How to Prevent Typos

prevent typos

How to prevent typos

How do  you feel about typos (especially other people’s typos)?

Do you react angrily?  Are you offended when you see one?

Or appalled that someone could let that happen?

Sometimes, it seems we just can’t get rid of typos.  We proofread and proofread, but there they are, like dandelions popping up in your lawn.

I heard a story once about a publisher who swore they would print a book with no errors.  There was a mistake in Chapter 6.

It’s not only book publishers that have this problem.  Here’s an example from the Metropolitan Diary section of The NY Times  (June 4, 2007)

“Dear Diary:
I wasn’t too surprised when a nearby Columbus Avenue restaurant closed up shop. The fliers that they distributed in the neighborhood when they first opened had, after all, boasted of “Chicken to Die From!”
Maureen Manning”


How to prevent typos

Typos were a lot harder to stop in the days when people used actual typewriters. They were harder to cover up too.

1) Start with spell-check.  This helps, but isn’t perfect. It can’t tell, for example, when a word is spelled correctly, but not the word you really meant (“world” instead of “word”).

Even with spell check, typos can be really hard to find, especially if you’re proofreading your own work. And, they’re notorious for showing up  in posts about spelling, grammar, and typos.  They just sneak in.

2) Read it backwards.  You see the individual words more clearly when you’re reading them out of order, because you have to focus on them harder.

3) Let it rest.  Put the article or post aside for a few hours, or overnight.  Read it again later.

4) Phone a friend.  Have someone else look at it.  This is especially important if you’re writing in your second language.  A native speaker will see things you missed.

5) Read it out loud.  This forces your brain to focus on what you’re doing, and the typos become more noticeable.

6) Hire a professional.  Copy editors are worth their weight in gold.  You may not want to pay for a blog post, but it’s worth it for a book or longer article.

If you spot one in someone else’s work, and your inner editor won’t let you keep it to yourself, tell the person nicely (pssst, rogue hyphen in paragraph three).  Or, pencil the correction in the book.  You’ll feel better.

Here are some more proofreading techniques and common English grammar mistakes.

All that said, I just read a book printed by a major publisher.  There was a big typo in one of the chapter headings.  It said, “DIMJLY LIT ROOM.”


2 thoughts on “How to Prevent Typos

  1. Jodi, as a person who has edited a lot of book-length documents, all I can say is “Why did I ever agree to edit a book-length document?” As you say, proofing and proofing doesn’t ever seem to get every typo, whether it’s a “your” that’s supposed to be a “you’re” or wordsstucktogether or a comma ending a sentence rather than a period. I will say that it’s much easier to proofread a printed document than one on screen.

    Sometimes the large display type, or the subheads, big and bold, are the place where errors lie. One of my classic proofing “should I shoot myself”—I was the copyeditor for a large software company. The 800 number for ordering the software was on ALL of our documents—maybe I saw it 300,000 times. We sent a catalog out to the whole mailing list, well over 100,000 names, and the order page in the catalog’s center, to which it opened, had a HUGE rendering of the 800 number. Only it was rendered with the numbers wrong. Tommy missed it. One of the VPs wanted my head, but my boss finally talked him out of it. Errors hiding in plain sight…

    • Oh, Tom that’s bad. I have an example that’s even worse. A friend’s company sent out a large mailing, also featuring an 800 number for orders. Turned out the number they printed (for their high-end, expensive company research – think something like The Economist or The Conference Board), was a porno line.

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