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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ten Common Spelling Mistakes That Could Hurt Your Career

I don't doubt that misspelling the words listed in this column by Allison Vannest at could have a negative effect on a person's career. But more significant than that consequence--because it could affect more people--is the possible consequence on customers and clients of the writer's employer. 

Poorly spelled documents can reduce the credibility of the employer to its targeted readers. And even worse is the possibility, however slight, that misspelled words could somehow confuse or mislead readers. Loss of a reader disenchanted by the mistakes of an employer and his or her boss is a bad thing. Harming a reader through incompetent writing and editing is unacceptable.

Vannest doesn't describe any particular research that specifies her 10 words or identifies their frequency in hurting careers. Still, it's wise for everyone--not just people who write for a living--to spell these words (and others) correctly at work and in job-hunting. 

Here's my advice on spelling in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual, followed by my style manual advice on the 10 spelling and word-choice mistakes:

spelling Frequently misspelled words are listed alphabetically throughout this style manual. Also listed are preferred spellings for words with more than one possible spelling. Based in the United States, this manual prefers American spellings to British spellings, except for names of British publications and organizations. ...
For spelling and definitions not covered in this manual, check another manual or your dictionary, such as the New Oxford American Dictionary. The Associated Press prefers Webster's New World College Dictionary. If two (or more) spellings are listed, use the first one unless your style manual lists a specific exception. If your dictionary provides different spellings in separate entries (gray and grey, for example) use the spelling followed by a full definition (gray). If a dictionary entry is listed as usually or often, use that entry.
Use computerized spelling checkers carefully; they don't catch mistyped words that are spelled correctly--not instead of now--or words that sound alike but are spelled differently--too, two, to.
their, there, they're Commonly confused, misspelled or mistyped. And computer spellcheckers won't catch the mistaken substitution of one of these homonyms for the other--nor for there's and the plural possessive theirsTheir is the possessive form of the pronoun they, meaning "belonging to them." Don't misspell it as thierThey're is a contraction of they are. (And there's is a contraction of there is.) There (like here) refers to place. But see below for more on there.
loose, lose Sometimes confused or misspelled. Use loose (pronounced "looss") to describe things that aren't attached firmly (loose buttons), that aren't tied tightly (loose shoelaces), that are too big (loose clothes), that are out of control (loose prisoners). Use lose (pronounced "looz") to say someone no longer has something (lose a job), can't find something (lose car keys), doesn't win something (lose a game), has less of something (lose weight) or wastes something (lose time). Some common, correct phrases:loose translation, loose ends, loose cannon, on the loose, loose-leaf, loosen up, have nothing to lose, lose touch, lose it, lose your head.
definite, definitive, definitely Commonly misspelled or misused. Definite means "certain, clear, exact, precise." Definitive means "conclusive, final." Definitely is overused and often redundant. Try dropping it or even using yes, if that's what you mean.
affect, effect [Using one of these words instead of the other is likely a word-choice error. But spelling the chosen word correctly is essential.] 
Often misused, confused or overused. Usually used as a verb, affect means "to influence, to have an effect on, to change": The pesticide will affect the stream. The new feature should affect sales. Better yet, use a verb that's describes the effect more precisely, like pollute the stream or stimulate sales
Avoid using affect as a noun that sometimes means "emotion" to psychologists. Effect is usually a noun, meaning "result," "reaction" or "consequence": The effect of the project was disappointing.Avoid using effect formally as a verb, meaning "to cause, to bring about, to produce": She will effect many changes in the group.Instead, use simpler, less formal bring about or cause. ...
a lot Commonly misspelled as alot. The phrase a lot of takes a plural verb with countable items--A lot of people are waiting to buy concert tickets--and a singular verb with uncountable concepts--A lot of work has gone into the projectA lot may be too casual or too imprecise for some writing. If so, try replacing with many for countable items or much for uncountable concepts--or be more specific about the amount or number. Also, try replacing a lot of (the) time with simpler often. ...
who's, whose [Whether it's a spelling error, a punctuation error or a word-choice error, using that apostrophe in correctly chosen word is essential.] 
Who's is a contraction for who is or who has, not a possessive: Who's using the cellular phone? Who's been eating my radishes? For the possessive, use whoseI do not know whose galoshes these are. Whose may refer to things as well as people: The shopping mall, whose customers come from miles around, began charging for parking.
weather/whether [My style manual doesn't identify misspelling or confusing these words, though it's a valid concern. Here's my other advice on these words.] weather conditions It'll be pleasant, hot, stormy or pouring buckets whether called weather or weather conditions. Simplify. Drop conditions or try climatewhether or not The words or not are not always necessary--because they're suggested in whether. When writing about a choice between doing something and not doing something, drop or not--or use ifShe does not know whether the candidate will support the proposal. She does not know if the candidate will support the proposal. To stress the alternative, however, adding or not can be useful: The City Council will consider the offer whether or not it is cost effective. Usually, it's best to keep whether or not together, especially if or not would be separated from whether by a long description of the alternative: The City Council will consider the offer whether it is cost effective or not.
weird Commonly misspelled. An exception to the "i before e" rule.
quiet, quite Often mistyped or possibly misspelled. Use quiet as an adjective to describe something that's calm, silent, motionless or subdued. Quite is an adverb meaning "completely, really or very." quite [Also, think twice about the need to use this word ... or not.] Quite may be redundant, imprecise and unnecessary to mean "entirely, completely or very." Where emphasis is needed, use stronger, more descriptive words or be more precise: He performed all his hits with energy, instead of His performance was quite good
misspelling Commonly misspelled. [A certain example of ironic embarrassment!]
Vannest's article is featured today, March 21, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.
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