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What’s in a typo?

Jess Lee's picture

The number one rule for writing quality content is accuracy. It’s imperative to make sure that what you’re writing is grammatically and punctually correct, your sentence structure is bang on, and your message is flawless and uncluttered.

Once you’ve mastered the English language and the ins and outs of writing accurately, then you can begin to focus on writing with a specific voice, with a specific tone, to please both the client, the customer and, of course, the all-important Google.

But just how important is a typo?

Interestingly, the human brain doesn’t need the letters to be in the correct order to be able to read a word. As lnog as the frsit and lsat lteters are in the rghit palce, our brains can mkae sesne of the mssegae. Our brains simply do not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Brilliant, isn’t it?

It’s for this reason that proofreading your own work is so damn difficult. Not only do you already know the sentence you’ve written, but your brain plays a delightful trick on you to allow you to skim over that little typo. You read what you think you’ve written, not what you actually have written.

As with any writer, I’m not immune to making mistakes in my work, resulting in a glaring typo that I’m completely oblivious to – despite rigorous checking before submission.

An interesting article I’ve come across suggests that the reason typos get through isn’t because we’re careless or stupid, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart. The theory goes that when you’re writing, you’re trying to convey a meaning or message, which is a very high-level task.

“As with all high-level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas)” - Nick Stockton, Wired, 2014

That said, there are countless examples of typos being picked up in the press in headlines and front cover stories, with the focus then shifted onto how ‘sloppy’ the reporter must have been to have made such a glaring mistake, completely discrediting the story itself. If you think you’re your own worst critic, think again!

The importance of accuracy

I’m completely guilty myself of judging the writer for making a simple mistake, despite being guilty of it myself. Hypocritical, yes. But it does highlight the standard needed for writers to be the best.

Using our brain’s ability to skim over simple words as an excuse to make mistakes isn’t really okay, especially when you’re writing content for someone else. We need to fight against our primal brains to drag them into the 21st century, in order to achieve perfection in our written content.

All I can say is good luck – and if you’re lucky enough to have a friend just as finickity about spelling and grammar as you are, use them! They’re perhaps one of the most valuable assets you have.