RE: general topic of spelling

Subject: RE: general topic of spelling
From: "Nuckols, Kenneth M" <Kenneth -dot- Nuckols -at- mybrighthouse -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 16 Jun 2005 08:57:16 -0400

James Jones queried:

> TECHWR-Lers:
>   What your thoughts on the general topic of spelling difficulties in
> written English and the preparing of technical documents?
>   Specifically,
>     1  What specific spelling errors have you found to be common to
> technical documentation

Sadly I've been finding "ignorance creep" seeping into tech docs (others, hopefully not mine) that may or may not be exacerbated by reliance on spell-checking technology. A good example (and one that really gets my knickers in a twist) is the totally ignorant and inexcusable "loose" instead of "lose". That one makes me angry. Very, very, angry. ;-P

>     2  What do you think of spell-checking technology and how do you use
> it

Spell-checking technology is a good first step to proofreading your documentation. I try to run the spellchecker on each document when I finish a draft and go through it to be sure that I didn't make any non-word typos. But spell checkers aren't smart enough to catch usage errors... so if you keyed "types" instead of "typos" spell-checkers don't do a damn bit of good. I read my drafts, I ask the Senior Tech Writer to read my drafts, and I give a draft to one or two SMEs to read, asking them to all check for content as well as any silly mistakes I may have made (I'm not infallible). Then when their feedback comes in I re-read the draft again, focusing on spelling, grammar, and the eternal questions "How can I say that better and more clearly?" and "Was I lazy enough to put that in passive voice?"

>     3  How does current search technology perform vis a vis spelling
> errors

For standard English search/spelling technology does a good job finding misspelled words, but as I stated before it is sadly lacking on context (even more sophisticated spelling/grammar checkers that understand parts of speech and passive voice don't do well distinguishing a noun that makes sense from a noun that is totally irrelevant to the rest of the sentence). Industry and technical terms are often not recognized (especially those that a particular company or segment of an industry uses in the alphabet soup of technology acronyms and abbreviations).

>     4  Your opinion on the topic of spelling difficulties

[rant on]
The real problem is a failure of parents and the education system, plain and simple. I once had a boss who said "If you can't spell it, you can't do it" (as an occupation). I tend to believe "If you can't spell it, you can't write about it." The solution is probably one of social, political, educational and philosophical reform that is better left to wiser minds than mine.
[rant off]

Computers are making us lazy communicators and even lazier spellers. Perhaps Microsoft ought to build in spelling, grammar, and usage tests to its logon procedures so that everyone will need to consult good old-fashioned hardbound dictionaries and style guides before starting Win-doze every morning. ;-)


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