Once I had a job where I was responsible for distributing a weekly e-newsletter to several hundred staff members.
My role was to collate the stories, edit for consistency and get management to approve it all by 3pm on Friday.
And then hit ‘Send’.
One week, I repeatedly wrote John Hopkins, instead of Johns Hopkins.
(Johns Hopkins is a university in Baltimore that takes its name from 19th-century Maryland philanthropist Johns Hopkins.)
Someone replied to the company e-newsletter to point out I had consistently misspelt the name.
It’s a mistake I still remember.
The errors you skip are the ones your readers will see
Spelling mistakes in your writing can distract your readers, and are embarrassing to find.
Or worse, when someone else finds them for you after you hit ‘Publish’.
Often your most glaring errors, or the worst ones you’ve seen in other people’s writing, serve as the perfect reminder to check your communications before you share them with your audience.
A typographic error – shortened to typo – is a spelling mistake in printed or electronic materials.
Historically, it referred to mistakes in manual typesetting (typography) where words and pictures were set up in preparation for printing.
These days, a typo that stands out (and they always stand out!) can damage the quality and professionalism of the rest of your work.
What you can do to avoid typos
There are many tools out there to help you review the spelling, grammar and tone of your work.
Grammarly is a popular app for detecting errors and improving your content.
The Spelling and Grammar function in Microsoft Word is a built-in tool to draw attention to words that need checking.
You can also have your text read aloud in Word. This way, you can hear any mistakes your eyes might skip over.
Want some more ideas?
Check out my top five tips for reviewing your own work or someone else’s.
1. Leave your work overnight
Step away from your copy for a few hours.
If you have more time, wait until the next day before reading it again.
Then return to it with fresh eyes.
As a result, the likelihood of picking up errors is greatly increased when compared to reviewing the text straight after you wrote the words.
2. Read your copy aloud
Hearing what you have written allows your ears, and brain, to detect problems with the flow of the copy.
If you stumble across awkward sentences or lengthy phrases, you will be able to hear that these sentences need to be reworded.
3. Read it backwards
Look at what you have written from a different angle.
Because the more you read your own work, the more likely you will skip over phrases or miss things that need fixing.
Start with the last word and work your way back to the beginning. Read each word separately.
This technique is a good one for looking at the spelling of words – you’re not focusing on the meaning of what you have written.
4. Print it out
Print out a copy of your work, sit in a different place (away from your computer) and read the words.
Words on a piece of paper can look different to reading them on a screen.
Writing is a visual process – don’t let your eyes get too comfortable with the placement of words and so miss the correct spelling.
Take it one step further by using a ruler to place under each sentence as you read it.
This method ensures your eyes don’t wonder down the page but are forced to look at one line at a time.
Work your way through the text, and keep the ruler moving down the page.
It is a slow and methodical approach forcing your eyes to stop wandering and skimming over mistakes, particularly sections you have read over and over again.
5. Invite fresh eyes
Ask somebody else to review your work.
They may spot things you won’t find because they will read your copy for the first time.
Quite simply, fresh eyes offer a fresh perspective.
Why not give it a try?
I generally choose a combination of these techniques.
Especially having time away from the screen to think about problems with the flow or wording.
Sometimes these can be resolved when I go for a walk or I’m cooking dinner. It might look like I’m simply chopping or stirring a pot, but this time of reflection can be great for problem solving.
Whatever your writing process, make sure to include at least one of the above-mentioned techniques to catch typos and improve the quality and professionalism of your work.