An article that appeared yesterday in the UK's Times Higher Education carries an important reminder for students attending college on both sides of the pond: don't trust spell check to always suggest the right word. The publication's recently revived contest for the best college exam bloopers asked professors to submit anonymous examples of some of their students' worst for-credit writing. Most of the entries highlighted in the article are a case of students accidentally using a different word than what they meant.
If you're not the best speller, you may want to take these examples to heart and remember to use the dictionary to look up the meanings and spellings of words you're not sure of, rather than simply relying on a spell checker or guessing. For example, "academic" and "epidemic" may sound similar, but they carry very different meanings. And don't think these mistakes are something that only the stereotypical stuffy tweed-clad British professor will notice--anyone in the business of evaluating writing is likely to pick up on errors of meaning in essay writing.
This advice applies not only to essays you'll write for introductory college courses, but also to college applications and scholarship application essays, as well. Many students run their entries for scholarship essay contests through a spellchecker of some sort (though some don't even do that), but a surprising number of students fail to take the next step and make sure that the words they're using mean what they think they mean. Over-reliance on the thesaurus can produce a similar effect. While the denotative meanings of two words may appear to be closely related, their connotations could be worlds apart.While using the wrong word in your essays can produce unintentionally hilarious effects, it probably won't help your chances of winning scholarships. So before you seal that envelope or press that submit button, pull out the dictionary and read back through your scholarship application. If you are not 100% sure you're using the right word in any place, double-check. It might make the difference between winning a scholarship award and having your work entered in a different contest like the one mentioned above.