Seeing your own typos


Okay, I just need reassurance about something, or at least to know I’m brain-damaged for sure. I don’t know whether this is just because I’m a faster typer these days and also because I tend to do too much proof-reading on screen rather than on paper, but I find I miss so many typos nowadays. I’m talking about letters missed from words I type, such as “ony” for “only”, “on” for “one” and so on. And also extra words that are left over from edits, such as meaning to change “I don’t know about everyone else” to “I don’t know about you” but ending up with “I don’t know about you else” or some such. It seems to take me four or five read-throughs, and still I’m catching stupid errors.

Maybe it’s because I’m extra-tired right now with baby number three keeping us awake all night. But I swear I wasn’t this bad at missing typos before I walked in front of a London bus four years ago and woke up in an ambulance soaked in my own blood with a Harry Potter-esque scar as a souvenir.

So, tell me: does anyone else here find themselves missing really obvious typos over and over again in their drafts, or is it just me?

It’s just me, isn’t it?

All the best,

It isn’t just you. A guy at work had 500 business cards printed with a product name incorrectly spelt, and couldn’t find the problem even after I told him there was a glaring error.

I find I am much better at spotting other people’s typos than my own.

It’s probably both. But . . . see below.

This is your prime culprit. There is nothing like sleep-deficit to utterly muck-up your detail brain.

Oooh! Harry Potter scar? Spiffing! I won’t enquire about your state of mind prior to the bus collision. . . . That concussion probably did rattle your brain cells but I think it’s far more likely that sleep deficit and the one-character-off-and-you-crash exhaustion that comes from writing code day-in day-out are the prime contributors. Also, there seem to be periods where things just don’t click in some way. Why, I, myself, went through a three-year period where I couldn’t make a vinaigrette to save my life. Every single one was a dud. Thankfully, I have returned to the righteous path there at least.

Years ago I worked as a typographer. The fellow who ran things was kindly and precise. Aside from being over 100 WPM his proofreading was mind-boggling. One day, he was standing about 6 feet back from my terminal, glanced over, and said, “You’ve two spaces, there.” As I recall, no babies at the time and no midnight music gigs.


It could also be that you are trying to proofread on a computer screen.

I was a guinea pig for an experiment a friend of mine is running. Many people do not see the screen well and the brain is trained to fill in for it.

Here is what she has found to date. (The testing is still ongoing.) The more people proofread on a screen, the worse they get at it. The theory is that you literally train your brain to fill in more and your brain… being smart… fills in the “correct” version and not the incorrect one. You literally CANNOT see the error.

The version of the test she ran on me was proofing playing cards (i.e. not words and no context). I was supposed to verify that the left part of the screen had the same playing cards as the right and identify “errors”. The cards were shown as pictures in one set of tests and as the number 4 plus the symbol heart or Q plus the symbol spade for the second set. I proofed on the screen and then on paper. I was awful on the screen for the number plus symbol version and only marginal for the whole picture playing card. However, I didn’t miss a single one in the on paper versions.

I already knew this. I have to kill trees to proofread properly.

This study is going to function as a baseline. In future, she will be teaming up with some engineers and they are going to work on screen technology to try to lower the error rate. The funding is partially DOD (Dept. of Defense) and DOE (Dept. of Energy). The concern here is safety as most nuclear reactor monitoring devices (and weapons systems) now all appear on screens and not old fashioned dials etc. The error rate for monitoring has gone up dramatically now that all the data have been moved to computer screens. Most humans just can’t see the screen well enough.

So… are you scared yet?

Fascinating stuff!!


I do this constant, and shudder at the errors I find that in my old posts when I read then again.

Whup are typots? :confused:

Not just you, Keith. You’re probably just trying to do too much (new baby, other children, Scrivener 2.0 development, customer support, writing, bills to pay, technological developments to absorb and respond to, not enough sleep, forum to keep an eye on…), so your brain is economising where it can.

Do you set aside time for editing/proof-reading your drafts, so that you have no other calls on your attention or thoughts on your mind? Or do you fit it in somehow, in the gaps between lots of other stuff, accompanied by a nagging sensation that you really ought to be doing something more urgently pressing?

If careless editing were caused by bus-induced brain damage, your code would be similarly affected, and you’d never get it to compile. Since Scrivener works beautifully, I’d say that your brain is fine, but your attention-allocation systems might need a bit of a defrag.

Of course, if the problem affects only your “writing” writing, and not all the other written tasks you do, then it might just be our old friend Procrastination playing tricks again. If you never finish the editing, and never iron out the mistakes, then you never really get that novel written…

Was that deliberate?

whs whot dibleberate$ :confused:

A few random thoughts, Keith:

  • age — I’ve found my ability to spot typos has diminished as I’ve grown older, possibly related to…

  • sight — do you wear spectacles? Bumping up one’s prescription can have a dramatic effect on one’s typo-catching talents, I’ve noticed. In fact, I now have a special cheap pair of glasses almost exclusively dedicated to that purpose. But still I fail, because…

  • typos are a fact of life, like athlete’s foot and bankers. You can screen for them and tackle them and reduce their impact, but you can never get rid of them entirely.

I sometimes have difficulty getting my own name right…


Two finger typing!
Ten maybe fifteen (on a good day), words a minute!
One eye on the key Im about to use, [b]the other eye,[/b] searching for the next key.! When I do eventually look at the screen, its like a scene from, ‘Texas Chain saw Massacre’, there`s that much red on it :open_mouth: Typos/crap spelling/two three words joined together.
Typos!! :open_mouth: Schmypos!
P.S. Huge,

Its just as well you didnt screw up on that one :unamused:

I agree 100% with this. I found out years ago that I could read and reread a magazine article on the screen and it would seem fine; print it out and it is full of glaring errors and poor phrasing. I’ve not thought too much about why this should be, but it is certainly the case for me.

I’m bad, but not that bad! :wink:

[size=70]At least I don’t think so! :neutral_face: [/size]

I never even noticed it. :frowning: I think I may take up Macramé or Origami :blush:


Let me introduce you to the best palliative for exhaustion, brain fog, and typos.
It’s called a NAP. You should take at least one for every 8-hour period you are up.
Get a sleep mask, go find a quiet quarter somewhere, put on some white noise, and zzzzzz.
Duration can be 20 to 60 minutes. You wake up refreshed, clear, and ready to go on.
Look at that baby. When not raising hell, what is he/she doing? Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Ask Vic. And consult that lovely portrait of his workspace.


Keith, while we all overlook typos during regular writing sessions, proof reading can be trained. I used to be a proof reader in my native Germany, in another life, and you can truly get to the point of proficiency that not a single typo will escape your notice.

However, it takes a lot of practice and most of all concentration. Most of the time you won’t be able to do it for more than 30 minutes in a single stretch or you will start missing typos.

When it is time to proof materials, simply make sure you are relaxed and focus your mind on the task at hand. Don’t let you thoughts stray and then go about it in relatively small intervals, maybe one or two pages at a time.

I’ve found it helpful to change the layout, font, and text size to something you’re not used to. Your brain’s not as liable to filling in the blanks, so you catch more.

As folks have said, paper tends to work best–but in my case, I’ve noticed that tends to be if I prepared it on computer. If I prepared it as a hard copy, I’m more likely to see the typos on the computer… Though that might have more to do with my difficulty comprehending handwriting than any virtues of the computer screen.

Out of sheer boredom I did a text to speech (services, speech, start speaking) and boy was that … Let’s just say I stopped it pretty quick. Not only did my gibberish get cleaned up but some of it was actually spelled right when I was done.

Its ususually hard for me to spot spot my own typos. I know what I meat to say, aftar al.

I do most of the already-suggested tricks – change font, take a nap, hard copy, specs (several years ago I invested in a pair of prescription glasses set for around 21", my from-the-screen working range, a move which eased back and neck strain but did little to stop typos) – but the most-likely-to-spot-a-typo drill is what I do anyway to get the “feel” of my writing: I read it aloud. Maybe theatrical background helps there; directors and playwrights have a way of telling you – cries, screams, tantrums, eviction notices – that you have not read what was on the page, so you learn to read exactly what’s on the page, no matter how silly or stupid.

Back somewhere in the Silurian, when engineers were still using slide rules (does anyone else remember slide rules?), I was an editor for an engineering magazine, where an old (if he was old then, you can understand how ancient this idea is) editor told me that, when proof reading, the surest way to catch errors was to read back-to-front. Read the words entirely out of context and you’ll have to look at what actually is on the page and not what your brain tells you probably is on the page. It still works, but is not much more useful than spell check, which I never trust anyway.

Vic: Did you mean oralgami, the oriental art of word folding?