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Do typos count?

Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog says that it’s time for people to stop mouthing off about typos in blogs and focus on the ideas. Contribute to intelligent discussion instead of fault-finding over minutiae. Loosen up a little. Give up your outdated preoccupations and your annoying perfectionism. Your really annoying perfectionism.*

Some readers find typos distracting and unprofessional, think that they detract from the credibility of the text. Ms. Trunk appears to think that the problem in such cases is with the reader rather than the writer. And her point that she does consult an editor, paying more attention to content than to spelling, has merit.

I agree that slack, rambling, dull writing is much more an offense against the reader than the occasional slip of the fingers on the keyboard. But, a copy editor to my bones, I can’t give up the idea that clean copy — copy correctly spelled and punctuated — has a virtue that slovenly copy, however original, does not. It is a highly visible aspect of the way writers present themselves.**

Perhaps you differ. Feel free to say so.


* Commenters who point out my typos are welcome to continue doing so. I’m always open to correction. Pointing out other people’s typos, however, might come across as obnoxious.

** Just as the way people dress constitutes how they present themselves. While we have gotten a lot more casual, and many people have neglected the opportunity to learn how to tie a bow tie, I don’t think that we can safely conclude that dress doesn’t matter.



Posted by John McIntyre at 6:07 PM | | Comments (27)


We have a warp-and-woof argument here. As a copy editor, I, like John, believe in the value of clean, well-punctuated copy. I also think unfocused, rambling copy is a bane, and that ideas matter. The both matter. I think it’s possible, and desirable, to try to have both.

"You will be known by the sum of your posts."

"Perfection is the enemy of good enough."

Lighten up folks.

Mr McIntyre

"copy correctly spelled and punctuated"

We really wish you would return to the Cincinnati Enquirer to fulfill that expectation.

I had a very fine English prof at Towson years ago who set a no-tolerance policy for "typos." He said, "there is no such thing as typos. Only errors in proofreading."

He is right. If you are publishing, in print or online, get it right. It's a matter of pride and diligence with respect to your work. The medium should not alter the necessity of producing an intelligent, quality product. Writing is writing.

Cheers to H. George Hahn, III.

I had professors in college who said "junk up here (pointing to brain), junk down there (pointing to paper)." That referred to both thoughts and correctness in punctuation and grammar.

I might let one typo slide with a little irritation on my part, but if I see two, I start to think the person writing is somewhat stupid and/or careless, and that affects my opinion of their thoughts/ideas.

Thinking more about it as I write this, usually even one typo usually makes me think the writer is careless and makes me think less of the content.

Typos in an Internet post are a lot like an in-law's housekeeping. One notices the flaws, decides not to comment or complain, and stores the observations away.

If the ideas in the post are discredited, then the additional evidence of sloppiness is trotted out. If the in-law is discarded through divorce, comments on that person's housekeeping may well go the rounds in the family.

Producing clean copy helps the well-intentioned focus on the ideas in the post, and it helps frustrate the malicious.

I do have a concern: Why should readers trust anything that's full of typos and grammar errors? Proper spelling and grammar breeds a sense of credibility in a writer's work. If a writer can't accurately spell, how can a reader trust that they're accurately reporting/writing about a given topic?

As a reader of blogs, I find comments centered on typos pretty insufferable.

Bloggers are, at heart, e.e. cummings' unrefined boys -- who speak whatever's on their mind, do whatever's in their pants and shake the mountains when they dance.

And who wants to punctuate that?

It seems to me that not all typos are (mis)created equal. I gave some thought to a taxonomy of typos:

Mike wrote a really great post about how not all typos are created equal. His taxonomy is here:

As for myself, since we produce software for spotting typos, my perspective is biassed. But isn't there an obvious point here... it's a lot easier to change your text than it is to change the attitude of every potential reader.

I hate typos, especially my own, usually spotted after hitting the submission button.

In my job I am constantly searching for typos. When I run into one, I do a keyword search and correct it across the database.

I tend to assume that sloppy writing is indicative of sloppy thinking. If a writer is not good at spelling or proofing, s/he should enlist someone's help. The best writers welcome an editor's help; the worst think they don't need it.

I would never buy a product or service from a web site containing even a single typo; I am more forgiving of non-commercial blogs -- but still plenty picky.

Typos happen. I'm a copy editor for a national print magazine, and we have a embarrassing typo on a map in our May issue. I wish I could fix it in the six million copies already printed, but I can't. At least on the Web we can fix them, which I do if I see them on my own blog. As long as people try to spell and punctuate correctly on the Web, I don't mind occasional errors.

Back in the days when spotting a typo in one's class assignment meant, at the least, retyping (by hand, of course) the entire page, I was very careful with my typing. With all the spelling, grammar, and other writers' software available today, writers do not have to be quite so careful in typing. This assumes the writer has or makes the time to correct any mistakes. In today's internet-time world, the emphasis online seems to be on speed - speed of posting; speed of response; getting your comments there first. I tend to excuse such online typos, a forgiveness policy not extended to those print media where timeliness is not of paramount importance, a group that includes daily newspapers, books, and school papers.

Wow...I shoudl find another place to hang out, apparently.

Stick around, Bucky. Nobody is going to get away with being snotty about typos in comments on this blog.

Thanks, Prof. I like your "moderately" view of prescriptivness.

Here's my practical problem, for those who care: I type with only four fingers...and I'm generally blogging at work, so I don't have a lot of time to go slower or take time to proofread. So many typos slip in.

If they make me seem like a doofus...oh well. I guess I can live with that.

Cheers for George Hahn! I had him also as a professor. And I had a grad school prof who had a zero-tolerance attitude toward typos. He said he could open a hundred-page paper and find the one typo on page 43. As a teacher myself, I warn my middle school students that they are judged by how they write, just as they are judged by how they dress. Errors in spelling and grammar slow down my reading and distract me from the ideas that are presented. They also make me think less of the author.

Good gravy. I meant "they both matter," not "the both matter." Is that called irony when you have a typo in a comment about typos?

No, M.C. I think it's called ironing.

Delicious ironing, I believe.

Delicious ironing - is that making a grilled cheese sandwich with an iron?

I didn't have Mr. Hahn, I had Ms. Clarinda Harris Lott. She was less concerned with typos and more concerned with content.

As a technical writer and editor, I have to produce typo-free content.

I've seen some four-fingered typists that are pretty quick on the keyboard.

While I'm at it, formatting helps as well. No one wants to read 15-line paragraphs that may or may not have spaces between the end of one sentence and the start of the next.

It is called "The Wall of Text".

My high school superintendent told me that he immediately throws out any resumes with typos. This has stuck with me, especially now that blogs, LinkedIn profiles, and other web entries are used along with resumes to figure out who to hire. Do I want someone to decide not to hire me because of a few typos?

JEM: I don't favor a zero-tolerance approach. Blogs and social networking sites are inherently more casual than a formal resume and probably shouldn't receive the same level of scrutiny. It's also good to remember that the overall quality of thinking and writing should count for more than typographical purity -- depending on the nature of the job.

That's good, because whole concept of zero tolerance as applied to typos is absurd. Did this George Hahn automatically award an F for any typo in a 100-page paper? If so, he wasn't doing his job.

I agree that typos are sloppy and should be avoided. But I'm frustrated by the number of people who find glee in pointing them out.
I'm one of two English degree holders at an engineering firm, and I write the weekly newsletter. It's edited by three different people, because while my grammar is strong, I am a poor proof-reader.
Nevertheless, typos occasionally get through, and each time they do, 2-3 people take the time to stop by my desk and point them out. Some seem to feel triumphant that they found me in a mistake. I find this immature rather than helpful. All they accomplished was making me feel embarrassed.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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