Four Tricks and Tools for Catching Pesky Typos

When I write query and business letters, I have a habit of leaving off the “r” in “your”. So instead of writing “Thank you very much for your interest” it comes out “Thank you very much for you interest”; a mistake that makes me sound like an illiterate hick.

There is some slim chance the error won’t be detected by the reader, since the mind often “sees” what is supposed to be there rather than what is actually there. But it is a risk I’d rather not take. After all, my intent is to leave the reader with the impression that I can write.

19. Card Trick (© Steven Depolo:Flickr)

Typos, however, are inevitable no matter what the written form: letters or novels or anything else. I find them not only in my work but also texts that have been vetted by professionals, published works combed over by teams of top-notch proofers and editors. Yet, the occasional misspelling slips through undetected.

The problem, as I have come to understand it, is very much one of the mind and not the eyes. Just as I said above this might work in my favor, it also works against me. When we write, our minds know what we mean to write even if our fingers don’t get the message. We know it so well we fail to see it when we read over our work with the express purpose of finding the mistakes.

In my practice and when I taught writing to students, I had a variety of methods for catching the inevitable typo, and used them all. But I have since added a new means to the madness. Here are my top three tricks for trapping typos:

Speech Tool: I came across this function sometime back but only recently made it my number-one means of catching tiny typos. Because I’m so used reading my work and relying on my eyes to find the problem, I’ve become immune to them. But with the speech tool I use my ears to hear the mistakes.

On my Mac the tool is located in the computer’s preference system. You can set the control to any setting you wish, and then simply select the material you want read by highlighting it and give the speech command. I use Opt+Command+S.

If you are a PC user the process will be the same but the settings may be different. Either Google it or checkout About.com’s instructions.

Get a Proofer: Ask a friend to read over your work. Their mind and eyes will not be familiar with the text, so they are more likely to stumble over the typos.

Read Work Aloud: This is especially affective in the early draft stages when you have not yet committed the work to memory. You can also ask a friend to read it aloud or read it into a tape recorder.

Read Backwards: If I had to read an entire book backwards I’d go mad. So, I’ve got to disclose this is not a method that works for me. It does, however, prove affective for others. I think it depends on your temperament, and I’m not that patient.

For me, the best method is having my computer read my work aloud. I set the computer’s voice to one that sounds most naturally human to me. The second best method is to have someone proof it for you.

How do you track down typos?

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