Spell everything correctly.

Seriously. No excuses and no exceptions – everything. Here’s a little yarn about why it’s important to spell things correctly.

My company once managed a very large online events calendar for a major news website in one of the largest cities in the U.S. It was a very important job, but it didn’t require a great deal of experience. It was grunt work. So we placed an ad at a local university, looking for an intern to handle the job of editing the calendar. We got dozens of responses, but my favorite one went something like this:

Dear Sir:

I read with great interest about the job of calender editor with StraightForward Media. I think I would be an excellent candidate for this job, because I currently work on the events calender for my church, and am very aware of community events and also good with computers. I am excited about the opportunity to become your calender editor and look forward to talking more with you about this opportunity.

Jane Doe

Maybe I’m biased because I’ve been a fairly decent speller since I was young, but come on – are you kidding me? The average fifth grader can spell the word “calendar,” I guarantee you. And if you can’t – hey, get up and walk to one of the walls in your dorm room or apartment. See that big thing with all the squares and numbers on it? Check the cover, and I guarantee you’ll see the word “CALENDAR” written somewhere on it. Copy that spelling. That’s all you have to do to get it right.

Against my better judgment, I couldn’t resist writing this girl back. I don’t consider myself to be a crusader for correct spelling, because that’s a losing battle if ever there was one. Usually these things just get deleted, but some people are begging for a little correction. And I told myself to feel good about it, because my “tough love” might actually help this girl someday. So I wrote her back, and my response went something like this:

Dear Jane,

Thanks for your inquiry about the calendar job. I wanted to be frank with you and tell you that you were eliminated from consideration for the job due to the fact that you misspelled “calender” three times in your email. To be honest, I couldn’t trust you to do error-free work as a calendar editor when you’re unable to spell the word “calendar.” I wish you the best of luck in the future.

Best regards,
Josh Barsch

I didn’t expect her to feel good when she received it, but sometimes you need to hear the unpleasant truth in order to improve, right? Well, not according to Jane. She actually wrote back.

Dear Mr. Barsch,

I don’t know why you had to write me back just to tell me about my spelling. I would have liked it better if you had not written me back at all. I am not a perfect speller, but I still think I could have done a very good job.

Jane Doe

So much for trying to be helpful.

Many people today tend to say that spelling matters less depending on what career you’re pursuing. They say things like, “What do you expect? I’m in marketing!” or “I spray for termites. Don’t expect me to win the spelling bee.” But that’s not the point. No one expects you to be a perfect speller or grammarian in your day-to-day life; however, your scholarship application is supposed to be your one-time, absolute best possible effort. It’s not just you — it’s you and the dictionary and whoever you can find to proofread it, taking as much time as you need to make this ONE document perfect. Yes, perfect – no errors whatsoever.

Whether you like it or not, if you misspell words on a scholarship application, you are telling the committee that you’re lazy, and that’s the worst possible thing to tell us. We don’t reward laziness with money. We think, “Wow, if this person is putting his/her best foot forward on a scholarship application and it’s still this sloppy, how bad does this person’s work usually look?”

So how do you get your application into tip-top, error-free shape, even if you can’t spell to save your life? For starters, of course, use the spell-check function on your computer program. That will catch most of the obvious errors. But once the document is spell-checked, give a copy of it to friends, teachers, spouse, children or whomever else you know that’s a better speller than you are. Ask them straight out, “Would you mind taking two minutes to check my application for mistakes? I’m not a great speller.” Not only will you get another set of eyes looking over the application, you’re also likely to flatter the person a little. It feels good to have someone acknowledge they respect you enough to seek out your help, doesn’t it?

Don’t be embarrassed to say you’re not a good speller – trust me, you’re in good company. Once you’ve had a few people glance over it for errors, you should have an error-free document. It doesn’t take long, and it can make the difference between getting the scholarship and getting your application tossed in the garbage.

35 thoughts on “Spell everything correctly.”

  1. I laughed when I read about the young lady who applied to be a calendar editor and spelled calendar wrong. I laughed again when Mr. Lewis made the comment about picking up the dictionary. I am a high school teacher of Art and English. I often tell students to go to the dictionary to check a word for it’s proper spelling. Students don’t care, they are too lazy to get up from their seat to walk to the bookcase and check the dictionary. I do take points off for misspelling words, but this does very little to motivate them. Somehow I think people like this have not had a hard life. Everything comes easy to these children, they are spoiled. If these people had to ever really work for something, and then had someone tell it to their face that they’re dumb, then maybe they’ll learn from their embarrassment and start doing things right.

  2. Thank you for the enlightening article! I never realized how important spelling was. And I deeply enjoy your straightforward manner.

  3. I have had nearly identical responses from students, some of whom have gone above my head to my director to complain that I was “extremely rude”.

  4. Hi, Mary — wow, that is terrible (but unsurprising) to hear. I hope your director put them in their place, but then again, I don’t have high hopes for that either. This is why I wouldn’t last 30 days in academia.

    Thanks for the comment! Hope to see you around the site.


  5. Laura Hinrichsen

    Hi, I’m a college student who plans to become a High School Teacher with my teachables subjects being Art and English, and I would like to mention that I can never understand who people can’t take the 2 minutes it takes to look over an essay for spelling mistakes. I was once proofreading an essay for our English class in which he spelled ‘Shakespeare’ wrong, in an essay on Hamlet! To fully explain, he didn’t simply spell Shakespeare incorrectly and stick with it… He spelled it wrong SEVEN different ways! I believe that’s possibly the worst of spelling mistakes, when you show me that you definitly have no clue how the word is spelled, not simply that you think it is spelled a different way than it is.


  6. Hey Genius – you spelled “who” wrong – it’s why. Double check your own writing before you complain about other people’s. And I’m pretty sure “teachables” is not a word.

  7. Laura, you can never understand who people can’t take the 2 minutes(…)?

    Sorry, just had to poke fun for a moment 😉

  8. The last comment by “Who people” was hilarious, I’m glad you said something, because if you didn’t, I was! I’d just like to comment that my biggest pet peeve is someone who can’t spell, oh my gosh, when someone writes “freind” or say what do you “plain” to do when you go to college? Or use the wrong form of “to” or “your”. Ex. What are you doing “too” do today, or this backpack is “to” heavy! Or “Your” so cute today, or can I borrow “you’re” pencil? GRRRRR….That upsets me!

  9. What you all seem to forget is that some people have learning disabilities. I am severely dyslexic so my mom checks ALL of my spelling (even this). Okay, so the girl shouldn’t have applied for an editing job, but my mom and I laugh a lot at my spelling inventions.

  10. The first person – Hina Fagu – used the incorrect form of “it’s” – the apostrophe should have been left out.
    You are a high school teacher, complaining about your high school students.
    Maybe you should be the one proofreading.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to sound so hostile, it’s just the whole hypocrisy thing.

  11. lol…this amuse me but i do hope this aspirant teacher would try to master first her “teachable” lesson/subject before going out and spread the virus to the children…

  12. Dude, You are such a jackass, even though there is truth in your advice. It’s obvious that you are trying to be funny, and no one appreciates it.

  13. Hi Josh,
    I just wanted to say that I really appreciate your articles. They are very funny and written in such a “down to earth” fashion.I especially love to read the comments in which people complain about spelling mistakes and then in their haste, make the same obnoxious spelling errors. Thanks 😀

  14. I had to say something about spelling. I’m in a class on-line called “Intro to Mass Communications”. Each week a pair of discussion questions are posted by the instructor. We are required to reply to both questions, then post replies to two other students’ responses. For the entire length of this class I have been simply amazed at how bad some people are at spelling. They spell the same words wrong over and over, obviously without ever taking two seconds to run spell-check. And many of them write as though they’re sending a text message to friends, no capital letters and with terrible grammar. I’m 43 and have worked in construction most of my life, never needing to to be proficient in spelling or grammar, but I have always taken pride in my spelling ability and use of proper grammar. I am astounded by the poor spelling and grammar of the kids in my on-line class as well as my classes on campus. These people were allowed to get through junior and senior high school with these terrible skills? This is what passes for education? I think this is very sobering commentary on the state of our educational institutions. Anyway, I like the articles and the responses posted here. I hope that I can put some of it to good use and secure some help with funding for the rest of my college education. Oh, and P.S.- does anyone know of any scholarships or grants for non-traditional students like me? I sometime feel like I’m in some type of minority because I’m a single, white, straight male in his forties. There seems to be a scholarship or grant or other program for just about everyone except people of my demographic. Thanks, Michael

  15. I forgot to mention: to Anonymous on March 19th- I’m quite positive “teachable” IS a word; if one person is considered able to learn, they are a teachable person, a “teachable” for short; more than one “teachable” would be two or more “teachables”, plural of “teachable”. In the context that Laura Hinrichsen used the word “teachables” on March 14th, a “teachable” is a word to describe things she’s learned that can be taught to others, in her case probably her students; more than one subject she’s learned and can teach to others would be “teachables”. “Non-teachable(s)” would be things that she has learned that are part of becoming a teacher but aren’t taught to her students, such as sociological aspects like how to deal with students who would rather complain about, or emphasize, the the trivial short-comings of others, e.g., people like you.
    And to Anonymous on April 11th- If you’re going to call out the faults of others, have the balls to identify yourself. And your punctuation after “hypocrisy” is WRONG. It should be either a semi-colon or a period, period.
    And to Red on April 13th: “this amuse me”? What are you, an actor portraying a native American from an old western flick? “This funny to Red. This amuse me. Me idiot.” And how ’bout “…before going out and spread the virus to children.”? Good display of bad grammar. “Going” and “spread” are verbs that need to be in the same tense, as follows:”..try to master first her ‘teachable’ lesson/subject before going out and spreadING the virus to the children…” See how easy that was? Also, I’m positive that the “i” you used needs to be capitalized. Utilizing your Tonto grammar, the “i” is capitalized as follows: “…this amuse me but I hope…”. See the difference? I think I learned the “I” rule, which is: “Use a capital ‘i’ when referring to one’s self”- when I was in kindergarten or first grade. Maybe I was in a special school with special rules or something. Now go out and play nice with the other children, Red. Maybe we can discuss the difference between present tense and present perfect tense next time. That sound good?

    Mr.Wilson, please don’t include me in your group, “no one”, as I find Mr. Barsch’s comments quite amusing, while I find your comments to be boorish and sophomoric in nature. It’s comments like yours that are funny to read, because they show your immaturity, ironically, while you are trying to show how grown up you think you are. Feel free to instead include me in THIS group: “People who think Mr. Barsch is humorous and like what he’s doing here, which is providing help and advice in order to help others become better additions to the society in which we’ve chosen to live, unlike you and the dolts like you, who feel calling someone ‘Jackass’ is appropriate while it actually puts your own ineptitude and lack of insight on display and proclaims to the world,’I’m a moron and I like it!'”.
    Keep up the excellent work, Mr. Barsch!!

  16. This response is for the high school English teacher who says that all students are lazy and don’t care.

    I just thought it would be necessary to point out the fact that “it’s” is a conjunction for “it is” and is not possessive. In addition, after the sentence “Students don’t care” the most appropriate punctuation would be a semi-colon.

  17. I just read the rest of the comments and realized that someone else had already pointed out the English teacher’s “it’s” mistake. Thus, I apologize for my redundancy. However, I too believe that this repetition further solidifies the reality that the aforementioned English teacher ought to check herself before she tears down her students.

    (I am now proofing my entry for fear of making a mistake and looking like a fool. Perhaps someone can assist me. Is the correct usage “further” or “farther?” I believe I utilized it correctly, but I truly have never understood that distinction.)

  18. Hey Jeff — I’ll help you out with farther and further. “Farther” refers to physical distance only; if it doesn’t refer to physical distance, use “further.”

    Ex: Rapid City is five miles from here, and Sturgis is 25 miles farther.

    Ex: I don’t see any need to explore this topic any further.

    🙂 Josh

  19. This set of comments is both hilarious and sad. The English teacher’s misspelling of “its” (how ironic!) must be one of the most common mistakes around, judging from how often I find it in the newspaper, magazines, and books. (A common Ohio-ism is to say “left” when one means “let” or “allowed”. People will say, “I left him go to the movie”, instead of “I let him go to the movie”, and don’t understand that their usage is inaccurate.)

    I also, unfortunately, noted a fairly common thread of negative attitudes. It is one thing to correct one’s grammatical or spelling errors, but quite another to insult them deliberately or use crude and demeaning language to describe them. The result is usually the opposite of what was intended.

    I honestly don’t know why this particular link was sent to my e-mail, but I’m finding it very enlightening and helpful, especially as my daughter is entering the job market–well, trying, anyway–and beginning her first official college semester in the fall. (She’s taken several PSEO classes as a high schooler.) I am amazed at people’s lack of basic spelling and grammar knowledge. (At the same time, I admit I still have to stop and think about “who” or “whom”.) I appreciate the helpfulness of this site and will definitely have the above mentioned daughter look through some of this material.

    One comment regarding Michael’s April 28 lament regarding education. Hmm…and then some people think that we are doing our children a disservice by home educating them.

  20. Well said Josh, and I’m reading most of these comments about this article and others ragging on their past experiences with other people. Then others rag on those people for their incorrect grammar in their own article. I was laughing most of my way down this page reading the posts and comments.

    (p.s. I’m not trying super hard right now to be grammatically correct so yeah fire away at what you got at me.)

  21. Thanks for another helpful article Josh! I am an upcoming high school senior, and right now scholarship applications are my main focus. I took World Civilizations online last year, and the poor grammar of the other students was a huge pet peeve of mine. If I were the professor, I probably would have corrected them in the same fashion as you did, Josh.

    In another note, I’m kind of appalled at the comment fight occurring! I thought name-calling was a high school phenomenon…

  22. Thanks for the encouragemnet.indeed your open up my mind and thouth s about what can be done in as a part of life strugle.

    from janet

  23. Deborah Castro

    hi. i just wanted to take a minute and offer another perspective. if you take a linguistics class, which most people don’t. or learn another language. you’d learn that language is fluid and constantly changing. Its changing right now as we speak. so its not something to get so riled up about i think. but on the other hand i substitute teach and I agree that children are extremely distracted and lazy and definitely should learn to spell better among other things. go ahead and fire away at my spelling and grammar. i grew up in the internet age so i’m not so ashamed. but i did spell check.


  24. I enjoyed your article/advice.
    I CANNOT BELIEVE that people spell words incorrectly on a SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATION!
    With all the spell check editors available on EVERY PC in the world, you would think any idiot would not be so lazy as to not find a dictionary for a SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATION, much less push a button on the computer!

  25. Her Own Loveable Self

    I don’t like how Samantha’s comment got completely ignored. That really says a lot about the nature of this commentary.

    The point should be to encourage people to do better in life by seeking help from others when they need it. How is that supposed to happen if you snap at people?

    (I guess this comment is a lost cause too, because you’re all just going to find something in it to pick at instead of reading this message for its context.)

  26. Hello People of the Forum,
    My name is Laura Marie, and I’m currently attending an on-line college at the lovely age of 38 years young. I’m posting on here because; I’m looking to address anyone with the ability to assist me with a dilemma I’m facing.
    I am about to submit an essay to The Ayn Rand Institute on “Atlas Shrugged”. What I need to find out is, if someone (such as Josh), can proof-read my essay to ensure there is no incorrect spelling or grammatical mistakes within it. I worked quite hard on it and truly wish to win the $10,000.00 top prize! Thanks you in advance for your help and or advice.
    Laura Marie
    PS: Maybe someone can answer this in the meantime. This is something I’m struggling with right now. It’s a sentence in my cover letter and I want to check for proper usage of “then” & “than”. I have mulled it over for 2 hours, and believe because I’ve been staring at it too long, really need an extra set of eyes to tell me which is the correct way regarding this sentence below:
    “Ironically, as of late, “Atlas Shrugged” has been mentioned often in the news and people are talking about the book more frequently now, I believe, than ever before.”

  27. Wow… I read over the comments and just had to say that there are too many people with too much time on their hands and too much bitterness in their heart. This is a great article that is helpful for those seeking money for school… your mocking of one another would be time better spent helping others not cutting them down. Get off the computer and into a real life.

  28. I laughed at this, mostly because I’ve been finding the same issues in my job search. Way too many employers advertise openings with a want ad with horrendous spelling and grammar – and when I say horrendous, I mean truly atrocious, not one or two things. More than once, I’ve not applied to a job that suited my interests because of these repetitive mistakes. Maybe I missed an opportunity at one or more of those places, but I just couldn’t take them seriously.

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