What Spell Checks Don’t Check

By Gary Blake | June 16, 2017

The first spell-check system was developed by a group of six linguists from Georgetown University in the late 1970s for the mainframe computers produced by IBM corporation.

If, however, you think that Microsoft Word’s Spell Check will alert you to poor punctuation and grammar with the same accuracy it alerts you to incorrect spelling, think again.

The subtle uses of inappropriate or non-existent punctuation in sentences are flagged less than half the time. The same is true for flagging the most common grammar issues (e.g. subject-verb disagreement, noun-pronoun disagreement and run-on sentences).

How do I prove this to claims professionals who often write 15-20 hours a week and who rely on Word to catch errors – punctuation and grammar as well as spelling – before a letter is sent to a customer?

Here’s how: The following is a made-up paragraph containing at least five typical punctuation errors as well as at least five typical grammar mistakes.

Claims directors as well as vice presidents feels that Spell Check’s is helpful; and therefore why spend money on claims writing training. Other are halfhearted in their feelings, including college educated professionals. A supervisor must make up their own mind about this. John, George and me met to talk about this issue recently but we didn’t get anywhere. We then went out to lunch we had pizza. At lunch we had a dull repetitive meeting. Tom Smart, a man who still has first dollar was there. According to Tom, “Adjusters should know how to write before they are hired. His May 1, 2010 budget didn’t have a penny for writing training.

How many of the punctuation and grammar errors in the previous paragraph do you think the Word Spelling and Grammar Check, a part of every PC, caught? 15? 10? Six?

The program caught two. It caught the subject-verb disagreement in the first line, but failed to suggest a comma after “directors” and “presidents.” It caught another subject-verb disagreement in the second line. In no particular order, the Word Spelling and Grammar Check did not catch errors involving the comma, apostrophe, hyphen, the semicolon, noun-pronoun disagreement, inappropriate pronouns and run-on sentences.

Cut and paste the paragraph in your own spelling or grammar checker and see how many mistakes are brought to your attention. Better yet: edit the paragraph yourself, identifying the punctuation or grammar issue you revise.

Most claims professionals know that it is smart to avoid relying mindlessly on technology, but to continue to build their writing skills. It makes them look good and their company look good, and allows client files to have a high level of excellence if there ever is a time when litigation brings every comma, vague phrase and misspelled word to light. Technology can be a dangerous thing. When it comes to writing, you still need to take responsibility for the words, sentences and paragraphs in every letter you sign.

Spelling and Grammar Test

(1) Claims directors as well as vice presidents feels that Spell Check is (2) helpful; and therefore why spend money on claims writing training. (3) Others are halfhearted in their feelings, including college educated professionals. (4) A supervisor must make up their own mind about this. John, George and (5) me met to talk about this issue recently but we didn’t get anywhere. We (6) then went out to lunch we had pizza. At lunch we had a dull repetitive (7) meeting. Tom Smart, a man who still has first dollar, was there. According (8) to Tom, “Adjusters should know how to write before they are hired. His (9) May 1, 2010, budget didn’t have a penny for writing training.

Answer the following T (true) or F (false):

  1. In Line 1, put commas around “as well as vice presidents” and change “feels” to “feel.”
  2. In Line 2, put a comma, not a semicolon, after” helpful.
  3. In Line 2, put a question mark, not a period, after “training.”
  4. The sentence in Line 4 is correct.
  5. In Line 5, make use of “I,” not “me.”
  6. In Line 5, there is no need for a comma.
  7. In Line 6, put a comma after “lunch.”
  8. In Line 6, there is no need for a comma after “dull.”
  9. In Line 7, put a comma after “dollar.”
  10. In line 8, put an end quote (“) after “hired.”

Answers: (1) T, (2) T, (3) T (4) F, (5) T, (6) F, (7) T, (8) F, (9) T, (10) T

image of Gary Blake

About Gary Blake

Gary Blake is director of The Communication Workshop, offering claims writing webinars and seminars to claims professionals throughout the US, Bermuda, Canada, and the UK. Blake is the author of The Elements of Business Writing (Pearson Education), used at more than 100 insurance companies. He has written about claims writing for a number of industry publications. His e-mail is garyblake725@gmail.com.

More from Gary Blake

Latest Comments

  • June 16, 2017 at 10:38 am
    Michelle Barnes says:
    Where it says "Spelling and Grammer Test," can you please correct the spelling to "Grammar"?

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

More News
More News Features