We’ve all been in situations where ‘autocorrect’ has changed the content of a message we’ve typed on a smart phone or tablet. These mistakes are usually inconsequential in the grand scheme of things and simply provide a few good laughs. 🙂

But what about the computer’s version of autocorrect known as spell check? Have you ever noticed afterwards that an unintentional error occurred in a typed document? In an important document?? …perhaps a manuscript prepared for submission or a resume/CV ready to be sent out to a hiring manager?!?!

Of course proof-reading is important before sending anything out, but occasionally, even with proof-reading, we miss seemingly obvious mistakes because we read through the document as we intended it to read, instead of looking at what’s actually written on the page.

This is why programs like spell check were created, and in many cases, spell check is a wonderful thing! However, it can also be your worst enemy.

To illustrate this point, let me share with you the story of my friend Brian…

Brian had graduated from college and, like many other students, he had sent out tons of resumes looking for work. He applied to hundreds of positions. For every company that had a job posting, he made sure he put in an application. He also sent his resume and cover letter to friends and family who forwarded his documents to their higher-ups and recruiting managers at their firms. Then he applied online… Monster, Indeed, LinkedIn… he had sent applications EVERYWHERE through EVERY avenue he could find.

But he never heard from any of them… not even a rejection. Nothing.

After many months of searching for work, he was starting to lose hope. He believed that there just weren’t any jobs out there that needed to be filled. He placed the blame on society, not himself. (A cardinal mistake! You should always be proactive about improving your approaches if they aren’t working for you!)

I then asked him if he had sought any advice on his resume and cover letter. I suggested that perhaps those documents needed some polishing to make them more streamlined to help him stand out as the best candidate for the job.

He said he hadn’t done so and then asked if I wouldn’t mind looking at it for him. “Sure, of course!” I said.

I didn’t read more than the first two words on his resume before I realized exactly why he wasn’t getting any interviews or job offers…

Spell check was Brian’s worst enemy…

Spell check had changed his name, Brian Doner, to “Brain Donor” on his documents!!!!

Three little letters were ruining his chances at getting a job. I was sure that every hiring manager thought his resume was a practical joke – Why would a brain donor be applying for a job at any company? Why would that be something you highlight on a resume?!?! It’s not, plain and simple, and the recruiting managers probably laughed and tossed his application to the side.

This story highlights the importance of proof-reading – CHECK YOUR SPELL CHECK!

Spell check is a useful tool for catching minor misspellings and typos, but you should not rely on spell check for everything, especially in the sciences.

We’ve all encountered situations in which spell check changes a very technical word to something more commonly used in the English language. However, these corrections usually render the sentence incomprehensible and, consequently, can reflect poorly on you. So make sure spell check isn’t working against you… whether it be a paper/manuscript, your resume/CV, or an email to a colleague, etc.

Here’s a few ways to ensure that everything you’ve written appears as intended:

1) Add your name to your spell check dictionary.

This is particularly important for those with international backgrounds and ethnic names. Spell check can usually correct “Smiht” to “Smith” if it’s typed incorrectly, but if your name is ethnic in origin, the English-based spell check either can’t correct your typos for you at all or, worse, it will change your name to something completely different! Adding your name to your spell check dictionary can prevent terrible, incorrect adjustments and help ensure that you haven’t accidentally typed your own name incorrectly on something you’re submitting.

2) Add any technical terms you frequently use to your spell check dictionary.

In every niche of science there are technical terms and standard jargon that are specific to that area and likely do not exist in typical spell check dictionaries. As a result, your paper discussing the use of “heterozygous mus muculus” as a genetic tool turns into a prose on “heterosexual muscles.” The worst part is that you may not even notice the typo! To avoid these annoying and problematic mistakes, add your technical jargon to your spell check dictionary in Microsoft Word.

3) Have someone else read your documents.

It’s always a good idea to put an extra set of eyes on something you want to submit to ensure that it’s in top form. Having someone else who isn’t directly involved with you or your project on a daily basis is a good way to catch little mistakes because, unlike you, they don’t know what’s coming in the document. They aren’t expecting to read a particular thought, so they see what is actually written on the page. This can be a valuable step in the proof-reading process, and in return, offer to review/edit their documents and make it a two-way street, a give-and-take.

4) Sleep on it or step away from your documents and re-read them with a fresh mind.

If you can’t find someone who has the time to devote to reviewing your documents, stop working on them for a while. The main reason we sometimes fail to catch obvious mistakes in our own papers is because we know what we intended to write and, to some extent, we may have unintentionally memorized certain sentences in the way we wanted them to appear. This causes us to gloss over these sentences, thereby missing somewhat obvious mistakes that may be present. Stepping away from your documents is a good way to start fresh, forget about what you ‘meant’ to write for a while, and see it again with more naïve eyes. After you take a break from your writing and ‘forget’ what you intended to write, you’re more likely to catch your own minor mistakes.

 

Use these techniques to make sure that you haven’t spelled anything wrong or inadvertently written the wrong word in your papers and job application materials.

On average, a recruiter spends 5-7 seconds on your resume because they have to sift through hundreds and thousands of applications a day! If there is something spelled wrong, or the name at the top is “Brain Donor,” they will pass you up in a heartbeat.

So… Always check your spell check!

 

** Be vigilant when writing, and feel free to share any funny stories of your own! **

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