I’ve blogged before about how the standard of our written language is rapidly deteriorating, and today I wanted to talk about how we’re making the problem worse with computers.
Spell checkers. When they first arrived they were, for most, a true godsend. No longer would we need to meticulously pour over our writing to detect teh classic little spelling mistakes we all make. We could now save a significant amount of time with the stroke of a key.
Used with caution, spell checkers really can be a fantastic productivity tool. In the hands of the careless, however, they can be the start of a dreadful downward spiral of written decay. OK, that may be a little harsh, but sometimes when I’m reading through documentation it’s painfully obvious that the author rushed through their piece, not reading back over a single sentence they had written, flicked on the spell checker, accepted all changes and moved on. It encourages laziness.
For some reason, and I can’t for the life of me think why, people seem to think that spell checkers can improve their writing itself. Few people seem to take the time to think of the reader. The reader! One half of the written communication!
I’d like to take the opportunity to share some techniques I use to ensure more accurate, clear writing:
- Learn to touch type. One of the most useful classes I took in high school was typing. If you do any kind of writing, even if it’s just an e-mail or two per day, the skill of being able to type at a speed closer to how quickly your brain produces the words is truly invaluable. It allows much more free-flowing thought simply because you don’t need to spend all that hand-eye energy on locating the correct keys. Once you have the muscle memory of a seasoned touch typist you will feel incredibly liberated.
- Leave the spell checker until last. Re-read everything you write before you send or publish it. Most of the time you will catch not only the spelling, but most importantly the grammatical errors before the time comes for the spell checker. This reminds me of another advantage of touch typing: if you are looking at the screen while typing you will catch 9 out of 10 spelling errors along the way. How great is that? If you let your spell checker be only your last safety net you will become a much neater writer.
My plea today is for anyone who ever writes with a keyboard. All I ask is that you please use the tools we have been given as nothing more than that: tools.