Monday, February 6, 2012

If You Can't Spellcheck, Can You Be Trusted to Fact Check?

Several years ago when I was teaching junior high and high school, I had the privilege of developing the history program for the small, start-up school at which I worked. Finding curriculum that I liked was a frustrating experience. Most programs were too simplistic and incorporated barely any primary sources. I didn't want my high school students to just read and absorb a textbook account of past happenings. I wanted them to understand the process of uncovering history, how to glean information from the writings and artifacts of the people who lived during the period we were studying.

The lack of primary sources wasn't the only problem. Two of the curriculums that I looked at (the titles and authors of which shall remain nameless) made a big impression on me--and not in a good way. While scanning the pages, I noticed several typos in the chapters. One author confused the word "throne" with "thrown" and even made the egregious error of stating that the people "sang hims of praise."

I was a little appalled that an error this blatant could get into print, and especially into something that was being marketed as educational curriculum. It also made me think: if the author did not take the time to check his own spelling, what was the likelihood that he had checked his historical information? Were his chapters all based on one book he had read, ignoring the multitude of other sources available? Did he even look at the primary sources while performing his research, or was he merely regurgitating the popular view of history as told in (outdated?) secondary and tertiary sources?

In short, poor orthography leads one to suspect poor historiography

For self-published authors, the same rule applies. A poorly edited historical novel can lead one to suspect that the author doesn't really know her stuff. Who is going to trust an author's scholarship or stay immersed in a novel's storyline if the author clearly can't tell the difference between "then" and "than"? Editing: if you can't do it yourself, then find someone who can.

And now that I've rung such a peal over bad spelling, I suppose I'd better proof this post nine or ten times before I publish it. I wouldn't want to make the same misteak that I've just been complaning abowt. 


  1. I realize I'm not going to win points for saying this...

    I am still amazed at the *very* poor spelling of many in our own circles!

    We should be leaders in this area, especially with our focus on homeschooling / private education.

  2. I'm a student of Medieval History at the reasonably well known English University of Winchester and I am very pedantic about factual accuracy and the importance of original sources, and even moreso about not juding the past by modern standsrds, which was soemthing that was drummed into us from an early stage.

    I have just bought your book "I serve" I was very impressed by your choice of sources in the Bibliography and own an least two of the books.

    The book looks excellent, and I like way it seems to be balanced, rather than anti-English like some historical novels written by Americans are, no offence meant.

    I you are interested I have my own blog devoted to Medieval books and literature,

    Great site! Love from Anna from England.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Anna! I clicked over to your site and it looks like it's right up my alley.

  3. That's nice to hear, Franky I think some of my posts are a little tedious. All the best Anna


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