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By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
The requirement for good spelling and proper word choice is still with us in this computerized world. When I was in elementary school, we had a daily lesson called “Spelling.” I don’t think that class is offered any longer – at any school.
In today’s high-tech era, you could make an effective argument that class time spent on spelling isn’t necessary, because computer programs alert you to a questionable or misspelled word.
But sometimes computers make mistakes. Today’s software can’t tell when you’re writing colloquially or when you’re using an incorrectly spelled word to make a point or for emphasis.
I consider myself a good writer now, but I wasn’t always one. You know what they say about practice: It makes you better.
Tips to Raise Your Writing from Good to Better
Like any writer, I have pet peeves regarding word choice and good writing. If you’re interested in improving your writing, consider these tips:
1. Avoid clichés. Most clichés are overused and worn out anyway. Use simple and straightforward language. For example, I don’t like to see the phrase “It goes without saying…”. If it really goes without saying, you don’t need to say it.
Get to the heart of what you’re writing and move on. Your readers will appreciate your clarity.
2. Avoid redundancies. If you want to emphasize something in your writing, don’t overdo it. Watch for redundancies, because they are a sign of sloppy writing and editing.
For example, the phrase “the city of Chicago” is redundant. Doesn’t everyone know Chicago is a city? A careful writer will know how to clarify descriptions and avoid redundancies.
3. Check your spelling for errors. Sometimes, spelling errors occur due to words that sound alike. An example would be “accept” and “except.”
These two words have different meanings, but they sound the same. Be careful to choose the correct word so that your writing is not misunderstood.
4. Don’t confuse “annual” with “first.” Never say or write “first annual.” You cannot have an “annual event” until you’ve had the first one. You can then say “second annual” and be completely accurate.
5. Pay attention to the autocorrect feature in your computer’s software. Computer software such as Microsoft Word checks and corrects your spelling automatically. But autocorrect is not infallible.
Watch carefully when an autocorrect system changes your writing. It doesn’t think like you do and may substitute an incorrect spelling for a word it doesn’t recognize.
It pays to be careful in the online classroom too. I’ve had some embarrassing mistakes when I’ve written a direct message, email, or forum post and my signature is misspelled by the autocorrect feature. That’s awkward, especially since I grade my students’ work and I am expected to set a good example for them.
6. If you want to improve your writing and spelling, keep a list of words or phrases that you misspell or use incorrectly. Refer to that list often as you’re writing a weekly assignment or final project.
7. Also, keep a thesaurus and a dictionary on your desk and refer to them frequently. Another option is to bookmark sites such as Thesaurus.com and Dictionary.com in your browser. Not only will your writing improve, but so will your vocabulary.
We all want to be known for something, so why not be the person people turn to when they aren’t sure about how a word should be used or spelled? Becoming a better writer is time-consuming, but not impossible.
Read Your Paper One More Time Before Turning It In
Writing can be fun, but be sure to check over your work before you submit it to your instructor. Reading your paper aloud won’t take long and you’ll often hear mistakes that could affect your grade. Be especially careful to look for odd constructions, word repetition and faulty punctuation.
Also, check your weekly paper against the course instructions one last time. Pay attention to any format that your instructor wants you to follow; it is easy to read the instructions too quickly and gloss over small details.
Good Writing Takes Time to Sharpen Your Skill
Spending extra time developing your spelling and writing skills is the key. In class, always spend a few extra minutes on the instructions for your research paper and on sharpening your writing skills.
Look at the people you admire. Do you have someone you always turn to when you want to spell a word or understand its meaning? Spelling matters. Your career advancement could be impacted by your ability to spell words properly and good writing.
Good writing is a simple skill to master. The rewards last your lifetime.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was the program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics.
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