Tester Teatime (Part 2): Spelling in applications – anything but trivial

“Tester Teatime” is a blog post format, which addresses topics that testers deal with on a daily basis. As certain issues or topics tend to recur again and again, the aim here is to create a basis for explaining such phenomena and finding solutions for them. To that end, the blog focusses on stimulating discussions and new ways of thinking. In testing, we can learn a lot from each other by observing our behaviour in our daily lives!

Moderator: Welcome to Tester Teatime! In this interview with testers from ZEISS Digital Innovation (ZDI), we will once again discuss exciting topics.

Today, we are talking to Sandra Wolf (SW), a tester at ZDI, about “spelling”. Sandra, why are we discussing this topic and what’s the connection with software development?

SW: A tester’s normal workday is full of challenges. During the testing process in particular, full concentration is required as every detail has to be checked for quality. One of these details is spelling and grammar. The importance of correct spelling is often underestimated.
In our daily work, it is not unusual to find spelling mistakes in the software. But the tester is often ridiculed when they report these to Development for correction. According to the prevailing view, these are only minor and insignificant errors. Today’s talk aims to dispel this opinion. Spelling and punctuation are not exactly the most popular topics and are often perceived as being very dry. Yet these very rules, which we have been learning since our school days, act as a guide for us and our brains. Spelled correctly, a word is easier to read, easier to combine in a sentence to form a statement and thus easier to process for the brain. Attentive readers – or in the case of software development – users will inevitably stumble across incorrect spelling in the software. It has even been demonstrated that certain personality types react differently to incorrect spelling in terms of their emotional response (cf. Weiß, 2016). Thus, contrary to their reputation as being dry, errors in this area can trigger emotions, which in turn affect use of the software.

two people having an interview
Image: Stanislaw Traktovenko and Sandra Wolf during the interview at the Tester Teatime.

Moderator: What kind of influence are we talking about here?

SW: For instance, correct spelling radiates respectability. In job applications and official requests, error-free spelling is an absolute must. For example, studies have even shown that a loan application is less likely to be approved if there are linguistic errors in it (cf. Weiß, 2016). If we now apply this to the software we develop, only one possible conclusion can be drawn: Spelling is essential for the user experience and external appearance of the software. And so this topic should clearly be taken more seriously in the development process and receive more attention than it has previously.
If we look at the common workday of testers and developers, we know that their focus is on the functionality of the software. Of course, it is understandable that a seemingly cosmetic issue like spelling takes a back seat to elaborately programmed application parts. However, this should not fool all those involved in the process as to its importance. For it is quite clear that the success of a product, and thus also of an application, can be affected by the linguistic quality. First impressions count: When reading a text or using a software, we automatically judge the level of education of the creators based on these (cf. Frost, 2020). Incorrect spelling can therefore cast a bad light on good software.

Moderator: Can you give me a detailed example of this?

SW: Poor spelling can lead to less confidence in the quality of the software and a resulting decline in acceptance of the application. The user might presume that little value is placed on quality in general if even the spelling is handled carelessly. After all, correct spelling expresses not only professionalism but also a certain respect for the reader/user. It has even been found that the quality of a text can affect whether a prospective buyer chooses to make the purchase. Placing this in the context of software development, it can definitely save money if attention is paid to spelling from the onset and reports of such errors are taken seriously (cf. Frost, 2020).
Ultimately, we also present our company in our projects, which is why the issue of spelling can have more far-reaching effects than we may initially think. In the best case, good spelling can improve or maintain the reputation of our software development. This in turn can lead to more customers and higher sales because the consistent quality of our software products can be an argument in favour of working with ZDI.

Moderator: I would like to build on this and let Stanislaw Traktovenko (ST) from our usability team have his say. What is the importance of spelling from your point of view? Do you also see the impact to the extent described by Sandra?

ST: The way I see it, spelling has an impact on the readability and therefore on the perception of the information in the application. We assign this to the usability principles of consistency and language. Spelling errors therefore potentially have a direct impact on the usability of an application. For instance, incorrect spelling disturbs the flow of reading and thus the way the user perceives the software. It creates a negative sentiment and the user no longer engages in the task they were actually pursuing with the software. The user is distracted by the incorrect spelling and this affects the user’s effectiveness and efficiency. Even though spelling is only a small part of usability, it can have a bigger impact than we think, as Sandra explained earlier.

Moderator: Thank you Sandra and Stanislaw for these interesting insights. The impact is indeed more far-reaching than expected, which is quite amazing. We can thus summarise that the seemingly dry topic of spelling must be taken seriously in all software projects in order to deliver the highest possible quality and to adequately present both the products and our company. Though the topic of spelling may seem trivial at first, ultimately it has a major effect and is therefore important for all of us. The topic should therefore definitely receive the attention it deserves.

In the following articles, we will address other issues from the daily lives of testers and discuss possible solutions for these.

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