Magazine article New York Times Upfront

As Spell-Check Replaces Proofreading, Students Learn the Hard Way That Mistakes Can Really Matter

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

As Spell-Check Replaces Proofreading, Students Learn the Hard Way That Mistakes Can Really Matter

Article excerpt

Debra Chermonte, the admissions dean at Oberlin College in Ohio, reads a lot of college essays. But one stands out in her memory: An applicant wrote about her admiration for Julie Taymor, an Oberlin graduate who created The Lion King on Broadway. Chermonte recalls the essay's passion--and its fatal flaw: The writer kept referring to "The Loin King."

College admissions officers, teachers, and employers all tell similar tales of reading applications and homework assignments littered with misspellings, grammatical mistakes, or worse. And they say it's happening more and more in this age of texting, tweeting, and Facebook, when the simple art of proofreading may be falling victim to today's emphasis on casual communication.

Cynthia Markoch, a guidance counselor at Eastside High School in Gainesville, Florida, says proofreading is a declining skill among today's students, who increasingly rely on spell-check software to catch their mistakes.

But spell-check misses a lot. Mary Karen Vellines of the international recruitment office at Union College in Schenectady, New York, drives home that message when teaching writing workshops to high school students, by citing this real-life example: "I love to turn on soft music and light scented candles because I love the smell of incest."

Computer software also has trouble telling when an overreaching writer is misusing a word, says Rich Avitabile, who spent 11 years in New York University's admissions office and is now a private admissions counselor in Westport, Connecticut. …

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