Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

The One-Button Fix for Better Writing.

with 6 comments

This is the first of my posts aimed at business writing. As the first, I thought I’d start with the easiest, quickest thing you can do to improve your communication. This is a trick that’s not just useful for marketing writing, but something you can, and should, use for just about any piece of writing you do from emails to fiction to blogs to (especially) term papers.

So what is this magic thing that can automatically improve your writing?

Press F7.

That’s it. One-button. When you press F7 in Microsoft Office applications on a PC (Word, Outlook, even Excel), it runs the spell-check.

I also use a Mac in addition to my PC, so for all of you with iMacs or MacBooks, it’s slightly more involved, but still worth the effort. Apple people just need to press command + option + L in Word.

“But does anyone really care about spelling?” you ask?

Fair question. But the answer is yes, and I think people care more about spelling than they really know, and let me tell you why.

Why spelling does matter:
Look at it this way: the whole point of writing something for someone else to see is that you have something to say and you want them to get it. But having misspellings all through your email makes your reader concentrate harder than he should have to. Misspellings are like mumbling on paper – they slow down communication, occasionally even undermining the actual message.

On top of that, an email that looks like you typed it while wearing boxing gloves tells your reader that you couldn’t be bothered to make your message easily understandable. And if you couldn’t be bothered to write it, they’re left wondering why they should be bothered to read it.

And if you’re writing anything for school, spell-check is a must. Misspelled words are the easiest things for teachers mark off, and the easiest things for you to fix. Don’t make it easy on your teachers, people! Press F7 and make them really read what you’re saying.

Now, I must admit that I don’t always press F7 myself. But I always do when I’m writing an email for work. Or a sales promotion. Or a letter with a short story submission. And certainly when I’m writing that short story.

I don’t always do it when I’m sending my friend an email about meeting at happy hour, and (the horror!) there are occasional misspellings in there. But he’ll forgive me because he knows I was more worried about drinking $2 Guinness drafts than capitalizing them.

And no, spell-check doesn’t catch everything. And it can mistake one word for another. But it’s a good start and an insanely easy way to clean up your writing. Trust me, people. Spell-check is a wonderful thing and well worth the six seconds it takes.

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Written by Nathanael Green

January 19, 2009 at 2:22 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Nate,

    I often wonder if orthography will continue to evolve like it did during the Old and Middle English days or if it will remain more static with, paradoxically, the advent of computer technology and the internet.

    Also, you’d think that any language making use of silent letters (English and French do this a lot) would someday lose those extra letters. I know American English dropped a lot of u’s (I know the plural of “u” should be “us,” but the apostrophe actually adds clarity in this situation) in British English words, but I don’t know why that happened in certain instances. And why did it stop happening?

    On a lighter note, I seem to remember a lot of people worried about text messaging, and how text spelling would start to creep into more formal spelling and eventually take over. Not so sure that’s going to happen just yet.

    Brian O'Rourke

    January 20, 2009 at 12:06 am

    • Brian,

      You raise some excellent questions – some pretty hefty ones that I’ve already added to my list of topics to explore more in depth!

      Specifically related to your first question (will our spelling continue to evolve), I also wonder whether it should. I think there are two camps on that question. First, it’s arguable that a solid, common set of rules makes for easier universal understanding, which again, seems to be the main purpose of language: easy, clear communication. But on the other hand, setting spelling (and all language rules, really) in concrete robs the language of its ability to change with the times and people. Languages have always evolved, and I believe that’s how they stay alive.

      As far as text messaging breaking into formal writing? I’m already seeing abbreviations like IDK or THX in business emails. And this is from 40-year-olds in outside companies, not just the recent grad down the hall.

      So the possibility is definitely there, but this makes me question the level of formality in writing, also. There are other languages, such as Japanese, with established patterns of speech that reflect a specific level of formality. Is this something English might see eventually? Txt 4 friends, but full sentences and traditional spelling for business? Right now, I’d argue that English does have different levels of formality, but they’re just not clearly defined and a lot of people ignore them.

      So many blog topics and so little time!

      But what do you think? Have you seen text message spelling creeping into formal writing? Do you even use txt spelling in your texts?

      Another side note – someone’s already written a novel entirely in text message format. Shame it’s in Finnish.

      Nathanael Green

      January 20, 2009 at 3:26 pm

  2. Great post, Nate. I had no idea there was a shortcut for spell check. And I thought Macs were supposed to be more user-friendly than PCs? Maybe I need to reconsider.

    I’m not a big fan of text-speak, but I’m also not a big fan of reading Shakespeare. So I’ll say let language evolve naturally. It speaks to the times. I’m sure in a few hundred years people will try to read (insert well-respected contemporary author’s name)’s books and and argue about how terribly inefficient yet gracefully romantic his or her writing sounds.

    Nicklas Hughes

    January 21, 2009 at 4:00 am

    • Good point, Nick. Letting language evolve is great. It’s just always an interesting question of how it does so. And where it comes from. I wonder whether people who are opposed to continuing change in English view text-speak as watering down the language. It’s certainly less formal, but I think a lot of people also view an inability to turn away from that informal speech as uneducated.

      Brian – I think you hit it on the head with saying every new language is hard to read. I woudln’t get through anyone’s blog or website that was written like a giant text message, either. But I’m not familiar with it enough for easy reading. It takes me longer to figure out the text abbreviations than it does to just type out the entire word, even on my phone.

      Nathanael Green

      January 22, 2009 at 2:45 am

  3. Nate,

    I get why people use text spelling when drafting a text message. It’s the easiest way to send a quick message on a not-so-easy to use “keyboard,” i.e. a 2″ by 4″ phone with a small keypad where each button has to be used for several different letters.

    What I don’t get is when text-speak crops up in other media, blog posts, emails, etc., where the writer has a real keyboard to work with.

    Text-speak is easy to deal with in small quantities: a quick thank you (thx), a see you later (c u l8er). But in large quantities, it’s becomes very difficult to read, almost like trying to read a novel where the author has overdone the slang in dialogue. I once came across a profile on MySpace or somewhere where the person had written their About Me section all in text-speak. I didn’t get much further (or is it “farther,” I can never remember) than the first two sentences.

    Then again, every new “language” is hard to read, so maybe that’s not necessarily a good enough reason to summarily reject text-speak.

    Nick,

    I believe the contemporary author you were trying to think of is Nate Green.

    -B

    Brian O'Rourke

    January 21, 2009 at 5:04 pm

  4. […] I know InDesign does have spell-check, so maybe they just missed my earlier post on the one-button fix for better writing. […]


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