May 1, 2014

Does Spelling Matter?

Image courtesy of StuartMiles
Does spelling really matter?  Many of my workshop participants hope I answer with a resounding no, but I see their hope as wishful thinking, nothing else.

Several years ago, an interesting message made the email rounds.  I've checked my urban legend fact checker to determine its validity, and they could not determine whether this was something a person cooked up or whether it's grounded in truth.  It makes my point, though.

See if you can read this:

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaern what oredr the ltteers in a word are. The only iprmoetnt thing is that the first and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm. This is bcuseae the human mind deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe.

When I teach business or technical writing workshops, I show this passage near the start of the class.  A volunteer reads it out loud and, except for an occasional slip up, manages to recite it without problem.

Then, I ask the participants, "If this is true, then what's the point?  Why do we care about spelling?"

If my volunteer did struggle over a word, usually it's "rset,” then the answer is obvious: to write with clarity, we need to use correct spelling.

If the volunteer sailed through the passage without a problem, we discuss what kind of image we create through poor spelling.  Like it or not, people do notice if you misspell a word.  Some of us make it our life's goal to recognize and groan over every single error in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  If you want to be seen as credible, you need to clean up the errors in your writing.

The best answer I received from a participant sums this up well.  When I asked why it matters, she gave me this answer:  "It's like a dirty restroom in a restaurant."


What's your number one issue with spelling, grammar or punctuation?


Valerie Keiser Norris said...

Hard to select one. The misuse of there, they're and their drives me batty. Also mistakes using I/me or us/we. But I break some rules--sentence fragments and beginning a sentence with "but." :)

Barbara V. Evers said...

Valerie, there's always poetic license. I use sentence fragments and but when it creates the right atmosphere for the reader, but I use it sparingly.

PS Did you notice I used the right form of there? :-)