Won’t spellcheck do?
I’m afraid it won’t, and here’s why (let’s ignore for a moment the fact that an editor – or proofreader, for that matter – does much more than simply check for spelling mistakes).
You can spellcheck to your heart’s content, but the fact is, even when you’ve rid your text of all those irksome little red wiggly lines, your brain will still see what it expects to see. Not to mention the fact that sometimes, the lines are just plain wrong! Hello, UK/US spelling variations. Anyway, when you’ve spent days, weeks, months or even years working on whatever chunk of words it is you’re working on, you know what it should say, and so that’s exactly what it does say. Even when it doesn’t.
I was editing a few chapters from a book recently when I came across the term ‘newt route’. Now, newt route is a fine term. Its sounds are pleasing, as is the image it invokes; it would fit perfectly in a tome about, say, nature conservation (and as though to illustrate my point, I just wrote ‘nature conversation’ with ne’er a glimpse of a red wiggly line). Where the term newt route definitely does not fit, however, is in a book about machine-learning algorithms. Was there a red wiggle to alert me to the fact that something was amiss? Why would there be? Both newt and route are perfectly legitimate words.
Just as you don’t spot the tiny error in amongst words you wrote and rewrote, and then rewrote again before reading them over a thousand times, spellcheck doesn’t extrapolate the meaning of a text and decide which combinations of words within it are apt. Only a fresh pair of eyes can do that; eyes that know to check for consistency. Eyes that long ago learnt to run an automatic ‘Find & Replace’ check for the word pubic in any work discussing anything remotely public…
Lame proofreaders’ – and definitely not lame-proofreaders’ – humour aside, if you are putting words out there to be read, if your business or reputation depends on those words, you owe it to yourself to get them checked. Your buddy or mum probably won’t cut it. They may have heard so much about your project that they expect to see exactly what you expect to see. And besides, if they miss an error it doesn’t cost them your repeat business or prevent them from selling the second and third installments in your series of self-published interdimensional-romance novels. Would your buddy/mum realise that ‘interdimensional romance novels’, sans hyphen, would mean it is the novels that are interdimensional and not the romance? Would they give you an honest critique at the risk of hurting your feelings?
You only have to look at all the ranty there/their/they’re posts that daily do the rounds on social media to know that I’m right: people care about spelling and grammar. They may write ‘LOL, u no wot im sayin m8’ at the end of every sentence, but that doesn’t mean they’re not waiting to deride your every finger-slip, or wage Word War III in the comments thread on your Amazon page.
I’m sure I’m not the only one – occupation notwithstanding – who feels dismay every time I come across a howler on a business or school website. You’re darn tootin’ it makes me reconsider using their services/buying from them/sending my fledglings there—the overwhelming impression being that if you are too sloppy to present yourself professionally when you actually have something to lose by not doing so, how can I possibly trust you with my plumbing/money/child’s education? If, in fact, you have something to gain from putting your words in the
pubic public domain, having a professional check those words pays for itself. But before it can do that, you need to pay me to do it. Or someone else equally up to the task. I’m not fussy.