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Don't Rely Too Heavily on Spell Check for Your Personal Statement Editing

We always tell law school applicants to recruit a trusted proofreader to review their applications, especially personal statements, before submitting them electronically to their prospective law school's application website. This is one case where you will want to print out the materials you plan to submit for a thorough proofreading. And please do not trust an automated spell or grammar checker to catch all the errors. If you are not convinced, here are errors that most automated checkers will not catch:

Homonyms (words that sound the same but mean different things depending on their spelling and use): Spell checkers will not flag misused homonyms, such as 'wear' instead of 'ware' or 'there' instead of 'their.'

Incorrectly divided compound words: Spell checkers won't signal you to correct 'court yard,' which should be spelled 'courtyard,' or 'bookstore' for 'book store.' (Some words. such as 'spell checker.' have no consensus as to whether they should be one word, two words or hyphenated.)

Incorrect pronouns: Spell checkers won't realize that you typed in 'his' or – worse – 'its' when you should have typed 'hers,' or 'she' when it should have been 'he.'

Usage errors: Spell checkers probably won't alert you to typos involving 'its' and 'it's.'

Missing words: Spell and grammar checkers probably won't catch all the missing words, such as the phrase, "I attended University of Chicago..."

Wrong words: Spell checkers won't alert you to a gaffe like, "My sister's martial difficulties, which led to divorce and later, bankruptcy, spurred me to examine the gender bias in our state's alimony laws."

Wrong dates: Spell checkers won't question a statement like, "As a child in the late 1890s, I learned…"

Misspelled names: Spell checkers either won't catch mistakes with people's names or place names, or they'll suggest wildly incorrect ones.

Incorrect verb tenses: Spell checkers won't warn you that you mixed up the past and the present with your choice of verb tenses.

Repetition: Spell checkers will alert you if you've typed the same word twice in a row, but they won't catch a repeat of a phrase or sentence, which can easily happen when you use the cut-and-paste function.

Spell and grammar checkers are handy tools for an initial screening of your personal statement, but won't catch many of the mistakes that occur during the writing process. Reading your personal statement on paper, and even reading it aloud will help, but for the final review we recommend that you entrust this with a friend or colleague who has the skill and patience to ferret out the errors and unclear passages. Spell and grammar checkers provide helpful suggestions in the review of your statement, but by no means provide the functionality for a comprehensive check of possible errors.

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