Wick Communications

Catching your own typos

In Editing on 21 Aug 2014 at 2:27 pm


There is a lot of dispiriting stuff on the Internet, so allow me to promote something that is bound to make you feel better about yourself and the stuff that you write. Hear it is. I mean, “here it is,” darn it.

It’s Nick Stockton’s explanation in Wired of why we are too smart to catch our own typos. That’s right, we’re just too great for our own good.

As Stockton explains much more elegantly than I, the reason we don’t catch our own typos is because we’re engaged in high-level thinking and we consider spelling the actual words and so forth to be mere details in a larger endeavor. We don’t sweat the easy stuff because we’re focused on meaning.

“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,” Stockton writes. And he quotes an academic so you know it’s true.

So what do you do about it?

Well, in my experience, the only thing that really works is to show your work to someone else. And brace yourself for the snarky comments that come from your editor. The more eyes touch a proof, the more likely you will catch embarrassing typos.

Two or three other ideas:

  • When I proof work, I feel better about it when I print it out. I always read stories on the computer for line editing, then I print them for proofing.
  • I run a pen along with each word as I read. It slows me down and makes me feel better about catching mistakes.
  • This story suggests changing the font or color of the words on the screen, the idea being that you want to “defamiliarize” yourself with your own work. Which is an interesting idea.

Good lock out there.


  1. Very timely. As I write this, we’re locked in a “War On Errors,” which we hope has more success than the other campaigns espoused by politicians that begin with … “War on (you fill in the blank).

    We’ve erected a whiteboard in the newsroom with a physical checkoff of the proof pages, who composed the page, who proofs the page, and a simple “complete” checkbox. We’ve also got a section for the design budget … notes between those involve in designing the page and those who are in the room. Sounds simple, but it’s surprising how little reporters and photographers talk to the people doing the actual design of the product.

    Finally, and understanding with the humility of “there by the grace of god go I,” the lede headline on our neighbor’s newspaper – the Arizona Daily Star – in 72 point type, expresses a school payment of $317,000 and the actual amount – $300 million – awh gawd….

  2. This is timely. Today on the front page of the big-city paper in our area was this big-as-life headline: “Judge: State owes schools $317,000.” Actually, it’s $317 million.
    I’ve found most of our headline typos stem from the fact that headlines — mostly written on the page — don’t go through spellcheck like stories do.

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