The Truth About Typos and Why You Keep Missing Them

The Truth About Typos and Why You Keep Missing Them

Imagine this: You’ve written a brilliant post. You read through it twice to check for errors. Finding none, you hit the “publish” button. All is great with the world.

A few hours later, you return to the post to respond to comments. You are shocked to see a glaring error in your opening sentence. You think, “How could I have missed that?” Maybe an evil-doer hacked into your blog and planted the misspelled word to embarrass you.

What really happened when you did those error checks? You looked at the words, but you didn’t see the mistake. But why does this happen?

A fascinating book explains this puzzling phenomenon:  The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. The authors are psychology researchers using a “wide assortment of stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to reveal an important truth: Our minds don’t work the way we think they do.

After reading it I realized how their findings can help us understand how and why we miss things that are right in front of our eyes. If you’re curious about the research, watch the videos on their website to learn about some of the experiments.

When you are proofreading your post, you are falling victim to what Chabris and Simons call the “illusion of expectation.” Your brain is wired to find what is expected: an error-free post. Basically, your brain is on auto-correct, so you actually do not see the typos. They are invisible.

How do you make the typos visible? Well, you can’t, at least not 100% of the time. But you can improve with practice. You need to re-train your brain to expect that your writing contains errors. That’s why it’s easier to find typos when you proofread someone else’s work. You expect to find mistakes even before you start your review. If you adopt this  new perspective, you’ll be more successful in your battle against typos.

Bonus tip: It’s easier to spot errors if you start your review at the end of the text and read the words in reverse order. This technique disables your brain’s auto-correct setting so you can be confident that your text is error-free. It can be time-consuming, but when perfection is critical, it’s worth it.