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
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