Spelling is so important to your career

This advice to you is LONG because your correct spelling is so important to your journalism career

Never send your articles with misspelled words or typos (typographical errors).  Sloppy copy speaks volumes about YOU the writer.  Editors HATE sloppy copy.

I have students who misspell their own names (they write their names all in lower case letters).

The so-called “poor speller” doesn’t exist.  There is only the can’t-be-bothered, lazy writer who:

  • Doesn’t use the spellchecker on the computer
  • Doesn’t use a dictionary
  • Doesn’t check the postcode section of the White Pages
  • Doesn’t open a phone directory
  • Can’t be bothered using the internet to check
  • Ignores the atlas (or Google maps)

But don’t trust JUST the internet . . . it has terrible misspellings, although usually not on an official website.

Freelancers must get into the “dictionary habit”.  Despite 46 years of working with words, I still use a dictionary constantly.  I don’t know the meaning of every word, and it’s often easy to misunderstand what a word means because many writers and speakers misuse words, and this affects one’s sub-consciousness and one’s memory.  Never be too sure that you’re using a word correctly and check its meaning in the dictionary.  Never be too sure you’re spelling a word correctly and check it in the dictionary.

When you come across a new word and you think you understand — from the context in which the word is used — what the word means, don’t be too sure, but look it up in the dictionary.  Remember that computer spell-checkers can’t detect a mistake if the word is spelt correctly but used wrongly (example: “effect” is a correct spelling, but could be a misspelling if you mean “affect”).

The best dictionary for an Australian is the Macquarie Dictionary which you can get as a book, and also access online or even ass an app.


I spell internet with a small “i” and email without a hyphen.  We don’t spell telephone with a capital T or postal with a capital P.  The internet is as ordinary as the telephone or mobile, so why capitalise internet?  And email is one character shorter than e-mail – and SHORTER is what journalists are always aiming it.

Why is it SO important to have accurate spelling?  Because good journalism is all about accuracy:

  • You must get your facts right.
  • Your historical facts must be scrupulously correct.
  • Your claims must be true, authentic, factual, genuine, infallible, real and ridgy-didge.
  • Definitions and explanations must be 100% right.
  • You must get your quotes correct.
  • Dates, dollar-amounts, percentages and other figures must be 100% accurate.



In journalism, accuracy starts with perfect spelling.  If you submit to an editor an article with spelling errors, the editor’s first reaction is “What ELSE is wrong in this article?  Are the writer’s facts and figures also inaccurate?  Can I be bothered to now check every tiny part of this article, or will I just toss it into the bin and move on to another freelancer’s submission?”

If you misspell the names of famous people, you make yourself look foolish.  You appear as if you don’t know and don’t care.  Daily, I see students’ assignments and articles that misspell the names of famous people, such as:


Silly mistake Correct Silly mistake Correct Silly mistake Correct
Kim Beasley Kim Beazley Mike Wran Mike Rann Carrie Webb Karrie Webb
Kathy Freeman Cathy Freeman Don Bourke Don Burke Kerrie-Ann Kennelly Kerri-Anne Kennerley
Pauleen Hansen Pauline Hanson Jayne Bleachley Layne Beachley Joanna Griggs Johanna Griggs
Bryce Courtney Bryce Courtenay Phillip Ruddock Philip Ruddock Cheryl Crow Sheryl Crow
Arthur Caldwell Arthur Calwell Gary Macdonald Garry McDonald Darryl Sommers Daryl Somers
Costa Tzuyu Kostya Tszyu Vincente Fox Vicente Fox Olivia Newton John Olivia NewtonJohn
Kathy Dawn Lang k.d. lang Philip Adams Phillip Adams Katrina Roundtree Catriona Rowntree
Derren Hinch Derryn Hinch Mike Wran Mike Rann Jeanette, Janett or Janet Howard Janette Howard
Eddy Maguire Eddie McGuire Don Bourke Don Burke Robby Williams Robbie Williams
Elle MacPherson Elle Macpherson Jayne Bleachley Layne Beachley Rene Rivken Rene Rivkin
Will Anderson Wil Anderson Phillip Ruddock Philip Ruddock William Defoe Willem Dafoe
Renay Zelwegger Renée Zellweger Gary Macdonald Garry McDonald Kate Blanchette Cate Blanchett
Mr Carl Kruzsjanski Dr Karl S Kruszelnicki Petrea Thomas Petria Thomas Governor GeneralMike Jeffries Governor-General Mike Jeffery
Stephen Speilburg Steven Spielberg Petria King Petrea King Michelle Fiffer Michelle Pfeiffer
Blanch D’alpuget Blanche d’Alpuget Leighton Hewitt Lleyton Hewitt Gretle Kileen Gretel Killeen
Mrs Elizabeth Murdoch Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Kelsy Grammar Kelsey Grammer Arnold + versions of his surname Arnold    Schwarzenegger
Mick Kelty Mick Keelty Britenay Speers Britney Spears Sharon Burrows Sharan Burrow
Steve Erwin Steve Irwin Tommy Hilfinger Tommy Hilfiger Andre Botticelli Andrea Bocelli
Osama Bin Laden Osama bin Laden Tom Kennealy Tom Keneally Colette Dinigan Collette Dinnigan
Meatloaf Meat Loaf Kevin Gosper Kevan Gosper Harry S. Truman Harry S Truman(no fullstop)


If someone has an unusual spelling of an ordinary name, say Leeh-anne, you should write after the name:     [Note to editor: Leeh-anne is correct spelling.]  This saves your editor from thinking you may have made an error.  Importantly, check your target publication’s in-house spelling rules.  Rules vary between publications.  For instance, the name of Osama bin Laden’s organisation:


al-Qa’ida The Australian  
al-Qaeda The Sydney Morning Herald  
Al Qaeda The Australian Financial Review 


OK  *  O.K.  *  o.k.  *  okay  *  Ok . . . which is the correct spelling of these five versions?  The wonderful Macquarie Dictionary prefers okay, but says that nearly all spellings are acceptable in Australia.  The one that is unacceptable is Ok, that is capital O followed by small k.  Personally, I prefer okay because it’s a word rather than an abbreviation.  It’s your decision.

You are almost certainly using Microsoft Word.  To make sure you are using Australian English, not American English which uses “-ize” as the end of words, where we use “-ise”.  Go to “Tools”, then to “Language”, then “Set Language”, then “English (Australian)” and hit your “Default” setting. Yes spelling correctly in the English language is not easy.  One problem is that words have multiple ways of being spelt correctly.

You must especially NEVER misspell the names of publications or programs.  It’s darn easy to check.  You just look at the front cover of the publication or the opening title of the program:


Silly mistake Correct (in italics) Silly mistake Correct (in italics)
the Sydney Morning Herald The Sydney Morning Herald Harpers Bizzare Harpers Bazaar 
Women’s Day Woman’s Day Sixty Minutes 60 Minutes
Woman’s Weekly Women’s Weekly The Today Show Today
The Sun Herald The SunHerald     (Sydney) Marie Claire marie claire 
The Herald-Sun The Herald Sun      (Melb.)


Editors are unforgiving of journalists who misspell the name of their beloved publications.  It is insulting to them.  Freelancers’ submissions are tossed in the bin.  A friend of mine, the late Henry Plociennik, was editor of Woman’s Day in the 1980s.  He plastered his office wall with letters from freelancers and job applicants who had misspelt his Russian name . . . none got a job and none of their articles were published.

Don’t misspell placenames.  Check your atlas and your Macquarie Dictionary.  Check the internet and your postcode directory (also found in your telephone directory).  It’s unimpressive to an editor if you misspell a placename because it’s so easy to get it right.  For instance:


Silly mistake Correct Silly mistake Correct
Galipolli Gallipoli Hunter’s Hill Hunters Hill
Cooper Peedy Coober Pedy Black Butt Blackbutt
Sydney Fish Markets Sydney Fish Market Ularu Uluru
Klu Klux Klan Ku Klux Klan Golargumbone Gulargambone
Hawaíi or Hawai Hawaii The Kimberleys Kimberley


And please don’t misspell ordinary words.  Use your dictionary, all the time.


Silly mistake Correct  Silly mistake Correct 
acomadation accommodation Both correct tidbit, titbit
Catch 22 catch-22 gunwhale gunwale
deja-view déjà vu whinging whingeing
diorear, diareara diarrhoea winfall windfall
milktoast milquetoast the tanks waded in the tanks weighed in
mischeivous mischievous check (US spelling)  cheque
dont, cant, wont don’t, can’t, won’t Tenderhooks tenterhooks
Seeking helicoptor Sea King helicopter veranda, verandah Both correct
grammer grammar Mix-up betweenordinance and ordnance ordinance (rule, law)ordnance (weapons)
ocured occurred Mix-up betweentrooper and trouper trooper (soldier)trouper (performer)



Don’t CONFUSE spellings.


principle (accepted rule) principal (head of a school)
whiskey (in USA and Ireland) whisky (Scotland and world)
Mothers Day, Mothers Day or Mothers Day All three are acceptable.



You must not misspell the names of big companies or famous brand names:


Silly mistake Correct Silly mistake Correct
Adidas adidas Leggos Leggo’s
Arnotts Arnotts MacDonalds McDonald’s
Coca Cola Coca-Cola Weet bix Weet-Bix
Drizabone, or, Driza-bone Driza-Bone Woolworth’s Woolworths
Hargan Daz Häagen-Dazs Ipod iPod
Harly Davison Harley-Davidson Spiderman Spider-Man
Smith and Weston 38 Smith & Wesson .38 The name of this gun manufacturer is “Smith & Wesson” with an ampersand (&), not the word “and”.Also, “.38” is the size of the bullets      (38 millimetres) so it should have a dot in front of the “38”.


You cannot afford to make a “typo” (a typographical error).  A simple one-letter typing mistake could have you black-banned by editors and sued in court.  For instance, if you wanted to write: “Jane Smith is now a respected surgeon” but you hit one wrong key, a “t” instead of a “w” and it came out: “Jane Smith is not a respected surgeon”, she could sue your editor, the publication and YOU, and she’d win.  The judge would laugh if you weakly said, “Sorry I hit the wrong key and my spellchecker didn’t pick up my mistake . . . ”


The Sydney Morning Herald had to make this correction:

In a story on Friday about the bookmaker Robbie Waterhouse, it was reported that “it was illogical for Waterhouse to offer McCoy 500-1 odds-on favourites”.  It should have been “it was illogical for Waterhouse to offer McCoy 500-1 odds on favourites”.

Explanation: having or not having a hyphen between the word “odds” and the word “on” produces totally different meanings.  Betting 500-1 odds-on favourites (with hyphen) means the bettor is risking $500 to win only $1.  Betting 500-1 odds on favourites (without hyphen) means the bettor is risking a mere $1 to win an incredible $500.  Showing that even a hyphen can produce the opposite of what you meant.

Leaving out “the” or “a” can completely change the meaning of your sentence.  When the first man on the moon in 1969, Neil Armstrong, stepped onto the moon’s soil, he said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  He was supposed to say: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”  He fluffed one of the greatest quotes in history. (Do you understand why?)

In a US spelling contest, kids had to spell words like sphygmomanometer,  appoggiatura,  autochthonous,  alopecoid,  schwarmerei,  autochthonous,  sumpsimus,  sophrosyne and serpiginous.  If little kids can triumph over such difficult words, YOU can achieve the correct spelling of all the words you’d find in mainstream publications.   Do you think spelling accurately, all the time, is difficult?  Go to your local video store and rent the documentary “Spellbound”.  You’ll enjoy it and you’ll be amazed.

THE WRONG WORD  It’s easy to mix up words and use the wrong word.  Even long-time successful and experienced journalists do it occasionally.  But if you’re a freelancer starting out, you must not cause a bad impression by using THE WRONG WORD.  Get out your dictionary and use the internet, and work out the right word.  Or, ask me by email for the FactSheet “Wrong word” (that exact title) and I’ll email it to you.

Your emails and your SMS messages must be as perfectly spelt as any article you write.  Editors are NOT impressed by rambling, misspelt emails and text messages.  Some student journalists lapse into goo-goo baby-talk in emails.  These students, experienced with the internet, emails and SMS messaging can’t get away from this airhead kind of message-writing.  They’d rather write: CU2NYT than See you tonight.  Don’t do it.  Don’t use smiley faces 🙂 ??? and other silly symbols.   Appear professional at all times.  Emails and SMSs MUST be written as correctly as you’d write a formal letter or one of your articles.   Especially, don’t write small “i” when you mean a capital “I”, meaning yourself.  It makes you look LAZY – too lazy to press the shift key while pressing the “i” key.  Even in emails and text messages, you must write as if trying to impress an editor.

Here’s how to spell-check your emails:

  1. In Microsoft Outlook (not in an email, but on the main page).
  2. Click on Tools.
  3. Click on Options.
  4. Click on the tab named Spelling.
  5. Tick the first two boxes.
  6. Leave the third and fourth box empty.
  7. Tick the last box.
  8. Go to the bottom panel called Language and make sure you’ve selected “English (Australia)”
  9. Click Apply.
  10. Click OK.  Each time you hit “Send” a box will appear asking if you want spelling corrections.  Then click on “Ignore” or “Change”.


You MUST MUST MUST spell people’s names and their titles correctly.  I won’t forgive you, if you misspell a famous person’s name, because it’s so easy to check through the internet.

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