Books on My Shelves – Don’t Trust Your Spell Check

According to the back cover of Don’t Trust Your Spell Check, “Everybody makes mistakes”. Unfortunately, its author, Dean Evans, is no exception. In a book that promises “pro proofreading tactics and tests to eliminate embarrassing writing errors”, nothing could me more disappointing than finding some of the latter in the body of the text and the tests. Given that this is an independently published book, I guess there was no money for a copy editor and/or proofreader, which is a shame.

Having said that, as an experienced editor and content writer, Evans describes strategies and gives explanations that are well worth noting. And the many tests in the second half of the book are extremely helpful as a training exercise. Although it would be more useful to discuss differences of opinion in person with an experienced tutor, tackling the tests is far better than doing no practice at all.

The tests can be purchased separately at a bargain price, but only as a Kindle version. I certainly wouldn’t find that a good way to do them as I wrote all over my paperback copy in red pen. For on-screen error-seeking practice, book purchasers will find a link to a page on the author’s Good Content Company website where they can request PDF versions of the tests. The blog also has some posts with tips and proofreading tests.

One of the major pros about the sample tests is that there are so many of them (27 by my count, however, and not the 25 it states there are in both the book and the Kindle version). Evans has also introduced a variety of errors to really get you thinking about different points to look out for when checking your own and others’ work. Some of them are mistakes a spell checker should pick up on, but others are simple errors that can be easily overlooked. He only tells you how many mistakes to find for a few passages, which makes the tests more realistic, especially as some contain loads of errors and others hardly any at all.

The cons of the tests are that Evans doesn’t notice all the mistakes. For example, in the “Paris in a weekend” tourism text, I spotted three that weren’t mentioned, including a time error (see my post on this topic for more details).

I also found it annoying that the author throws conventions on how to write book titles out the window (they should be in italics, as I explain in this post) and fails to heed his own advice on consistency. I often found more errors than were flagged up (especially the, IMHO, incorrect use of hyphens and en and em dashes). But this could also be down to Evans following a different style guide to the one I try to base my work on, the New Oxford Style Manual.

So why am I recommending you get this book even though it’s not perfect? Because I learned a lot. Despite finding a few errors that really shouldn’t have slipped through and disagreeing with some of the corrections. Scrutinising the contents and poring over the tests made me question grammar rules and clarified my thinking about certain conventions.

Flawless texts are an ideal we all strive for, but terribly hard to attain in translation without a reviser or in writing without a copy editor or proofreader. As Evans quite rightly points out, and we translators know only too well: “It’s hard to balance deadlines with perfection. Something has to give.”

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