Hey, use a dictionary, kids

The UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication has decided to drop the spelling portion of a test of grammar and usage that it has given students for almost four decades. Here is a post about the change on the Romenesko blog. The J-school will replace the spelling portion with testing on word choice.

I am not too worried about the journalists of the future not being able to prevent or catch ordinary misspellings and typos in their copy. Spellcheckers are not perfect, but they are valid tools and getting better.

It is more important to me that writers and editors be able to distinguish between sets of homonyms and other confused pairs. Writers and editors also need to be able to spot errors in context, not just in isolated sentences. I think it might be a good idea to focus on vocabulary, rather than spelling. Writers need to be able to come up with the right word, paying attention to nuance and connotation.

And if I were teaching high school these days, I’d encourage students to keep a dictionary — in print or online — nearby at all times. Everyone is a good speller with a dictionary.