Why You Keep Missing Typos, According to Science


I am the worst at proofreading. Every time I write something, I will catch a new error every single time I go through the text. When I read other people's texts, I don't see the errors all the time. I used to chalk my lack of proofreading skills up to laziness, procrastination, or multitasking between reading and tweeting or emailing.

Ok. The above reasons might also be the reason for my lax proofreading. There is, however, more to why I find proofreading difficult than just laziness. According to a recent article on Wired, our proofreading blunders aren't out stupidity; they're actually a sign our brains are working. When we write, we are not just putting letters on a page (a simple task) we're conveying meaning (a complex task). To save brain power, we'll generalize the simple tasks in order to focus on complex tasks. Since we know what we're trying to say, our brain will fill in the gaps because it expects that meaning to be there.

“We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases,” said Tom Stafford at the University of Stafford…

“We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases,” said Tom Stafford at the University of Stafford to Wired. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.”

It's not just that our brains expect an expertly written article with perfect grammar; there is something about written English that we can still understand a word even if grossly misspelled. In 2003, a meme floated around the internet illustrating how we read:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

The meme illustrates that generally, we don't read one. letter. at. a. time. We read “words as a whole.” Letters could be jumbled up in the middle, but if the first and last letters are in place, we can still extract the correct of the word. In reality, the “research at Cambridge” never really took place, but the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit which is “closely linked to Cambridge University” took the time to address this meme, and noted that even though this does not always work, because longer words are more difficult to unscramble, and short words do not change. The English language does have an ample amount of medium sized words and few silent letters. Thus, making it easy to re-interpret misspelled words unconsciously.

So basically, if your post isn't perfect and you SWORE you proofread it three times over, it's totally your brain's fault.


[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]


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9 Responses

  1. Onianwah

    hahaha, I’ve heard about this before and so don’t so a back flip to kill myself when I see that I’ve made a typo (especially on Instagram. Gosh, it’s so annoying cos you can’t edit it). I take it in my stride cos I know that everyone reading WILL understand what I meant, lol.

    Lagos, Nigeria

  2. NiaDara

    This article hit it on the head. I am a cereal typo-killer. I often find proof reading to much only further aggravates the problem. So funny how big of an issue this really is. Not only for bloggers but online daters too. As the number one reason for winkless profiles is typos and grammatical errors…. Ahhhhh, this is the new world we live in.

  3. Tina Boomerina


    I’m one of the oldest fashion bloggers on the frakking planet, but someone’s gotta tell older women what to wear. Anyway… I can spell check without spellcheck.

    However… even though I learned how to read and write before computers, I am always coming up with new words like flipperoff (something you do when you don’t like some chick) and using slang words (like gotta) because I want to use my own voice. You should do the same. Everything else is boring.

    If you’re afraid of getting downgraded by the GoogleGods, you have to come up with new words or phrases like slingshit or pissboggles. On the other hand, you should know when you’re spelling something wrong… even though you may not care.

    Just use MSFT Word’s spellchecker… but you should know that the spellchecker is wrong quite a lot of the time.

    However, as long as you get your idea across… who gives a flurk if your words are correct?


  4. Kelly

    Proof-reading is something I’m not that great at. You’d think being a blogger and working in marketing/pr writing many things daily, I’d have a solid plan for proof-reading but I don’t. My mind definitely fills in what I expect to be there when reading. Not to mention, sometimes you just don’t have the time to read things over a few times (because it does take a few times to be completely accurate.)

    At work, I have the opportunity to have others look things over, but on my blog..ugh, I often find typos after the fact that I missed before publishing. There should be a proof-reading community for bloggers! 😉