Three tips to banish typos


How many times have you written a text, email or social post, shared it, and THEN discovered a typo? Plenty, I’m sure!

Typos, short for ‘typographical errors’, can be . . .

. . . funny:

Try our delicious new Anus beef burger today!

. . . confusing:

10% discount for all studnets!

. . . and downright embarrassing:

J. Smart, Head of Pubic Relations

Jokes aside, a typo in the wrong place – in a job application or on your website, for example – has the potential to do a lot of harm. Understanding why they happen can help us form strategies to eliminate them. Let’s explore.

Why we make typos and how to banish them

Culprit 1: Autocorrect and autocomplete

“Oh sorry! My phone autocorrected my text!”

Sound familiar?

Autocorrect should save us time by fixing any typing errors that we make. Autocomplete (or predictive text) is designed to help us work more efficiently by suggesting words that we might want to use.

In reality though, while they can be pretty good at catching errors like transposed letters (studnet instead of student) and make some useful suggestions, they also change words that don’t need correcting and suggest words that are not at all what you were intending! You may find that you end up composing a text with more errors than you would without the ‘help’ of these functions.

Banish the typos: switch off autocorrect and autocomplete!

Will your writing be completely free of typos if you do this? No – read on for a complementary tip. But you’re likely to make fewer mortifying errors like pubic instead of public because your phone or device won’t be replacing your intended words with a similar-looking ones.

Culprit 2: The QWERTY keyboard [1]

The QWERTY keyboard has been around for a long time – it first went on the market in 1874! One popular theory behind the layout was that it stopped typewriter keys from sticking together. When keys that were placed next to each other were pressed in quick succession, they would get jammed, so placing common pairs of letters away from each other in the QWERTY layout would supposedly help avoid this.

This theory has been proven unlikely now, but what remains true is that our fingers need to travel around the keyboard to type a variety of words. This doesn’t have such an impact if you’re a two-finger typist, but if you use multiple fingers yet don’t touch-type particularly well, you’re much more likely to land on an unintended key and create more typos!

Banish the typos: slow down!

Although looking down and pecking at the keyboard with your index finger(s) isn’t as efficient as using multiple fingers, it will guarantee you greater accuracy.

If you hate the idea of slowing down, consider it just for the times you’re typing a text that you can’t quickly unsend when you spot a damaging typo at the last second. Alternatively, you could do the opposite and speed up by learning how to touch-type properly.

Culprit 3: Your incredible brain

I recently moved around the corner from where I’d lived for the five years before. One evening, I walked home after dinner and was puzzled to find myself somehow standing outside the place that I used to live. On my walk back, I’d been thinking of some ideas for an article and not about my route, so my brain had taken me to the place that I was so used to walking to!

What does this have to do with typos?

Well, the reason that I walked to my old apartment is the same reason that we don’t notice when we make a typo: when we’re writing, our brains are concentrating on what it is we want to say, rather than on details like how the words are formed. And when we read over what we’ve written, they also fill in anything that our eyes don’t see, so we often don’t even notice when there’s a typo staring back at us! [2]

Banish the typos 1: plan, plan, plan!

I must have said these three words a zillion times during the ten years I taught English for exam purposes and academic study, and I will say them again to you – Plan. Your. Writing! Your brain is awesome, but it does better if you don’t force it to multitask [3], so dividing the tasks you need to work on means that you’re more likely to perform them both more accurately.      

Banish the typos 2: disguise your work to trick your brain

You might be good at spotting typos in other people’s writing, and there’s a reason for this: it’s much easier to take in the details when you’re reading something for the first time. So if you have to proofread your own work, the advice that psychologist and typo expert, Tom Stafford, gives is to change the way it looks before you begin [4]. This might look like changing the font or reading it on paper rather than on a screen.

Final thoughts

Typos make for great memes, but generally, they’re frustrating, and we could live without them. They can change the way others perceive us, communicate misinformation, and even reduce our chances of success.

The overarching culprit when it comes to why we make typos is our need for speed. When we slow things down, we increase our accuracy. Divide your tasks so you can focus on one thing at a time, learn how to type or look more carefully when you do, and don’t rely on autocorrect. And, as always, make the time to proofread before you hit the ‘share’ button!


[1] Lawton, G. (2019) The truth about the QWERTY keyboard. New Scientist.

[2] Stockton, N. (2014) What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos. Wired.

[3] Madore KP, Wagner AD. Multicosts of Multitasking. Cerebrum. 2019 Apr 1;2019:cer-04-19.

[4] Stockton, N. (2014) What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos. Wired.

Thanks for visiting – see you next time!

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