Why Correct Spelling Is Profitable

An Economic Argument for the Value of Correct Spelling

Getty_spelling_online-175169522.jpg
(TongRo/Getty Images)

In his book on the history of English spelling, Oxford English professor Simon Horobin offers this "economic argument" for the value of correct spelling:

Charles Duncombe, an entrepreneur with various online business interests, has suggested that spelling errors on a website can lead directly to a loss of custom, potentially causing online businesses huge losses in revenue (BBC News, 11 July 2011). This is because spelling mistakes are seen by consumers as a warning sign that a website might be fraudulent, leading shoppers to switch to a rival website in preference. Duncombe measured the revenue per visitor to one of his websites, discovering that it doubled once a spelling mistake had been corrected.

Responding to these claims, Professor William Dutton, director of the Internet Institute at Oxford University, endorsed these conclusions, noting that, while there is greater tolerance of spelling errors in certain areas of the Internet, such as in email or on Facebook, commercial sites with spelling errors raise concerns over credibility. Online consumers' concerns about spelling mistakes on websites are understandable, given that poor spelling is specifically highlighted in advice on detecting potentially fraudulent email, so called "phishing." . . .

So the message is clear: good spelling is vital if you want to run a profitable online retail company, or be a successful email spammer.

(Does Spelling Matter? Oxford University Press, 2013)

To make sure that your writing isn't littered with spelling errors, follow our Top 10 Proofreading Tips. Don't depend on your spellchecker to handle all the work. Many so-called spelling errors are actually mistakes in word choice—such as the use of your for you're or role for ​roll. A good number of the words in our Glossary of Commonly Confused Words are homophones like these, and your spellchecker simply isn't clever enough to keep their meanings straight.

As Horobin states in his introduction, he's not out to reform English spelling (a futile exercise in any case) but to "argue for the importance of retaining it as a testimony to the richness of our linguistic heritage and a connection with our literary past."

I recommend Horobin's book to anyone interested in learning more about the origins of English spelling and its often eccentric conventions.

More About English Spelling