"If I am writing about a solar panel, do I spell panel el or al."

"Look it up in the dictionary and then you'll remember it for next time.""How can I look it up when I don't know how to spell it?" It may even be ul. That's what it sounds like, pan-ul."

"Since you have only given yourself three choices, it shouldn't be too difficult."

"Maybe I'll just wait until I type it on the computer and let the computer fix the spelling."

"The point is that you will learn more than just how to spell a word by looking it up."

As a poor speller who has passed on poor spelling genes to my kids, I understand the problem, but I don't completely understand the unwillingness to look words up.

At one time I thought that I could shame myself into better spelling by marking the words in the dictionary when I looked them up. The idea was that if I looked up a word and found that I had already marked it a few times that I would be shamed into learning how to spell it.

It didn't seem to be working. I'd look up a word and notice all the check marks and feel guilty. I finally felt so guilty that I knew I had to do something about it so I bought a new dictionary and quit making marks. It was the best thing I could have done to keep me looking in the dictionary and led to the discovery that there are many kinds of dictionaries and most do much more than provide a place for poor spellers to look for words.

A Dictionary of Days, for example, is a comprehensive guide to all named days in English-speaking countries, and the Dictionary of Confusable Words is the place to look for people who don't know the difference between a cassette and a cartridge.

Facts on File Inc., at 460 Park Avenue South, New York City, NY 10016-7382, is an excellent source for strange and wonderful dictionaries. It offers The Insomniac's Dictionary (The Last Word on the Odd Word), the Dictionary of Troublesome Words and just for fun the 1,000 Most Challenging Words and 1,000 Most Obscure Words.

Readers of poetry can get a most useful dictionary called Last Lines, which is an index to the last lines of poetry. Most poetry anthologies offer an index to first lines, but now readers can find the poem if all they can remember is how it ends. Also for the poet is the dictionary Words to Rhyme With.

What Do you call a Person From. . . .? is a dictionary of residential terms that explains that a person from Ephraim may be an Ephraimite but a person from Paris is not a Parasite.

Finding or recognizing literary allusions is possible with The Dictionary of Twentieth Century Allusions; the Dictionary of Classical, Biblical and Literary Allusions; and three volumes of literary anecdotes (American, British and World).

I am tempted to purchase, for shipment in a plain brown wrapper, The Thesaurus of Slang and the Concise Dictionary of Acronyms and Initialisms. The first may help me communicate better with those who are with it and the second with those who are not with it.

A reader with a Webster's Ninth New Collegiate or The American Heritage Dictionary can not only check spelling but can learn the origins of words and alternate pronunciations. These small dictionaries include biographical and geographic entries, abbreviations, weights and measures, a style manual with grammar rules, and addresses of colleges and universities.

"The Autobiography of Malcolm X" has a wonderful passage about his self-education. It came as he hand-copied the dictionary while in prison. He not only copied the words but copied every mark on the page as a way of learning to communicate better with those people he wished to write while incarcerated.

My advice to my son who needed to spell panel is look it up.

In my dictionary there are eight definitions of that word as a noun and four as a verb. And all of them are spelled el.

- Roger G. Baker is associate professor of English/education at Snow College.