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Design Desk | Outsmart Your Spellcheck

Learning not to rely on autocorrect can help you fix mistakes before they happen

My mother isn’t the most tech-savvy when it comes to her cell phone. For a while, she got into using the speech-to-text function whenever she needed to send us kids a message. One particular afternoon when she was coming to meet me for lunch at the office, she attempted to send me a message saying “I’m here.” However, thanks to her slight southern drawl, the text message I received simply said “America”. It took several seconds and saying it slowly aloud before I realized the context and intent of the original message.

There’s a good reason we find autocorrect fails so funny – we’re all guilty of them, even before autocorrect was a thing. Spell check has been a consistent feature of computer programs and browsers since the 1980’s, and for the younger half of the population who grew up learning on computers, we’ve become entirely reliant on spell check to catch our mistakes. I will probably never not misspell “suprise” the first time and have to correct it to “surprise”, I will continue to abuse commas, but I will always remember to check for “your/you’re” and “it’s/its”.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtzdN-J4SB8&w=1189&h=669]

When a designer makes a major text mistake, but they just can’t seem to notice it…
“Cruelty-Free Printing” by OffRegister on YouTube

As designers and copywriters, paying attention to grammar isn’t always our strong suit (the number of times I’ve corrected myself in writing this article alone is a pretty good indication) and while some of us are lucky enough to have some pretty good in-person spell checkers on hand to catch our mistakes, not everyone has proof readers readily available. Here’s a couple of quick tips to help you double check your own copy before sending it to print so that you can avoid issues like the one in the video above:

  • Know your problems and watch out for them: I mentioned my inability to spell surprise before. Pay attention to things you miss all the time and remember them. Ask Michael sometime how many commas he makes me take out of this newsletter before I send it. (Is it getting better at least? Maybe?)
  • The way we read is different than how we speak: Sometimes a sentence sounds like it makes sense out loud, but on paper it looks ridiculous. If you’ve ever typed “that that” in a sentence, you understand.
  • When it comes to copy layout, there are more factors at work than just grammar: Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the sake of text flow in a design. Hyphenation is grammatically acceptable, but sometimes it can make text hard to follow. In the end hyphenation a is personal preference, and you can sometimes adjust the size and spacing of words and letters to make text fit your design without breaking a line or a word.
  • Whether you are working in Word or InDesign, the program wants to help you: Spellcheck isn’t perfect, but it’s there for a reason. Never forget to check, and correct as you go. Using formatting tools like outlines, headings and paragraph styles will help you keep your text organized, especially when it comes to long form copy. The more you learn, the more likely you are to catch formatting mistakes before they happen!
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