Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 13: 1–30, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Spelling in adults: The role of reading skills and experience
JENNIFER S. BURT & MARY B. FURY
The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Abstract. One hundred university students completed tests of spelling production, vocabu-
lary, reading comprehension, reading experience, and reading accuracy (ability to distinguish
a previously read word from a similar distractor). Reading experience, as measured by an
adaptation of the Author Recognition Test, and reading accuracy contributed to the prediction
of spelling beyond the joint contribution of reading comprehension and vocabulary. The results
are more consistent with a uni-process model of spelling based on the quality of word-speciﬁc
orthographic learning, rather than with a dual-process account relying on both word-speciﬁc
knowledge and rules.
Keywords: Adults, Comprehension, Decoding, Reading experience, Spelling
It is well known that measures of literacy skills cluster together, with reading
and spelling correlated moderately or highly in children (see Frith 1980).
In adults, Stanovich and Cunningham (1992) found a correlation of 0.57
between standard tests of reading comprehension and spelling in a sample
of university students. To some extent the relatedness of reading and spelling
may be understood in terms of differences in underlying verbal ability, which
in turn may be partly determined by hereditary factors (Pennington 1991).
However, reading and spelling are also likely to be related at a more funda-
mental structural level, in that the two skills may rely on common knowledge
bases (e.g., about orthography) and may be causally interconnected in their
The present study examined the claim that decoding accuracy in read-
ing and reading experience are primary determinants of spelling proﬁciency
in skilled adult readers. The aim was to provide empirical support for the
view that reading informs spelling. Speciﬁcally, it is proposed that in later
childhood and beyond, spelling proﬁciency relies on the learning of the
orthographies of previously unfamiliar words during reading.
The above proposal follows naturally from some inter-related suppos-
itions about reading and spelling that motivated the present study. These
suppositions are in accord with the theoretical orientation evident in much