Spell check has been around on word processing programs for decades now. But what does it actually mean to run a spell check? How does it work?
Today, we’re going back to basics. We’ll explain what a spell checker is and how it works. We’ll also cover how you can use ProWritingAid as a comprehensive spell checker and more!
Spell Check Meaning: What Is It?
Spell check, sometimes written as spell-check, is a verb that means to use a computer program to find spelling mistakes and grammar errors in a written document.
Spell check can also be a noun that refers to the actual software or app, or the report that the program runs on a document. You might see the alternative noun form "spell checker."
You might equate spell checking with Microsoft Word. But the first spell checkers actually date back to the 1970s! There were even early ones on the first PCs in the 1980s.
Thankfully, spell-checking programs just keep getting better. And we know a little something about that here at ProWritingAid!
How Does Spell Check Work?
Spell checkers analyze your writing to detect misspelled words. The earliest types of spell-check programs only pointed out spelling errors, but these days they will offer you suggestions of the correct spelling.
Some spell checkers are based solely on uploaded dictionaries and algorithms to detect variations in word forms. These programs are useful but very limited.
As technology has advanced, many programs use AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to learn language in a more natural way. This makes programs like ProWritingAid more accurate over time, the same way a child becomes more fluent as they learn their native language.
When you run a spell-check report on any program, you essentially get the same information, although newer apps have higher accuracy. For each misspelled word, you will get a word list so you can select the correct words.
Sometimes spell check will only show you one word it thinks is the closest to what you meant to write. Other times, it might have trouble deducing what you intended. This leaves you to select the correctly spelled words.
Of course, there are times that we write words that leave the spell check program scratching its robotic head! This is often the case with jargon or historical terms. In these cases, always check a dictionary. You can also add words to a spell check dictionary if you intend to use them frequently. This helps the programs learn, as well!
How Do You Check Grammar?
Most spell-check programs don’t just check for misspelled words. They also analyze grammar. Grammar checks are incredibly helpful, but they are tricky.
English grammar has so many strange rules and nuances that it’s hard to check to the same degree of accuracy as spell checkers. Different regions and different style guides have different rules. And then we often intentionally break grammatical rules when we write!
It’s not as easy to upload a list of grammar rules like you would a dictionary. But NLP programs are continually analyzing massive amounts of written language and improving all the time.
Use grammar checkers as a starting place. If the correction still looks or sounds wrong, you can find the grammar rule yourself on sites like the ProWritingAid Grammar Guide. When in doubt, ask a grammar guru. You’ve got your high school English teacher on speed dial, right?
What’s the Difference Between Spell Check and Editing?
Spell check and grammar check are the digital equivalents of proofreading.
Proofreading is usually the last step of the writing process. You are cleaning up the misspellings and grammar mistakes that keep your writing from being clear and easy to understand.
Editing involves more detailed analyses than proofreading. There are several stages of editing. Developmental editing, also called structural or substantive editing, looks at books as a whole and analyzes pacing, structure, plot, and more. When most people think of editing, however, they think of line editing.
Line editing is an analysis of each line of writing. It includes editing for word choice, sentence structure, voice, and more. It’s more about style and clarity than checking for spelling and grammar.
You might also hear the term copyediting. Some editors lump line editing and proofreading under this title. Others equate copyediting with one or the other. There are several other types of editing, and each editor has slightly different definitions.
Most spell-check programs only do proofreading. ProWritingAid has twenty reports to help you with all the other levels of editing, too!
How Do I Use ProWritingAid for Spell Check?
To use ProWritingAid for spell check, run the Realtime Report or the Grammar Report. You get access to these (and every other report) for free.
The report will give you suggestions for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. On many of the suggestions, you can click for more information to learn about the grammar rule.
Unlike other grammar checker software out there, ProWritingAid doesn't hide any suggestions for free users. When you finish editing with ProWritingAid, you can feel sure that your document is polished and error-free.
Why Is Spell Check Important?
We use the written word to communicate with people all over the world. Spelling rules and grammar guidelines exist to make writing clearer and easier to understand by all sorts of people. No matter what type of writing you’re doing—email marketing, social media, blogging, product copy, etc.—spell checkers ensure that your audience understands your message without confusion.
Thankfully, we live in a time where a click of a button on a computer program can do most of the work for us!