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Out, damned typo

I’m not surprised when I see typos in book galleys or advance readers copies. After all, these come before a book is finally coming off the presses. Over time, though, I have been surprised at the seemingly increasing number of typos in finished books. Now it appears computers may be to blame, at least in part.

According to Virginia Hefferman of the NYT, “Before digital technology unsettled both the economics and the routines of book publishing … most publishers employed battalions of full-time copy editors and proofreaders to filter out an author’s mistakes. Now, they are gone.” While I don’t necessarily blame typos on authors (some could arise in the editorial process), this makes sense. Copy editors and proofreaders provide a second (third or fourth) eye. The fewer of them, the greater the odds a typo may slip by. Besides, how many of us have relied on spell-check only to later discover it missed a misspelled word because the misspelling was another word? (I admit I once had a letter go out that referred to “pubic inspection” instead of “public inspection.” Just a slight difference, right?)

Hefferman considers some of the errors “endearing, and evocative.” She also points out the Pollyannaish view that typos might show us more of the human side of the writer. I, evidently, am not as tolerant. To me, a typo is a stumbling block in the flow. If there are several, I tend to view them as displaying a lack of concern. Substantive ones may even make me wonder about the author, the editor(s) and any fact-checkers and, thus, the book. I can accept the explanation that computers may be at fault. After all, I’ve found e-books tend to be the worst offenders, which I presume is a result of converting a document into digital format. Still, I don’t think a book should be hitting the shelves with multiple typos. It’s not an original handwritten manuscript. It’s a final product and if it is flawed, I may wonder what else in it is also flawed.

Here ends my miner rant.

(P.S. That one was intentional.)


Typos are very important to all written form. It gives the reader something to look for so they aren’t distracted by the total lack of content in your writing.

R.K. Milholland, Something Postive, July 3, 2005

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3 comments to Out, damned typo

  • Tom Lawrence

    Very true, sadly.

  • David Newquist

    The standard for copy editing was set by the late William Shawn of The New Yorker. The standard exists now, unfortunately, as one of those “golden age” memories. Copy editing was predicated on the much-proven notion that writers are very bad at proof-reading and editing their own copy. They do not see what is there, but what they intend to be there. The old rule was if you have to proof your own copy, let it sit overnight before tackling it. With computers, keyboarding and speed became more important than the act of writing well and carefully.

    Another factor is reading on screens. Although they have come far in simulating paper, ink, and hard type, screens still cause some discomfort to the eyes, according to researchers in graphics, that make the eyes hurry over the text. There is also the psychological factor that screen-presented text is ephemeral and does not deserve the care that the permanence of print on paper does.

  • Just a note of appreciation for your blog and interesting posts. Also toss one in here too for Newquist and his blog.