6 Reasons To Write Without Spell Check

Spell check, when properly used, can be a valuable tool. After all, terrible spelling can get in the way of conveying your message. That said, there are still sometimes very good reasons to not use it.

  1. Historical documents. It’s actually a fairly recent development that English spelling and grammar have been fully standardized. Even as recently as the early to mid 1800s, there was a good bit of variation in the way words were spelled. Most words were spelled based on their pronunciation. So when copying, quoting or excerpting from historical documents, or when writing in the style of a historical period, spelling will be nonstandard. This will really cause headaches for even the most sophisticated spell checking program.
  2. Mixed languages. When combining lots of words and phrases from more than one language in a single document, very likely all of the foreign words will end up getting caught up in the spell checker. This even goes when combining different versions of English, such as American and Australian or Canadian and South African.
  3. Highly specialized or technical jargon. Every field has its own acronyms and jargon but some are more specialized than others. Medical and scientific fields come readily to mind. If it’s a field for which you’ll be writing documents often, you may want to update your spell check dictionary. Sometimes specialized dictionaries can be downloaded and installed, other times you may have to perform the updates yourself to a custom dictionary.
  4. Science Fiction. When writing certain fictional works, especially science fiction, your document is likely to contain many made-up words that simply won’t be found in any spell check dictionary.
  5. Deliberate misspellings. There may actually be times when your writing will include deliberate misspellings. For example, say you were writing an article about abbreviations that teens use when text messaging. Or even an article about commonly misspelled words. It would be difficult to write such an article without deliberately misspelling words to illustrate the point.

In each of these first five cases, you may or may not want to actually turn off spell check, but you’ll almost certainly want to selectively ignore it. With passive spell checkers, you may feel fine looking past lots of highlighted words. Active spell checkers, which scan the document and stop when they find a misspelled word, may be better not used at all.

However you do it, you will definitely want to turn off the autocorrect feature to prevent spell check from “helping” you and changing your document in the process!

  1. Early drafts. Perhaps the most compelling time to avoid using spell check is when writing an early draft of a document that you will eventually spell check. During free writing, getting caught up in worries about spelling and grammar gets in the way of the flow of thoughts. It is much better to simply write what is in your mind, so long as you’ll be able to decipher your meaning and fix it all up later. Even passive spell checkers, which merely highlight misspelled words, will provide a distraction that could get in the way of the free flow of thoughts. Better to completely disable spell check until you are on the second or third draft and it’s time to clean things up for eyes other than your own.


Click any of the icons below to retweet these passages from the above article.

Retweet this passage 6 Reasons To Write Without Spell Check

Retweet this passage It’s a recent development that English spelling and grammar has been standardized.

Retweet this passage This will cause headaches for even the most sophisticated spell checking program.

Retweet this passage Every field has its own acronyms and jargon but some are more specialized than others.

Retweet this passage There may actually be times when your writing will include deliberate misspellings.

Retweet this passage Perhaps the most compelling time to avoid using spell check is when…

Retweet this passage Worries about spelling and grammar get in the way of the free flow of thoughts.

Story As Sales Letter

Photo credit: Orin Zebest

A loud clang, a sickly-sounding whir and a faint waft of smoke.

That was what woke Jeannette Pearson from a sound sleep.

Snowflakes fluttered almost noiselessly outside. The intensely bright moon set the landscape aglow.

The whole scene should have been serene and peaceful but for that sickly whir and the musty, acrid, smoky smell. It gave her a dark chill that had nothing to do with the winter cold outside her cocoon of blankets.

Her heater had given up, possibly for good. Little Amy was probably already shivering in the next room.

It was 2am. What could she do?


For some reason, that phone number stuck out in Jeanette’s memory. Amy had seen it on a sign a few days earlier and asked why some phone numbers had letters.

Jeanette dialed and was relieved that someone answered….

The End of The Story

I have been playing around with the concept of creating an entire sales letter in the form of a dramatic story.

Using stories as part of the sales process is nothing new but what I have been experimenting with, as you can see above, is something slightly different.

As a pure story, it really isn’t bad. It wouldn’t win any prizes but it isn’t awful. As a sales letter, it really doesn’t seem to work at all.

Photo credit: mcfarlandmo, on Flickr

It’s possible that, with enough massaging, I could find a way to make it work. Maybe I just haven’t tried hard enough.

But the more time I put into it, the more I find myself writing a story versus selling a service. (This was not a piece for an actual client, but an intellectual exercise to keep my skills sharp.)

Instead I think it will be abandoned except as it appears in this article. It can serve as a reminder to me and others that storytelling has a rightful place in sales but it can never replace sales. Its purpose is just too different.


Price Insensitivity

Many of my friends are music fans.

Actually, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like some kind of music on some level. So let me rephrase that… These guys are hard-core music fans. You know those guys who go to football games in January wearing nothing but paint? These guys like music like those guys like football.

I don’t get it. I don’t even pretend to get it.

The great thing is, I don’t really need to get it. Forget for a moment that these are my friends. Let’s pretend for a moment that they’re prospects I’m trying to sell to.

The best way to sell someone is not to sell them at all. It’s a very tough concept for most new copywriters to fully grasp, since it’s a copywriter’s job to make the sale. But the very best way to get someone to buy from you is to connect with them on a deep level. If you truly connect with them and they get to know, like and trust you, they will make the decision all on their own to buy from you.

The better you know your prospects, the easier it will be to find common ground and connect with them. The more deeply you can connect to what’s truly meaningful to them, the less price sensitive they become.

One of my friends just bought concert tickets for his whole family. The tickets were over $50 each, which he called “reasonable”.

Now I’m not a big music fan. $50 does not sound reasonable to me. How long is a typical concert? 2-3 hours? There’s no way in the world I’d pay $50 per ticket to watch a movie, which doesn’t seem all that different from watching a concert. But to him that price seems reasonable.

That’s price insensitivity.

Image courtesy of MoreSatisfyingPhotos.com

This same friend owns a dozen electric guitars. A dozen. How many guitars can one person actually play? His least expensive guitar cost several hundred dollars. He has some that cost multiple thousands of dollars.

That’s price insensitivity.

He’s not rich. He has a relatively high income, but not an astronomical one. It’s only in the high five figures. His home is worth less than $250,000. He doesn’t drive a luxury car. He doesn’t dress fancy, take exotic vacations, eat at expensive restaurants or send his kids to exclusive private schools. I’m not sure if he even knows where the country club is.

Yet $50 tickets to a concert are “reasonable” and in his world there’s no irony whatsoever in owning a dozen guitars.

That’s price insensitivity.

I should add that this friend is not unique. I am friends with at least a half dozen people who own multiple guitars each. (What is it with music fans and owning guitars?)

Now let’s say that I’m selling something completely non-musical; let’s say BBQ grills. While any one of these friends may be in my universe of potential customers, very likely none of them is my key ideal customer.

Let’s say that for some reason I want to write a promotion specifically targeted to sell to my second and third level prospects (first level being my ideal prospects who are true grilling aficionados; the guys you see outside grilling when there’s two feet of snow on the ground).

At least knowing something about where a prospect’s primary interests lie makes it easier for me to forge a connection based on common interest. Or at least to present my offer in such a way that it plays on his deepest interest.

That’s the gateway to price insensitivity.

That’s marketing nirvana.

The Worst Copywriting Mistake I Ever Made

Image courtesy of Mark Anderson. Cartoon by Frank Robbins.

My first copywriting project bombed.

Not just bombed, it got literally zero responses. Not one.

I did almost nothing right.

It was only a 1,000 piece mailing and luckily it was for my own business so the only person I hurt was myself. The business died a quick and merciful death. The lessons learned will linger for many years. And that’s exactly as it should be.

I (rightly) had the bright idea that direct mail would be a good way to promote the business. That’s one of the few smart decisions I made among a sea of very bad ones.

This was for an offline start-up and I had no customer list, so I rented a mailing list from a big list broker. I don’t remember now what the list cost me but I want to say it was around $250 for 1,000 names. (Yeah, they saw me coming.)

I paid to get my own bulk mail permit (another $100 or so) and did everything myself. Everything. The list scrubbing, writing the copy, mail piece design, all the formatting, printing, envelope stuffing… the whole works.

It was actually the second time I had gone through the process of getting a bulk mail permit (the first time being for an employer) so I guess now I know more about the process than most. Even more than most people who work in direct mail.

Image courtesy of Mark Anderson. Cartoon by Mel Calman.

After postage and other incidental expenses, I think my total cost for the mailing was something just north of $1,500. In hindsight, I look at that as tuition in the School of Hard Knocks.

The only other thing I can specifically point to and say I did right was that I knew enough to write two different sales letters and do an A/B split test. Of course I did the test all wrong, but the fact that I did a test at all was a small point in my favor.

At the time, I thought I had copywriting skills. I did not.

I had been a subscriber to a number of copywriting newsletters for a while. That gave me enough understanding of the industry to be very, very dangerous (mainly to myself.) But I hadn’t actually taken a single copywriting course, nor had I ever worked as a copywriter. Or even in any form of advertising.

The little bit of knowledge I had was highly generalized. The most useful skill I actually had was a natural aptitude for writing.

Of course on some level I actually knew all of this. Or most of it anyway.

I also knew that typical response to a mail drop was in the range of 1%-2%. I thought that if I could get a 1% response — 10 customers — from my 1,000 piece mailing, at expected revenues of $165 per customer, I’d be on my way.

It didn’t work out that way.

In the 10 or so years since that sobering incident, I actually did study copywriting and a host of other useful business building topics. In hindsight, I can see all the things I did wrong.

It was a cheap education.

What It Means To Be A Copywriter

Theoretically everybody is capable of remembering everything that ever happened to them and perceiving everything that’s happening around them. Luckily this never occurs. … [We] only absorb what we want or need and block out the rest. … We also only notice things which are directly relevant to our daily business. In consequence, we tend to reduce our environment to visual Muzak — a perpetual symphony of shapes and patterns. Blinkered by habit we glance around rather than look with acuity. In effect the eye sleeps until the mind wakes it with a question.

The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher, p.178

Breaking Through The Clutter

I love that passage! It stood out for me as soon as I read it.

Our job as copywriters, our goal as business owners, our aim when we participate in various social media endeavors is to break through the clutter and wake our reader’s eyes with a question. To catch their attention. (To put it less elegantly.)

Naturally the big dilemma is finding the right question that will do that.

It’s a moving target because the question is different for everyone and it even changes for the same person over time.

What you notice when you’re hungry and looking for a place to have lunch will be vastly different from what you notice when the needle dips below “E” and you need to find someplace to stop for gas. Both will be different from what you notice when you’re out shopping for an anniversary gift. Even that is different from where you’ll put your focus if you’re in a rush to be somewhere else.

All of this is true even if you were traveling down the same street each time.

Yes, there is what the eye literally sees and what the mind literally pays attention to…

If I’m hungry and looking for lunch, I will probably notice restaurants. But I may also notice grocery stores. I may notice someone walking down the sidewalk carrying a lunchbox. I may notice a tree with ripe apples on it.

There is also a more figurative focus…

I may notice a grassy park and think it looks like a nice place to picnic. I may hear a song on the radio that reminds me of food. I may think of a place where I ate once but then my mind might wander to the person I was with and then hop again to some other experience we shared together.

The Tie-In

What does any of this have to do with copywriting and marketing? Most important is that copywriting is not just about writing. If that were so, all you’d really need is a typist with good spelling and passable grammar.

No, copywriting is something much deeper and more subtle.

It’s about understanding human nature. It’s about defining your ideal target audience (hint: it’s nevereveryone“) then figuring out what is most likely to wake up their eyes.

Copywriting is fundamentally about motivating others to take action.

If I’ve woken up your eyes then the actions I want you to take right now are:

  1. To connect with me on LinkedIn
  2. Retweet just one of these passages from the article above. (All you’ll have to do is click on the link already provided for you.)

Retweet this passage Breaking through the clutter

Retweet this passage Copywriting’s big dilemma

Retweet this passage Copywriting isn’t just writing. If it were, all you’d need is a typist with good spelling and grammar.

Retweet this passage Copywriting is something much deeper and more subtle than just “writing”

Retweet this passage It’s about understanding human nature

Retweet this passage Your ideal target audience is never “everyone”

Retweet this passage Copywriting is fundamentally about motivating others to take action