A Simple and Effective Cognitive Method to Catch Typos and Other Errors
Tired of writing missteps? Research supports a technique you can try.
Posted April 1, 2022 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods
- People make contextual and noncontextual errors in their writing.
- Two potential proofreading techniques for fixing these mistakes are: a) reading out loud and b) using a font that's more laborious to read.
- Research reveals that using a font that's more demanding to read isn't useful, and can even work against proofreading in some cases.
- Research shows that reading out loud enhances proofreading, even though people can't really tell that it's useful.
Like most people, you can probably remember a time (and if you're like me, you can recall more than one occasion!) when you made a writing blunder that you caught later on. Perhaps you used the wrong word (e.g., “threw” instead of “through"), or you made a typo or some other misspelling (e.g., “cauht” instead of “caught”). Or maybe your phone automatically replaced the word you meant to use with one you definitely wouldn’t, as in this example I found online: In response to a text about a barking dog, the person replied, “My dad barks too, we have to comfort him.”
If you’ve ever wondered what you can do to enhance the prospect of noticing and adjusting those typos or slips ahead of time, two researchers at Flinders University just published a study addressing the issue. More specifically, they examined a) whether two distinct editing approaches were fruitful in enabling people to notice different kinds of mistakes, and b) how much people’s expectations of what will be useful are consistent with their error-correction in reality.
As the researchers noted, there are two sorts of slip-ups in writing that people tend to make. The first type is referred to as “noncontextual errors.” For instance, if you’ve ever mistyped a word so it wound up either missing a letter or containing an extra letter that it shouldn’t (e.g., “belive” or “belleive” instead of “believe”), you’ve made an error like this because the writing of the word would be incorrect in any sentence. The second type is known as “contextual errors,” for example, “I wanted to let you no.” The word “no” is spelled correctly and there’s no typo here, but it’s not the correct word to use in this sentence; the conditions in the sentence determine whether a particular word is the right one to use.
The editing approaches the researchers tested were: 1) reading out loud to oneself, and 2) reviewing a passage in a font that forces one to slow down when reading, in this case sans forgetica.
The results revealed that the tactic of using a font that is more labor-intensive to read was not effective. In fact, it led people to find fewer noncontextual mistakes than “ordinary” proofreading (i.e., reading quietly to oneself). What's more, the people in the study correctly anticipated that this approach wouldn’t benefit them. Likewise, the individuals in the study didn’t think that reading out loud would really aid them in discovering more errors than regular proofreading; they also didn’t get the impression that it assisted them while they were trying it. However, the approach of reading out loud helped, enhancing people’s capacity to spot both types of mistakes (i.e., contextual and noncontextual).
So if you’re looking for a handy way to fix errors before anyone else sees them, try rereading what you’ve jotted down while verbalizing it. It’ll serve you more than you may realize.
Cushing, C., & Bodner, G. E. (2022, March 17). Reading aloud improves proofreading (but using sans forgetica font does not). Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/mac0000011
Weinstein. (1974). Effect of noise on intellectual performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 59, 548–554.