Written on April 3, 2015
Recently, my girlfriend asked me to help her look through her CV. Instead of checking whether she included the appropriate information or not, I was picking out typos and poor formatting — missing spaces, additional spaces, unaligned indentations, and so on.
I am very particular about typos and poor formatting of documents (read: have mild OCD to correct them) because I think it affects the first impression we give others when they look at our writing/application/CV.
I was chatting with some Customer Support Pros from the Support Driven Community on this topic. They mentioned about horrible typos in job applications they received, such as misspelling the company’s name and even the hiring manager’s name! Inappropriate capitalisation Of words is Annoying too, especially for Titles and company Name.
According to a survey of more than 300 senior managers in the United States by Accountemps, 90% of the senior managers surveyed would not consider a job candidate for a position with their company if they spot 1 to 3 typos!
This image is extracted from Accountemp’s infographic, which can be found here.
Although the pattern from the survey shows that the senior managers surveyed might be becoming more lenient in terms of the number of typos in a resume, it still shows that typos can cause you your job.
While some hiring managers might ignore such mistakes, I feel that it goes to show how meticulous a person is. All else being equal, I would prefer someone who would correct these details to someone who thinks that they are minor issues and ignore them.
As much as I dislike typos, I have to admit that I make typos too and sometimes fail to spot them.
Suggestions For Catching Typos
While it is easy to spot typos when we read other people’s work, it is much harder to catch our own typos.
Here are some suggestions on how to catch your mistakes, if you do not have an editor or proofreader:
1. Trick Your Mind
In the Wired article, What’s Up With That, Why It’s So Hard To Catch Your Own Typos, psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos, suggested that we trick our brains that it’s the first time we are reading our writing:
Stafford suggests that if you want to catch your own errors, you should try to make your work as unfamiliar as possible. Change the font or background color, or print it out and edit by hand. “Once you’ve learned something in a particular way, it’s hard to see the details without changing the visual form,” he said.
For me, I usually type my blog post on Medium. However, before I publish it, I would copy it to the WordPress editor for my personal blog. All the formatting would be messed up so I’ll go through the entire post in a different environment.
I’ve managed to catch quite a number of typos through this process.
2. Take A Long Break
This is something I’m working on. Some days when I find writing hard (well, almost everyday), I would want to hit the “Publish” button as soon as I finished the post and proofread it once.
However, with the content still fresh in my mind, I seldom pick up any errors when I read through my post. The Wired article gave an explanation for this:
When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.
So it might be worth taking a long break to do something else, preferably away from the computer, before coming back to the text 2–3 hours later or the next day. Hopefully, you would have forgotten a bit of the content and spot more typos.
I wrote the draft for this post in the morning and came back to read it at 4pm.
3. Use Text Editors That Would Highlight Mistakes
“Use spelling checkers but don’t trust them. In particular, be aware of homophone confusion: complement and compliment, accept and except, effect and affect, oversees and overseas.” — Philip B. Corbett of The Times
Most text editors, such as the ones on Medium and WordPress, would pick up spelling errors and underline them with a red line. Medium does not allow more than one space, which I think is a great design.
Microsoft Word has a few more functions. It would also autocorrect misspelt words, autocapitalise the first letter of the first word of a sentence and underline grammatical and punctuation mistakes with a green line.
However, autocorrection could go wrong at times and Microsoft Word sometimes highlights what it thinks are grammatical and punctuation mistakes when they are actually widely accepted as appropriate.
There’s a cool autocorrection trick with Microsoft Word where you could program Microsoft Word to autocorrect words that you usually spell wrongly. However, I feel that this would make you reliant on the autocorrection and not learn to spell those words correctly.
4. Read Your Work Backwards
Among many other great tips in his article, The Reader’s Lament, Philip B. Corbett of The Times suggested:
Read it backward and focus on the spelling of words.
I’ve seen this advice when I was learning to code too. However, I’ve not really tried it because it feels very unnatural to me. I guess that’s the point of it.
Because it is unnatural to read backwards and the sentences wouldn’t make much sense, we would tend to slow down the pace.
It would feel like this:
As we read more slowly, we might be more likely to pick up typos.
While we might pick up typos by doing this, we might not spot sentences that are structured wrongly. So I would advise against using this strategy alone for proofreading.
5. Ask A Friend To Check
Find a friend who is very particular about this (like me) to read through your article. If it is the first time they are reading your article, they are likely to spot more typos than you.
The Wired article, mentioned earlier, also explained this:
We can become blind to details because our brain is operating on instinct. By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination.
This explains why your readers are more likely to pick up on your errors. Even if you are using words and concepts that they are also familiar with, their brains are on this journey for the first time, so they are paying more attention to the details along the way and not anticipating the final destination.
This video gives an example of how we might become blind to details when we have certain expectations in our mind:
Cool? Because I’ve seen the dancing gorilla experiment before, I was focusing on the gorilla and missed the change in colour of the curtain.
Don’t forget to thank your friends after they help you or help them proofread when they write! ☺
Just A Bit Of Effort
Typos are not easy to spot (so forgive me if there are any typos in this post :P); but when we do spot them, it does not take much effort to correct them.
If the document you wrote is very important such as your job application, you might want to make sure that there are no typos because it can affect your chances of getting the job.
(I know it sounds duh!, but I have friends who cannot be bothered to change typos in their work or resume.)
Do the recipient of your work and yourself a favour. Make those changes.
Thank you ☺
What do you do to catch your typos? Do you have cool tricks to share?
(This is my 21st blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)