How to Avoid Typos and Improve Your Writing

A BIG typo that I saw in a Tokyo supermarket.
A BIG typo that I saw in a Tokyo supermarket. | Source

Typos are those annoying typing mistakes we all make from time to time. Words that we know perfectly well how to spell still manage to come out wrong. They're especially annoying because they make us look unprofessional and cast doubt on whatever we're writing about. I know that's what happens whenever I find a supposedly professional website with bad spelling. Whether they're simple typos due to lack of attention or poor spelling due to lack of knowledge, the impression is the same - unprofessional and even untrustworthy.

Avoiding and Correcting Typos

It seems that the only way to avoid typos completely is to stop writing. As that's a pretty useless piece of advice for a writer, a more practical approach is to find ways to spot and correct them or, as far as possible, avoid them in the first place.

I have no special expertise in the field of typo avoidance other than that I've made plenty of them. However, I've also found ways that have helped me avoid many of them and detect and correct others that slip through the 'net'.

Hate Typos With a Vengeance

People would be less tolerant of their typos if they knew what damage they can do. While they're harmless enough between friends, think what they'd do to your job prospects if they found their way onto your job application or CV.

In general, when we're writing anything that will be read by people who don't know us, every typo will count against us, and both we and our writing will be taken less seriously. It's unfortunate, and maybe even unfair to an extent, but it's human nature. Most readers automatically react to typos negatively unless it's a funny typo like the one in the flozen foods picture. Even then, it's hard to take it seriously. I don't think I'd hire the sign-writer who put that up.

To be fair, that picture is a different case as it's a typical English spelling mistake made in Japan by someone whose native language is Japanese, not English. The Japanese language doesn't distinguish between R & L sounds, so most Japanese have difficulty in hearing the difference between them. It's still funny, though.

The bottom line is that If we can see typos as malicious viruses intent on making us look amateurish and incompetent, we'll spot them far more easily.

See the Words, Not the Text

A common cause of typos remaining undetected is the way that we read. We skim through the text at high speed and pick up the meaning as we go. We barely look at individual words. The old saying, "You can't see the wood for the trees" could easily be changed to, "You can't see the words for the text" because it describes the situation pretty well. When it's our own writing, we skim even faster because we already know the meaning of the text. That's fine for checking our writing at a higher level. We can feel how it flows and can check if the ideas and facts come across logically, etc. However, it's useless for spotting typos.

For low level checking, i.e., typos and similar mistakes, we need to force ourselves to look at the words individually. Reading aloud certainly helps. It's a lot slower than silently skimming through the text. Individual words become more visible and typos stand out more noticeably. You don't need to read aloud, though. You can make a point of reading slowly enough to hear each word in your head while you're seeing the word. At this low level of checking, the actual text isn't so important; only the words are.

An interesting idea that I came across while researching typo tips is to read the text backwards. The meaning of the text is completely lost. You've no choice but to see the words individually, and typos have nowhere to hide. I tried it and it really works. Unlike with normal reading, there's no temptation to start skimming because the backward text is meaningless at any speed. I found it a bit tedious, though, and gave up halfway up the last paragraph (if you know what I mean). It certainly works, but I don't think it's necessary. Personally, I find that moderately slow and mindful forward reading is just as effective and a lot less boring.

Don't Rely on Spell Checkers

Unrecognised words - Even 'HubPages' gets flagged
Unrecognised words - Even 'HubPages' gets flagged

Spell checkers can be very helpful, but, as we know, most of them can only flag words that they don't recognise. Unfortunately, many typos get through because they're still genuine words - just not the words we want. (e.g., to, too and two). To be fair, though, spell checkers are improving all the time, and it won't be too long until they all include syntax-checking, which can spot when the wrong 'to, too or two' is being used.

For those of us whose English isn't American English, we need to be more careful. Most spell checkers are American and only understand American spellings. The HubPages spell checker is an example. HubPages is an American company, so its spell checker is obviously going to be designed for American English and will flag spellings such as colour and neighbour.

Note: Having written that last sentence, I see that the spell checker is accepting colour but not neighbour and others. Maybe I've previously 'taught' it to accept colour, or maybe it accepts common non-American spellings.

Spell checkers can make us less attentive to how we're writing. Less attention means more typos, so, somewhat ironically, the spell checker is going to be correcting mistakes that wouldn't have been made in the first place. Use them by all means, but don't let them lull you into a false sense of security.

Know Your Typos

Everyone has their own set of typos that come to haunt them again and again. My own set includes your and you're, its and it's and a few others. Despite my being completely aware of the difference, they can still sneak in. What I found, though, is that by making myself aware of my most common typos, they're no longer a problem. I rarely make those particular typos now. Take some time to inspect your typos and know which ones are most common. Being aware of them goes a long way to preventing them.

Typical Typos

Typical typos
Typical typos | Source

The picture shows some typical typos. Some don't need explanation, but a couple are worth commenting on.

practise - practice
In British English, both are correct, but practise is used as a verb while practice is a noun, (exactly like advise and advice). The following sentence is correct in British English:
"Practise often because practice makes perfect".

As far as I know, only 'practice' is correct in American English (and I see the spell checker agrees).

whisky - whiskey
The spell checker has got this wrong as it has allowed 'whiskey' but not 'whisky'. In fact, both are correct, and it's not just a case of American v British spelling. 'Whiskey' is the correct spelling for whiskey produced in the USA and Ireland, (although I hear a couple of American brands spell it as whisky on the label). 'Whisky' is the correct spelling for Scotch, Canadian whisky, and whisky from just about everywhere else, e.g., the Philippines and Japan. The spell checker is wrong in this case because, even using American English, it would be wrong to spell Scotch whisky as Scotch whiskey. You'd never get an invite to the Johnnie Walker Distillery with that mistake.

definitely - definately
Only 'definitely' is correct. This one is worth mentioning because it's often a case of not being sure of the correct spelling rather than a simple inadvertent typo. In cases like that, a useful tip is that if you can see how a word relates to other words, you can often know the spelling. 'Definitely' is related to the word 'finite'. You can see 'finite' is actually there within the word. Because of how it's pronounced, nobody ever spells 'finite' as finate - so, by applying that to 'definitely', the spelling will always be correct.

Good Typos

I can think of only one case where typos are useful - not as a writer in this case but as a reader, and that's in so-called phishing scams.

Like countless other people, I sometimes get fake emails supposedly from Paypal or some bank or other asking me to confirm my log-in details. They look very convincing with the correct logo boldly displayed, but read on and you're sure to come to a typo before too long. It's a dead giveaway as the genuine companies wouldn't send emails with typos (nor would they ask for log-in details by email). I don't think I've ever received a phishing email that didn't have at least one typo.

My Typos

Typos are a fact of literary life. They come to all of us. There may well be typos remaining in this article. Many came during the writing and were quickly shown the door, but if any have managed to sneak in undetected, feel free to point them out.

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Comments 15 comments

GoGreenTips profile image

GoGreenTips 4 years ago from Indianapolis

Great hub! I usually read mine backwards. It gets tedious...but it seems to work.

chasmac profile image

chasmac 4 years ago from UK Author

Thanks for your comment GoGreenTips. Yes, I was surprised how well backward reading works.

Pennypines profile image

Pennypines 4 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

My school taught English as used in England. So it was quite an adjustment to learn to spell in American English. I still find myself reverting occasionally, and it is quite disconcerting to be told I don't know how to spell.

I have even been accused of being ungrammatical.

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

Interesting--it's always good to learn more about writing well. Also helps me understand why I see the foreign-to-me word practise so often (spell check refuses it), though advice and advise are very familiar. Thanks!

Anju Arya profile image

Anju Arya 4 years ago from India

Useful hub, Thanks. we all the need to think and pay attention our typos having come in our habit. We should improve these mistakes which occur frequently. Make us notice well. Thanks again.

Prayzes profile image

Prayzes 4 years ago

Great observation. I totally agree that when I am reading the work of a professional I am disappointed when I see a typo. I try to remind myself this person's field of expertise is not typing and usually I can tell when spellcheck was used. Just like you identified words that are spelled correctly but, it is the wrong word, most of the time, spellcheck does not catch it; even the grammatical detector misses it, as well. It is better, I think, to have another person or persons to read your writing. However, that seems to be the "less" popular choice of the authors of today. More people are self-publishing; and more than ever, more than ever-- typing and grammatical errors are prevalent. It is disheartening. Believe me, I purposely repeated the phrase. I purchase books and when there are too many typos or grammatical errors, I put it down, and I am not going to recommend that book. Thanks, I hope to publish and want to present a well-written, life changing information. Therefore, I want to "avoid typos." Thank again, great post.

chasmac profile image

chasmac 4 years ago from UK Author

Thank you for the positive comments. - They're much appreciated. Prayzes' point about having someone read your work is a good one. Fresh eyes can often spot typos that we've missed.

Pennypines profile image

Pennypines 4 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

A very effective method is to belong to a small writing group, where the writers read aloud, at the same time providing copies to each of those present. Spelling and grammar mistakes are corrected, and papers returned to the writer. The work is thus edited before publication.

Prayzes profile image

Prayzes 4 years ago

Thank you for that wonderful suggestion Pennypines; years ago, I visited a writing group and I did not commit to it. Sad to say I have made very little progress in my writing endeavors and will search again. Living in Hawaii, there are limited choices; however, I will see if I can identify a group that I can commit to. This is a great post.

Anju Arya profile image

Anju Arya 4 years ago from India

I did this experiment to read backwards to fix typos. It works good. Thanks for this wonderful tip.

janshares profile image

janshares 2 years ago from Washington, DC

I love this hub, my kind of topic. I'm a typo fiend and hate to find them in my work. But, as you say, we are human and will always find them. You've done a superb job, excellent writing, well-presented, and professional. I did find one thing: period missing at the end of last sentence of last paragraph under heading, "Don't rely on spell checkers." I never use spell checkers, I use my old handy dictionary and thesaurus if I need to check for spelling. Great hub, chasmac. Voted up, useful, awesome, and sharing.

chasmac profile image

chasmac 2 years ago from UK Author

Thanks very much Janshares. Coming from you that means a lot as I'm well aware of the excellent quality of your own writing. Thanks and well done for spotting the mistake. I have duly supplied the missing full stop and dedicated it to you. :-)

Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 2 months ago

Thank you. An interesting idea to read backwards. Though I would think it would be necessary to read backward and forward. Backward can pick up non-existent words but typos that are real words would seem to need a forward read.

chasmac profile image

chasmac 2 months ago from UK Author

Good point, Robert. Yes, I agree, It would be more difficult with backward reading to catch real words used wrongly. Thanks for your comment.

Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 2 months ago

You're welcome. Maybe the writer's prayer should be the same as the old programmer's prayer: "Lord, if I make a mistake make it be a big one." The logic is big mistakes are easy to find little ones can slip through.

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