Understanding typos and why we make them.

I joined a writing circle recently. We bounce ideas off of each other and critique each other’s work. I started to notice a humiliating pattern. The same spelling mistakes and word usage began popping up all over my work. So much so that I spent hours wondering if I was showing signs of early onset Alzheimer. Seriously.

In school I was great in English and grammar was my favorite. Now, granted I’ve been out of school for a few years (read many). I took 15 years off of work, moved overseas and I spent a couple of years home schooling my kids.

So, why do I have such trouble noticing my own errors? Then I saw something interesting. One of my partners, who’s a wonderful writer, the same one who points out my “your-you’re” errors (I want to say constantly here but eek, it’s not that bad… maybe) he made the same mistake.

I know he read through his paper 100 times before posting it. So, I’m not alone. Even great writers make mistakes.
I found this article on the internet by Nick Stockton.

What’s up with that
I liked this paragraph..

The reason typos get through isn’t because we’re stupid or careless, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart, explains psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos of the University of Sheffield in the UK. “When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task,” he said.

My brain is working… and at a higher level too!

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). “We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases,” said Stafford. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.” When we’re reading other peoples’ work, this helps us arrive at meaning faster by using less brain power. When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. 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.


Stafford suggests that if you want to catch your own errors, you should try to make your work as unfamiliar as possible. Change the font or background color, or print it out and edit by hand. “Once you’ve learned something in a particular way, it’s hard to see the details without changing the visual form,” he said.

I’ll give it a try. Hopefully my brain just needs glasses.