A Writer’s Greatest Villain: The Dreaded Typo

To err is human. To spell check, proofread, and rewrite is divine.

You’ve finally completed a writing project and with a single click, your work is sent out into the world. You feel satisfied and a little apprehensive because your words and ideas are now out there for public consumption and judgment. And then it happens, indicated in the comments section or in an email sent to you at work. In spite of your heroic efforts, there it is, a villainous typo.

Is there a more hair-pulling, gut-churning, infuriatingly irritating moment for a writer than when a typo rears its ugly head? As much as we look outward to place blame, discovering that typo falls upon the writer, even when a team of editors has reviewed your writing or you personally have scoured the screen for any errant moments. We have only ourselves to blame – actually our brains are one of the main culprits in these typo moments – and all we can do is endure the typo’s existence and promise to do better next time.

As mentioned before, how our brains are wired is one reason why we often skip over obvious typos. When we put words on a page we are placing those words in a way that will ultimately create meaning and this is what we see on the screeen – what we MEAN to say. Creating meaning is considered a “high level” task by our brains, and as the brain shines a light on the meaning of words and ideas, it dims the light on smaller tasks, which explains why we might miss hte little errors in our work. Did you catch that typo? Or did you skim over it because your brain understood meaning (“the” instead of “hte” or the extra “e” in “screen”) even with the misspellings?

No one likes a typo, not the writer and certainly not the audience. Here are seven ways to avoid typos in your writing:

1. Read out loud.

This will force your brain to slow down and see each word on the page. The auditory element will likely help catch any visual errors.

2. Change the screen.

A new font in a different size, a different background, wider margins, try to make modifications that will give your eyes a new visual reference and highlight errors you didn’t see before.

3. Change your scenery.

Get up and get away from the computer. Go for a walk, do some stretching, or, if possible, take a day or two away from writing. This will help your brain to loosen its hold on what you’ve written. When we’re too familiar with our writing we can miss easy errors, from typos to content.

4. Print it out.

The nice thing about using our computers is that we don’t have to waste paper, but in the case of writing, printing out our work onto an actual sheet of paper is just the change we need in order to catch any errors. It’s a bit “rustic” – if you will – but sometimes good old pen and paper are an editor’s best tools.

5. Have a checklist of important items to review.

Names and dates are important, but a writer should also be good at recognizing their own trouble spots. Keep a record of past errors and be sure to check for them each time you write.

6. Read your work backward.

Not just the last paragraph to the first, but the actual words. Start at the end and work your way back to the beginning. This is another way to trick your brain, which has already committed to memory what you’ve written, into looking at it from a new perspective.

7. Get an editor.

You can pay for a service, but that is fairly expensive and not accessible to the average writer. Ideally, every writer has a colleague, writing partner, or close friend who is willing to review your work with fresh perspective.

Typos are the worst. I’m sure there are more errors here that were not done deliberately. It’s bad enough as a writer to know that mistakes exist, and even worse to subject those mistakes to the judgment of our audience. In some cases, the errors are inexcusable and must be corrected, but for the most part, no one sets out to write an imperfect piece. All we can do as writers strive for our best work possible and put into place every reasonable tool to help us avoid typos and other flaws in our writing.