Communication skills

A sight for sore ‘ize’

- April 1, 2013 2 MIN READ

As an Editor, written errors are my mortal enemy. Chief amongst my irritations is when Australian-English words are spelt the American way. And that’s spelt, not spelled.

I see this a lot in Australian small business blogs and websites. I can also see why it happens.

The average Australian reads a mix of content from the US, the UK, Australia and elsewhere every day, so no wonder it gets confusing. ‘Learnt’ might be spelt with an ‘ed’ in the American novel I’m reading, with a ‘t’ in the UK newspaper I’m browsing online, and both ways in my local broadsheet (well, not so broad anymore). A search on said newspaper’s site revealed 8023 results for ‘learned’ and 11266 for ‘learnt’.

When Australia’s big publishers struggle to agree on certain spellings, how can micro business owners be expected to get it right?

While in the above example both are correct, there are other American English words that are irrefutably wrong when used in an Australian context. Examples include:

American English

Australian English



License (noun and verb)

Licence (noun), license (verb)

Practise (noun and verb)

Practice (noun), practise (verb)

Adding fuel to the orthographic fire are smart devices and web browsers, which – if the settings aren’t adjusted – underline or autocorrect many Australian English words. Even when the language in Microsoft Word is set to English (AUS), the program doesn’t flag misspelt words such as ‘organize’.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business writing section.

The solution is: get a good style guide. Then you can check any questionable words against the guide’s standard set of rules, which will ensure consistency in your writing and so create a good impression on potential clients.

My other main tip is: Follow your gut. If something feels incorrect, it might well be.

But before you beat yourself up for not knowing whether it’s toward or towards, take heart that even editors get it wrong sometimes.

When writing a recent email newsletter I was adamant the word ‘whoa’ was spelt ‘woah’. A quick poll among my Facebook friends and this in-depth blog post confirmed the former has become more accepted in Australia, thanks, I’m sure, to the influence of American pop culture. Begrudgingly, I had to bow to whoa. 

I just hope it’s not a sign we’re heading towards a more American style of spelling.

Do American and Australian English spellings confuse you? Does it matter in business writing?

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

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