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The clever reason you don’t spot your own typos

why you don't spot your own typos

You’ve just spent hours translating a text or writing an article. You’ve researched it thoroughly, structured it methodically and checked it meticulously, and now you’re ready to submit the perfect piece of work, free from error. But lo and behold, shortly after sending it to the project manager you get a reply, or perhaps a copy of the proofread text, revealing half a dozen or more typos struck out in red. You recoil into your chair, “I submitted the perfect piece,” you say to yourself, “How on earth did those slip in there”? You want so badly to tell the project manager that you do know how to spell.

Typos are irksome little things that infiltrate and sabotage what would otherwise be perfect work. They’re frustrating because they tend to be misspelled words or erroneous apostrophes that should be very easy to get right. So why don’t we notice these mistakes on the first, second or even third proofreading attempt?

The reason we don’t spot our own typos is not, in fact, because we’re careless or incompetent, but rather because we’re smart. University of Sheffield psychologist Tom Stafford says to Wired, “When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task. As with all high level tasks, your brain generalises 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,” says Stafford. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.”

In practice, it goes something like this: when you read your own work, instead of focussing on the details such as correct grammar, spelling and punctuation, your brain checks that you have the correct meaning, and because you’re already familiar with the text, it tends to skip forward unaware of mistakes. It’s what psychologists call generalisation. It’s your brain’s way of minimising effort so you can focus on other things, and it’s also why, for example, when you drive home or to a familiar place, you don’t always remember how you got there. You’re brain switches to autopilot.

So when you’re over-familiar with a text, it becomes very difficult for your brain to spot errors, which is why the best way to edit texts is to de-familiarise yourself with your words as much as possible. Stafford recommends changing the font, switching the background colour or printing the text and correcting it with a pen. “Once you’ve learned something in a particular way, it’s hard to see the details without changing the visual form,” he says.

Alternatively, the best way to produce error-free work is to have someone else proofread it for you,  someone who is unfamiliar with the text. This is why we at Keytext Translation have all work reviewed independently.

For a bit of fun, try reading this:

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulacity uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmaun mnid, aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tnhig is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.

You can read this because the human mind doesn’t read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole.

Keytext provides professional translation, copywriting and editing services tailored to the needs of each client. We seek out the most talented writers and translators and utilise a range of technologies and processes to guarantee high quality copy, timely delivery and flexible rates. If you would like any information on our services, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


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