An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

It’s the end of the semester, which makes it paper-grading season, and I am awash in typographical errors. It matters not how much I caution students to be careful or encourage them to have someone else proofread their paper, typos seem inevitable. Some will have just a handful in a 12-page paper, while others will have closer to 12 per page.

Students aren’t alone in the world of typos, of course. A small headline on the front page of today’s News & Observer says “Launched planned for space telescope.”

Launched planned?

At Baptists Today, at least three editors proofread every issue two or three times, but we still miss the occasional error, which is particularly embarrassing when it’s in a header.

I can remember writing papers — including one of more than 100 pages — on a portable typewriter, estimating space at the bottom of each page for footnotes, and correcting typos with White-Out. In those days, you had to proofread carefully before rolling each page off the platen, because there was no guarantee you could ever get it back into precisely the same position to correct an error later.

You’d think that today’s technologies would reduce typos considerably, but Spellcheck and Autocorrect aren’t always helpful, and when depended on too much, they can be detrimental. Looking up words in a dictionary seems to be a lost art: if we don’t see squiggly lines under a word or phrase in the word processor, it’s easy to make the sometimes-erroneous assumption that everything is correct. Often the problem is not hurried typing, but sloppy spelling.

I don’t want to suggest that I don’t leave my own trail of typographical errors. My most memorable one was made with a fat pencil in first grade, when I inadverdently left the “r” out of the word “shirt” on a spelling test. I often find typos when I reread these blogs, or in looking back through emails, even though I always proofread everything I write at least three times and try to avoid using the word “shirt.”

The problem with proofreading our own work is that we know what we meant to say, so it’s easy to just glide right over typographical boners. That’s why it’s helpful to have someone else go over it, too.

A similar problem can easily appear in spoken communication: often we’ll say something and we know what we meant to say, but it doesn’t come out that way. That’s why it’s important for conversation partners to check back with each other when something doesn’t sound just right, to make sure they’re getting a clear message. Friendships, even marriages, have often foundered on misspoken or misheard words — and a failure to clarify potential misunderstandings.

Whether writing or speaking, it never hurts to get sufficient feedback to ensure that what we say is what we meant to say.

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