Yes. Yes, you do.
You are thinking, “Of course I proofread. Before I submit or publish or turn in anything I write, I proofread it one final time to catch any typos I missed.” And my response to you is, “No. You don’t.” Okay, it is likely you do read through it, but, depending on how long it took you to write or how long the actual manuscript is or how many times you have already read it, it is highly unlikely that you will catch the one or two words (or three or four or five or…) where you typed “if” instead of “of” or typed “the” twice but did not notice. An article on Wired explains it this way, “The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads…By the time you proofread your own work, your brain already knows the destination.”
In other words, our minds become swamped with familiarity as we read our own writing. Our brains already know what we want to write about and what assertions we want to make before we even start writing. So, when we proofread it at the conclusion of the work, we make assumptions and mentally autocorrect small errors without our being aware it is happening. I remember re-reading my master’s thesis for the 42nd time, and halfway through the review of literature, I realized that I was skipping past paragraphs with the brief thought, “Oh, I read this already, it’s fine.” While my thought processes were accurately described by my writing, twice my semi-conscious skimming resulted in small typos in the final product.
A few small typos don’t really matter, do they?
Errors in your work can hurt your credibility and can make you seem less intelligent and less informed. Even small errors can come across to your audience as a lack of attention to detail, and in many industries, that can be a deal breaker. In a novel, when you want to create a scene of drama, action, or romance, using the wrong verb tense or leaving out a word can disrupt the reader’s immersion in the flow of the story. In a textbook, a mistyped word or formula can completely change the context of the information. These mistakes can cause your reader to pause, distracted from the story or the lesson, to decipher the meaning of the sentence. In some cases, it can turn the reader off the story completely and could prevent them from reading other works you have published.
As an example, this weekend as I surfed the Internet — as one does — I came across multiple websites that had typos. Not complicated, grand errors, but small and simple words that were duplicated, missing, or misspelled. These websites were not amateur sites that parents built for their kid’s 5th birthday party. They were websites for nationally and internationally known professionals who use their websites to drive traffic to the programs, courses, and conferences they offer. Their business, and likely the bulk of their income, relies on their public presence on the Internet. I mention these typos as evidence that when you write anything, at some point, inevitably, you are going to miss something.
I also have found that in many blogs or other online writing platforms, the typos tend to be hit or miss. People use incorrect verb tenses or add duplicative words (“it is our your choice”). Sometimes, they choose the wrong word (required vs acquired, accept vs except). Even talented authors, whose work I adore reading because of their exceptional writing skills, have off days where one of their articles has typos that throw me off the flow of their words.
Always check your spelling.
Typos can be more complex than just dropping a letter or leaving out a word. According to The Spelling Society, “English spelling remains the most irregular of all spelling systems that are based on the alphabetic principle.” The influences of other languages on English, beginning with German and French, with liberal contributions from ancient Latin and Greek, resulted in multiple spellings for the same word or sound. Since the early 15th century, scholars have struggled with establishing an English spelling standard and have yet to agree on a universal system. The Spelling Society is currently conducting a review of six possible standards, and they have asked for the public’s opinion. For more information about this, I recommend providing feedback on the current standards under discussion.
With so many opinions about spelling, it’s no wonder that many of us often miss words that may look correct but are not. One common error I have noticed lately is ‘led’ vs ‘lead’. These two words sound the same, but it seems that the word ‘lead’ — referring to a metal — has become more commonly used in place of the correct spelling of ‘led’, the past tense of ‘lead’ (which, of course, is spelled the same as ‘lead’ although it means something completely different). Taking the time to ask someone else to proofread your writing and spot these misspellings can help avoid errors like these ending up in your final written products.
Take pride in what you do.
Be proud of your work. The best way to demonstrate that is to find someone to do a final proofread before publishing. That person could be a partner, a friend, or someone you hire for that specific purpose. If you are not giving your writing this last, final polish, maybe you should seriously consider how important being a successful writer is to you.