change something that is already fine. It’s up to the writer to carefully edit her own paper and make the final decision. Not only could it prevent embarrassing mistakes, but it will help the writer become a better proofreader the more she does it.