It’s also important to proofread your work to pick up additional errors that the spell-check won’t flag. This article will provide you with the tools needed to ensure an error-free document.
1. Most word-processing applications have a built-in spell-checker. Use the spell-checker to check your spelling and to highlight grammatical errors (you can set it up to do this as you type, or you can run the spell-checker once you have completed your work). In MS Word, go to “Spelling & Grammar”, click “Options” and “Proofing” and set how you want Word to correct and format your text.
2. If you have opted for MS Word to check your work as you type, spelling and grammatical errors will be underlined in red and green, respectively. Right-click on the flagged word to bring up a box with options for you to correct the error (other prompts and links will also be displayed).
3. Make yourself aware of words that a spell check won’t normally pick up; this can happen because letters have accidentally been switched or left out when typing. Common errors to look out for include ‘form’ and ‘from’; ‘there’ and ‘their’; ‘full’ and ‘fill’; ‘perfect’ and ‘prefect’; ‘angle’ and ‘angel’; ‘the’ and ‘then’ (when the -n is omitted); ‘an’ and ‘and’ (the -d is omitted), or ‘there’ and ‘these’ (‘r’ and ‘s’ swopped around).
4. Some topics have their own jargon (language or specialized terminology specific to a particular field of study). These words may be flagged as spelling mistakes by the spell-checker. If you have spelt them correctly, you can add them to the Dictionary in Word (Right-click on the word and click “Add to Dictionary”). However, if you have selected the “AutoCorrect” option in Word (under “Spelling & Grammar” – “Options” – “AutoCorrect options” and then checked the box for “Automatically use suggestions from the spell-checker”), you need to pay attention and proofread your work because the replacement word may be incorrect. An example of this is ‘conservation’. If ‘conservation’ is not in the Word Dictionary, the AutoCorrect option may replace ‘conSERVation’ with ‘conVERSation’.
5. Learn the difference between possession and contraction of “its” and “it’s”: “Its” denotes possession, e.g. ‘the food lost its flavor” whereas “it’s” (with the apostrophe) refers to a contraction or shortening of two words, i.e. “it” and “is” or “it” and “has”, e.g. ‘It’s cold today’, or ‘It’s got a green color’.
6. Learn the correct use of the words ‘is’, ‘am’, ‘are’, ‘have’, ‘has’, ‘was’ and ‘were’ and how they relate to pronouns. The correct forms are: I am; You are; They are; He is; She is; It is; I have; You have; They have; He has; She has; It has; I was; You were; They were; He was; She was; It was.
7. Pay attention to past and present tense, especially when using “been” and “being”. Example: “The method had been used to calculate the rate” (past tense); and “The method is being used to calculate the rate” (present tense).
8. The subject and verb in a sentence need to be in agreement, and you must be aware of the singular or plural form as they relate to the subject. Consider these two sentences:
a. The colors and their relation to the toy box was updated.
b. The colors and their relation to the toy box were updated.
Which one is correct? The second one. Why? Because the verb ‘updated’ refers to the subject ‘colors’, not the ‘toy box’. ‘Colors’ is plural and must therefore be matched with ‘were’.
Similarly, it is incorrect to say: What was Peter and Jane doing?
Rather: What were Peter and Jane doing?
Remember that the word ‘datum’ is singular; its plural is ‘data’. Therefore, the correct form is “The data are correct”, or “The data were correct”. It is incorrect to say “The data is incorrect”, or “The data was incorrect”.
9. A lot of the errors mentioned above can be avoided by proofreading your work. So once you’ve completed the spell check, it is still important to proofread your document to pick up other errors, especially grammar-related ones. Once you’ve read through your work, ask somebody else to read through it thoroughly. It is best to choose two people for this task – one who is familiar the content of your document, and someone else who is unfamiliar with your work. People who are unfamiliar with certain topics tend to pay more attention to detail, whereas those that are familiar with the topic tend to gloss over finer details.