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Spelling and vocabulary

Learn about how to improve spelling and vocabulary in your writing.

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Why is spelling important?

Spelling errors can impact your readers' understanding and evaluation of your paper. Since some words are spelled differently in different contexts, make sure that you are consistent with the spelling style that you use (e.g. Canadian versus American spellings). For your information, according to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2020), authors "should conform to the Dictionary (" (p. 161). Since the American Psychological Association is an American organization, it prefers American spellings; however, since RRU is a Canadian institution, most RRU professors prefer that students use Canadian spellings. The key is to be consistent within the chosen system of spelling. For more information on APA Style spelling rules, please see pages 161-162 in the APA Style manual (7th ed.).


American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Use a dictionary

A dictionary is not only a good resource for looking up words, it is also a great place to find information about the pronunciation and context of specific words as well as to explore related words and phrases as you are building your vocabulary and mastering spelling. There are plenty of good online dictionaries, and some will even include the option to hear audio for specific words. Some examples include:

Finally, if you are looking for a dictionary that uses Canadian spellings, which incorporate both British and American spellings, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary is an authoritative source to check spellings (requires RRU username and password). 

Get the most out of spellcheckers

Although Microsoft Word does have a spellcheck function, don't rely on a tool that cannot intuitively decide when you have mistakenly typed a correctly spelled word that isn't right for the sentence (e.g. where art you going?). In addition to the spellcheck function within Microsoft Word, there are many apps and websites available to help with checking grammar and spelling, several of which can be integrated directly into Microsoft Word. For instructions on how to search for and install these add-ins as well as examples of the most popular spellcheckers in the Microsoft Office store, please visit View, Manage, and Install Add-ins in Microsoft Word.

Train your "spelling sense"

Automated spellcheckers are not perfect, and in addition to (or instead of) using an online app or tool, another good way to catch misspelled words is to read the text out loud at a pace that someone else could understand you. Reading slowly and hearing what you've written will often be sufficient to notice spelling mistakes as you speak misspelled words out loud.

Similarly, paying attention to new, unfamiliar, and difficult words as you read for leisure or study can help build your vocabulary and notice patterns in English spelling. Some common patterns include:

  • words ending in "c" make a hard "k" sounds (toxic, logic)
  • "i" before "e" except after "c" (relieve, receive)
  • "b" after "m" at the end of a word is silent (numb, limb)
  • "gh" before "t" is silent (sight, right)

English is a frustratingly complex language, and there are many exceptions and irregularly spelled words in English as well as confusing pairs (e.g., "right" and "write"). To help you catch those pairs in your writing, please see The Most Common English Misspellings (Oxford Lexico). Spelling: Common Letter Patterns and Spelling: Memory Aids (BBC Skillswise), and if you want to learn more, an online search on the topic that interests you will turn up additional resources.

There is no perfect approach or program to correcting all your spelling and grammar in your writing, but for self-editing suggestions, please visit Edit the Draft in How to Write a Graduate-Level Essay.