Updated: Nov 23, 2020
This is a topic I felt I had to get out of the way pretty early on because I know me. I have a tremendous skill of missing even the most obvious of typos when posting to social media, only noticing them after hitting enter.
Typos are the bane of a writer’s existence. These dumb little mistakes often arise from an accidental keystroke or, even more frustratingly, the well intentioned efforts of a program’s auto-correct function. These innocent little mistakes can drastically harm a writer’s credibility. At least, that’s what some people think.
However, there are plenty of people out there that know the truth: Typos happen. They happen all of the time to everyone. They don’t mean a person can’t write. You will make typos in your writing career, just like everyone else. Some of them you will catch, others you won’t. So this article is as much for me as it is for you, reader.
Where Typos Come From
I, like most writers, do know the differences between there, their, and they’re and most other homophones. Unfortunately for me, my hands tend to prefer to type the one I don’t actually mean. The amount of times MS Word’s grammar checker has caught me mixing up there and their is honestly a little embarrassing.
There are definitely times where I have my work go through editing, from myself and fellow writers, and all the typos get caught. However, more often than not, something slips by. I’ve seen work go through 5 sets of eyes, plus my own, and some minor typo slipped by everyone’s red pen. It wasn’t until reading through all of the offered corrections that I noticed a missing word, such as “the” or “a.” Some typos are truly impressive like that.
Most of my typos come from my mind and hands operating at different speeds. I find that my mind is usually a couple words ahead of my hands, which leaves them on their own, forcing them to work off muscle memory. My hands can do a lot, but they aren’t perfect. A common typo I encounter is doubling up the wrong letter in words like feel or look. My hands know they need to hit one key twice, but will often mess up which they hit in an effort to catch up.
As frustrating as that can be, I can’t get too mad since they get far more words typed out properly than improperly.
Sadly, even with today’s fancy AI’s, autocorrect isn’t much help either. The problem is that autocorrecting programs only look at the letters written in that particular word. It doesn’t take into account what letters are next to each other on the keyboard, or even look at the rest of the sentence to try to gain some context. The program just looks at the letter on the screen and guesses. This is how we can end up with form instead of from and why you can’t rely on computer programs to edit your work alone.
How to Combat Typos
The following is a list of methods to help writers catch typos. Some I use, others I’ve only heard of and can’t guarantee whether or not they’ll work.
· Have someone else read the work. This is one of the best ways, since people unfamiliar with the work will be more likely to catch mistakes that the author missed. It’s not guaranteed they will catch everything, but they stand a better chance of seeing mistakes than the author does.
· Reread the work multiple times. If you don’t have someone who can read something for you, read through it yourself. A lot. The more you read through it, without making changes with each pass, the more likely you are to catch mistakes. This works even better if you let the work sit for a long time to let your mind forget what it says, thereby allowing yourself to read it with fresh eyes.
· Read the work out loud. This one works surprisingly well. The amount of times I’ve corrected things before reading them out loud, only to find even more typos once doing this is amazing.
· Read the work backwards. I’ve never tried this one myself, but I’ve heard that it works. Something about disrupting the natural flow of the words is supposed to help you notice mistakes more.
· Change the font, then reread. I don’t use this method either, but it makes more sense to me than the previous one. Once again it is all about disrupting the natural flow of our brains as they read through the work. Supposedly the change in font is enough for our brains to treat the work as something new, and not something that we wrote.
· Use a text to speech program to read the work. This is like reading it aloud yourself, but with a robotic voice that makes the mistakes even more noticeable.
· Submit/upload/send the work. Okay, this one is a joke, but how many times have you posted something or sent an email only to realize afterwards that you missed something embarrassing?
Everyone Makes Typos
Self-editing is tricky. Our brains like to take shortcuts at every possible turn. In order to speed up the process of reading, sometimes our brains will only look at the first and last letters of a word and piece it together based on context. In addition, if we’re reading something we wrote, we subconsciously have an idea of what the words are supposed to say and our brains assume the page actually says that. This is how our mistakes get through our grasp.
Try as we writers might, typos will always be a problem. Luckily, it is something that everyone, even best-selling authors, has to deal with. I have read plenty of books that have typos published within them. If even professional editors can miss typos, then I think we all can go a little bit easier on ourselves when we miss a word here and there.
And lastly, since everyone is guilty of typos, if you find a typo in someone’s work, don’t hold it against them. More than likely it was an honest mistake that the author didn’t purposefully make. Politely point it out to them and move on. There’s no need to hold it over their head.