Which is the Best Spell Checking Software?

Computer keyboard user

One of the primary tasks someone with literacy difficulties or dyslexia wants their software to do is check their spelling. So you might expect that, as an Assistive Technologist, I get asked the question “Which is the best spell checking software?” a lot.  However, despite the prevalence of students with literacy difficulties and the many software titles which claim to assist them, I very rarely get asked this question.  I suspect this is because people assume it will be one of the dominant software titles such as Read&Write or ClaroRead.

If someone was to ask me now the answer wouldn’t be a piece of software, it would be a cloud service.  And the answer is: Google Docs.

It seems to me that currently the best spell checker is Google.  The reason for this is the amount of data on spelling Google possesses.  This data comes from all of the web pages and documents it indexes and also from the mistakes its millions of users make when searching.  When you mis-type a word into Google, it asks you “Did you mean..?” and you accept the correction, that’s all more spelling data.

When you use Google Docs, the ‘engine’ which is checking your spelling is the same as the one checking your search and therefore accessing all that data.  Also because it is internet based, there is no need to wait for the next software update so that the spell checker’s dictionary can be updated.  New words, names and phrases have been provided by the internet publishers and users..

One of the other reasons Google’s spell checking is so powerful is that it works on the context, not just the individual word.  There are other spell checkers which do this and also collate spelling errors from real users.  However they can’t possibly compete with the sheer magnitude of spelling and context data Google continuously collect.

Another reason people use checking software is to have their text read out to them.  Texthelp have provided a great (and free) way to do this in Google docs.  The Read and Write app for Google docs has decent text to speech along with a dictionary, picture dictionary and highlight collector tool.

I’ve not run extensive tests comparing on Google docs with other spellchecking software, but in my (and others) limited tests Google puts other spellcheckers to shame.

What I’d like to do is start a conversation about this.  I want to know why people should pay for spellchecking which is seemingly inferior to something they can get for free?

Fil McIntyre

Assistive Technologist


10 thoughts on “Which is the Best Spell Checking Software?

  1. In 2010 EA Draffan and I presented on spell checking accuracy at BETT – http://www.slideshare.net/eadraffan/spell-checking-when-working-online. At the time we tested a range of phonetic spelling errors and real word errors on Google spell checker via their toolbar alongside other browser and specialist dyslexia spell checkers such as Read&Write Gold. At the time Google was on a par with Read & Write Gold but wasn’t able to correct real-word errors (e.g. if you typed form instead of from, not just correcting homophones). There is a sample paragraph in that talk that we used to benchmark the spell checkers. This contained 11 spelling errors and 7 real word errors – 18 in total. In 2010 Google corrected 6 of these errors compared to 13 for Read & Write Gold and VeritySpell. I have just put the same paragraph through Google docs and it now seems able to detect simple homophone errors (fare / far) and corrected 10 out of the 18 possible errors. First thoughts are that Google is improving but may not be on a par with other tools yet. Further testing required!
    However, I would stress that in my many years of testing spell checkers it is clear that no checker will ever be perfect and so it is important to have complimentary tools to find the right spelling when required. This is what toolbars like Texthelp Read & Write Gold and ClaroRead provide.

    • Thanks Abi, this kind of testing is exactly what is missing. I hope to do some more extensive comparisons of spellcheckers soon.
      I agree with you that other tools are needed, but I’ve always been surprised at some of the errors that the commonly used software misses.
      Google does seem to pick up many homophone errors simply due contextualising them, whereas Claro and R&W rely on the user to test and correct each homophone themselves.

  2. In May this year Allan Wilson at CALL Scotland wrote a blog about spellcheckers. (www.callscotland.org.uk/blog/blog-post/?reference=315) Details of the the tests and results can be found in a CALL Quick Guide (pdf) called Advanced Spelling Checkers compared. Allan used a couple of text passages and compared how several different spellcheckers coped with the errors. The spellcheckers compared are Claro Read, Ghotit, Ginger, MS Word, Read and Write Gold and Verity Spell. Well worth a look if you are interested in finding out about spellcheckers and what to consider in different circumstances.

  3. As you know, we did a comparison of various Spellcheckers earlier this year and found Ghotit, VeritySpell and Ginger to be most effective with our text samples (see http://www.callscotland.org.uk/Blog/Blog-Post/?reference=315). I’ve looked at Google Docs since then and was impressed with the spellchecker, but there are other issues with Google Docs (not just the tax status!).
    A lot depends on how you define ‘best’ – ideally you want a spellchecker that identifies all of your mistakes and offers only one option – the word you want. But life isn’t as easy as that. It is all very well for a spellchecker to offer the correct spelling, but it is pretty useless if the word you want is No 17 on an infinite list, or if it highlights every possible confusable in a document, rather than just the genuinely questionable words.

  4. We are not able to use any of these computer based spell checks during the states formal testing. Any suggestions for hand held spell checks? Which would be the best?

  5. I have been using Ginger’s spell check for a couple years. The huge difference I get with it over something like Google Docs is that it follows me. It corrected a few typos in this comment, it corrects in Word docs, in my e-mails.

    While I agree with you that Google probably has more data than anyone else, it’s just not really designed as a spell checking tool primarily!

  6. Pingback: Here's How Technology Is Changing the Course of Education | Nogen Tech-World Technology

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