- Ignorance—not knowing the correct spelling, form, or grammar
- Legit typos—and failed auto-corrects
- Changing your stream of thought mid-sentence while writing
- When editing does more harm than good
- Always proofread again after making edits, no matter how small
I don’t know about you, but I spot written errors almost every time I read something—particularly online. I’ve written before about how hard it can be to spot mistakes when you’re looking for them—even for a professional English proofreader. When I look at my old blog posts, I still find errors.
And that’s with extensive proofreading. I use spell checking tools, read my blogs aloud, and go over them repeatedly. But the occasional error still slips through. It’s notoriously hard to proofread your own writing. But that’s why I can spot more mistakes in my own writing after time has passed. It’s also why I’m much better at proofreading other people’s writing.
I remember listening to a podcast where one of the hosts talked about the book he’d released. It was through a major publisher. He was so excited that years of work had resulted in this finished product. That excitement and joy soon turned to anger when he opened to the first page. He spotted a typo on page one.
A major publisher had released his book. The author had proofread it. The publishing company likely had more than one person proofread it. Several people at the publishing company must’ve read the manuscript to approve it. Yet there was a glaring error on the first page.
So how do all these errors sneak into our writing? They tend to occur for the four reasons I’ll explain below.
Ignorance—not knowing the correct spelling, form, or grammar
I have no data to back this up, but I suspect this is the least common cause of writing mistakes. In the past, this may have been more common, but much less so in the digital age. Before computers, if you didn’t know how to spell a word, you had to look it up in the dictionary.
But doing that would break the writer’s flow. A writer would be more likely to get something down on paper, errors and all. Mistakes can be fixed while editing or proofreading later.
But these days, even the most basic writing platforms have some form of built-in spell-check. As outlined before, some spell checkers are better than others. Most will do an excellent job of correcting separete to separate. In fact, Google Docs auto-corrected it as I typed. I had to go back and edit it to misspell it.
Of course, auto-correct can be a double-edged sword. There are times it can correct something it shouldn’t have. Other times, it’ll suggest an incorrect change. In my experience, some spell checkers do more harm than good by giving you a false sense of security. Also, you don’t feel you need to learn the rules because you assume that technology will fix things for you. That’s just as dangerous as using an auto-translation app for your website.
Spell checkers won’t always catch when you write affect instead of effect—or loose instead of lose. But again, most writing platforms also offer at least a basic grammar checker. More advanced grammar checkers like Grammarly will catch more mistakes. But if you paid attention in English class, you can likely catch most of these mistakes yourself.
Legit typos—and failed auto-corrects
The next source of errors in your writing is legit typos. I’m guilty of these mistakes. I can most definitely proofread writing without any tools, but I prefer to use them. They are helpful, make my job easier, and catch a lot of typos that otherwise may have snuck by.
But while I’m writing, the most common mistakes I make are typos. I learned how to touch-type back in high school—on a typewriter. Many of my classmates and I dropped that class once we learned the keyboard layout.
Formatting business letters, two spaces after a period, five carriage returns for the signature—boring! Sorry, Ms. Randall, but thanks for teaching me a skill I’ve used throughout my life.
Pure typos are typically easier to correct. When you type the as teh, it’s more likely to jump off the page at you. But some typos can be harder to catch, like adding an errant ‘s’ to the end of a word.
Even though I know the layout of the keyboard, I still make mistakes while typing. Sometimes those typos result from me trying to type too fast. I also often switch two letters—like typing form as from.
This kind of typo can be evil—a good grammar checker might catch it, but a spell checker won’t. While researching this post, I discovered that this kind of typo is referred to as an atomic typo. Great name!
Even if you can’t touch-type, there’s a good chance several of your mistakes come from actual typos. Of course, many people are now typing on smartphone keyboards instead of physical ones. If I had to type my blog posts on my smartphone, there’s no way I’d be able to complete one a week. And those posts would be riddled with typos!
It doesn’t matter how they occur or what kind of typos they are. Typos are definitely a common source of errors in writing.
Changing your stream of thought mid-sentence while writing
Whether writing an email, an essay, or a book, it’s pretty common for you to rephrase what you’re trying to say. You get halfway through a sentence, only to realize there’s a better way to communicate what you’re trying to say. Or you decide that something doesn’t sound right, so you mash on the ‘delete’ key and try again.
This is pretty common. I do it all the time. It’s a challenge trying to get all those poignant thoughts swirling around in your head down on paper. Getting them down in an organized, easily digestible fashion is even more difficult.
But these constant edits while you’re writing often lead to mistakes. You’re more likely to create grammatical errors with these kinds of edits. For example, let’s say that you wrote the following sentence:
She feels that an animal deserves love and respect.
But you decide that it would sound better if you wrote animals, so you go back and change an animal to animals.
She feels that animals deserves love and respect.
Oops! You forgot to change the verb! You’ve changed from a singular subject to a plural one. You need to change deserves to deserve.
She feels that animals deserve love and respect.
If you’d written this sentence the first time, you likely wouldn’t have made this mistake.
But when you self-edit mid-sentence, it’s easy to forget the other aspects of the sentence you need to fix.
This is a simple example, but this kind of error is easy to make in longer, more complex sentences. When you change the verb tense in one clause, you may need to change the verb tense in other parts of the sentence. If you change she to he in the second half, you have to remember to go back and change it in the first part of the sentence.
While writing a sentence above, I originally wrote:
Just writing this out, you likely wouldn’t make this mistake.
But I decided it would sound better if I wrote, “If you’d written this sentence the first time….” But I then had to remember to change the verb tense in the second half of the sentence, “…you likely wouldn’t have made this mistake.”
These mistakes can be tricky to catch while you’re writing. That’s why you should always proofread your writing one last time before hitting send, print, or post.
When editing does more harm than good
A final source of mistakes in your writing comes from the editing process itself. Editing is an integral part of the writing process. Even with brainstorming, first drafts will be disorganized, illogical, and won’t flow well. That’s where editing comes in.
In my writing process, I choose my blog topic on Sundays. I create a brief outline for the post and determine what research I will need to conduct.
On Mondays, I force myself to write the first draft of my blog. Even when the lines aren’t flowing from under my fingertips, I force myself to complete the first draft. That way, I have something written that I can shape and edit.
There have been a few posts that have been downright painful to write. After finishing my first draft, I’m convinced that what I’ve written is so bad that it’s unusable. But to date, that’s never been the case. I’ve always been able to save the first draft—though it may require extensive editing.
On Tuesdays, I edit that first draft. I’ve had 24 hours away from my writing, so I can view my first draft with a somewhat fresh set of eyes. Some of the ideas I wrote about in that first draft have been tumbling around in my subconscious for a day. Sometimes I’ll remember an important point I forgot to include. Or perhaps I’ll come up with a better example to demonstrate a point.
So on Tuesdays, I do extensive editing. I move sections around, rewrite whole paragraphs, delete unneeded sentences—you know, editing! During this process, I have to be aware of the mistakes I mentioned in the previous section. When I make changes, I need to remember to change any other sections affected by that change.
It’s during this process that you can introduce other types of errors. While typing, I always add a single space after a period. But it’s easy for extra spaces to sneak in after periods when I’m editing.
Sometimes those extra spaces find their way between words. You also need to watch out for punctuation errors (i.e., punctuation inside/outside quotation marks, missing or unnecessary commas, etc.). That’s why one of the last things I do before publishing a post is to hit ‘ctrl +f’ to open the search box. I then tap the space bar twice and hit enter. I almost always find I’ve inserted an extra space somewhere.
On Thursday, I run my blogs through Grammarly and the Hemingway App. I decide which suggested edits I’d like to make and which to ignore. But this can introduce more errors—automatic edits aren’t always 100% accurate. I need to review any changes that either program makes to ensure I haven’t created a new mistake.
Always proofread again after making edits, no matter how small
I proofread my writing after each editing session. I proofread it again after I import my blog post into WordPress. As you can see from this post, errors in your writing can sneak in during every stage of the writing process.
Some writers prefer not to correct mistakes as they write. They feel that doing so breaks their writing flow. And that’s a legitimate argument. In fact, a common brainstorming method referred to as freewriting involves writing as fast as you can, ignoring all errors. The goal is just to keep writing—no stopping. This can be a great way to get ideas to flow.
But no matter your method of writing or when you decide to proofread during your writing process, hopefully, you can see the importance of proofreading. And maybe this post has highlighted a few ‘problem areas’ where mistakes can sneak into your writing.