As a writer I tend to ignore spell check most of the time, after all it doesn’t pick up homophones like there/their/they’re and it will pick up any names or words it doesn’t recognise (quite annoying for a fantasy writer like me). However, spell check can be helpful, especially when it comes to that final proofread.
Picking up typos.
When reading over your work for spelling mistakes the human eye can sometimes overlook words if they are only missing one letter or sometimes even if they have an extra one. Spell check on the other hand will recognise that ‘publicty’ should be ‘publicity’ or that ‘intellligent’ should be ‘intelligent’. Of course, if you have missed the ‘e’ on the end of ‘one’ and the word reads as ‘on’ it probably won’t help, but it can help pick up some of those mistakes you’ve overlooked.
If you enable grammar check as well as spell check, it will often pick up on those words that sound the same, but are spelled differently if they are used in the wrong context. For example if you leave the apostrophe out of ‘it’s’ in the sentence ‘Its a sunny day’. Grammar check is also a good way of seeing how often you have used the passive voice in your writing as it will pick up sentences written in the passive voice. I don’t take all of grammar check’s suggestions on board, the same way I don’t take all of spell check’s suggestions on board, because it’s not always right (why would I put a comma after Jane when I type ‘Jane said’?), but it can be helpful.
If you enable readabilty statistics when you do a spell check, at the end it will spit out a bunch of helpful statistics about your piece of writing. The part of this I find most helpful is the section headed ‘readability’. In my program it gives me three statistics: Percentage of passive sentences; Flesch reading ease; and Flesch-Kincaid Grade level. The percentage of passive sentences compares how many passive sentences you have in comparison to how many active sentences you have. Basically you want this percentage as low as possible. If you score something like 50% you know you have a big problem, try to aim as low as possible, for example 2%. The Flesch reading ease scores your writing on how easy it is to read – the higher the score, the easier it is to read. Look here for a breakdown on how this works and what the scores mean. Finally, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade level tells you which grade level can easily read your writing. For example, if your grade level is five, then your writing can be read by a fifth-grader. How can this help your writing? If your novel is aimed at eleven-year-olds, then obviously a grade level of nine is going to tell you your writing may be too complex and hard to understand if read by your target readership.
Just remember, in the end you make the final decision and you don’t have to blindly follow spell check or grammar check’s suggestions. Do what you know is right for your writing, but even just considering their suggestions makes you think about your writing more, which in turn makes you a better writer.