Why it’s never “just a typo”


Spelling Bee Contestant

Did you hear about the Scotsman who went into the female bathroom by mistake? He thought the sign on the door said, “Laddies”! BOOM BOOM!

Groanworthy jokes aside, it is relatively rare for a typo or spelling mistake to affect our comprehension so completely that we take our sporrans into the wrong restroom, so to speak. It might make us laugh or grind our teeth, but for it to change the meaning of a sentence so completely that we totally miss the point? Rare.

So this is how you get an article from the BBC proclaiming that “typos and spelling mistakes don’t really matter”. On one hand, the author is right: it takes a lot more than perfect spelling and grammar to make a piece of writing compelling.

On the other hand, she is completely, and utterly wrong.

Prone to the occasional typo myself, I’d like her claim to be true, but it isn’t. Here’s why: a typo or a spelling mistake isn’t just a typo or spelling mistake. It is so much more.

We human beings assign meaning to all kinds of things, and a typo or spelling mistake is just one of them. When a reader sees a typo or spelling mistake, they don’t see it as a stand-alone thing. The error triggers something in their minds and they’re off and running:

“Huh. This guy says he cares about his clients. How about caring enough to make sure he has no mistakes in the material he sends us?”

“She missed this. I wonder what other kind of things she would miss.”

“Well, that’s just unprofessional.”

“So much for attention to detail! What do you call THIS?”

Credibility? Out the window.

So here’s the thing: it is not your job to say typos and spelling mistakes don’t matter. It is THE READERS’. They ultimately decide. If you have a market and audience who has consistently demonstrated that they don’t care about the state of the copy you send out, knock yourself out and have as many errors as you like. Until they do demonstrate, assume they care. Very much.

Check and recheck your copy. Your audience may not notice when your spelling is perfect, but when it isn’t? You no now knwo know they do!



Photo credit: © Camrocker via DepositPhotos


  1. Yep, too right!

    Having someone proofread your work, or at the very least, use a service like Grammarly, can save you from serious stuff ups!

    • It’s a really useful, basic thing to do, Luke. So much of the time people put undue pressure on themselves to get it right, but there’s no need when you can just handball the proof reading or editing to someone else! When I get super busy, I have a line editor who goes through my copy. I admit it, proudly! 😀

  2. A very compelling article Violeta. Thank you for sharing.

    For me it stirs up different and mixed emotions 🙂

    On the one hand, I help clients to let go of perfection, because I don’t believe that perfection exists other than in nature itself. Perfection is just a strategy to enable is us to not do anything in fear of getting it wrong (which is the pay-off for not doing it wrong).

    So in that sense, I make it mean for me that it’s OK to get things wrong – the world won’t end if I do.

    On the other hand, in the scenario of posting say an article like this, full of errors and typos, I also appreciate also that others put meanings to that of which I have no real control over.

    So although the fact that others will put meanings to things so that they can make sense of it, a factor that nobody else has any control over, it’s therefore important, in the absence of control, to at least have influence over it.

    So that is where ensuring typos are omitted – so that your audience receives the communication that is intended, rather than them receiving something else, simply because there were silly (and lets face it), unimportant errors that don’t really change anything, other than the reader’s meaning to it which IS what is important, if you want to be seen as trustworthy and credible.

    (I read this over and over – hope there’s no typos in it HA HA 🙂 )

    • I think both things coexist quite happily, Scott, so I agree with everything you say. I’ve been teaching people to write for over 20 years now, and over and over, when people come to me I have to help them get rid of their inner editors before they can write. These perfectionist, tyrannical inner voices aren’t natural: they were put there long ago by parents, school teachers, friends, and assorted other people who don’t matter in the here and now. Watching these writers silence their inner editors and allow their true voices to flow is a joy. They stretch their wings in the creative space, where there are no mistakes, and eventually fly.

      And at some point they come down to Earth and discover that what they created isn’t for them only: it’s for other people too. And because communication between human beings can be tricky, you have to follow convention – which is where cleaning up things like spelling and grammar comes in. But never, ever, at the expense of the writer’s voice. That way, you have consideration for the writer AND the reader – the best of both worlds.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. It sets off alarm bells for me, when I see several errors in a business’s written communication. A text I received from a businessman the other day used “wold” instead of “would”, “ad” instead of “as”, “I’ll” instead of “ill” and spelt my name wrong. (Full disclosure: I looked up whether to use spelled or spelt just now). Spelling matters to me, when it comes to business. However, in my home life, I think it’s adorable when my partner calls me “deer” 🙂

    • Spelling your name wrong? Augh! I can totally sympathise with that one!

      And with your partner’s spelling. The way I see it, if a couple is correcting each other’s spelling, they have far more problems than just grammar! 😀

  4. Such a valid point, Violeta!

    I am Portuguese and I always have been directed to the importance of writing clearly – that means in grammar, contextual and orthographic sense. My teachers made us repeat errors and typos many times, nowadays I thank them for it, as I see the same is not the case today. And that, is such a shame. All this texting, new tech lingo, corporate “acronymising” seems to have an effect in how we learn, use and perceive written language.

    Yo he vivido en 3 países y siempre me hace mucho gusto aprender el idioma local lo mejor que pueda, así fue con todos los 5 que puedo hablar. La verdad es que es la expresión de quien no te ve, así que te expresas de forma descuidada, acabas por el mismo concepto de ti mismo, tu profesión o lo que haces.

    I´ve developed an adverse reaction to typos, especially if it´s in the business arena. I used to be critic of it and with time, bounced back by learning not to judge so harshly, if in the correct context and well expressed, it´s a minor thing. However, I have very little patience – still – to receive a brochure from a self called serious business / expert and be distracted by the lack of care, professionalism and credibility put forth in its writing.

    I´ve even been called a wordsmith, working with colleagues from all over the World, but I can´t help it to realise how important communication is. In whichever format that happens to be. There is space for the occasional typo. But I see the issue being more important that just overlooking typos and not being picky. It´s the deterioration of a culture, its language.

    Good post.

    • You bring up some really important, perceptive points Simão. Obviously the perspective of someone who has lived in three countries, because people who have only ever lived in one country never fully come to understand how language, culture, and psyche are connected.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

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