I was joking with a friend at the weekend about words I can no longer spell thanks to my brain having become overly accustomed to the scholarly communications alternative – for example “orchid” (looks wrong to me, what’s that H doing there?) and aerial (surely it’s spelt Ariel? or even Arial?). I have a similar challenge with writing the word “date”, for which my fingers will (and just did) automatically type “data”. (Apparently, backspace is the third-most used button on the keyboard.)
The discussion sent me down a rabbit hole of nuances between spelling mistakes, autocorrects, fat finger errors, atomic typos (the ones spell check doesn’t catch because the word you’ve typed is still a word, even if you did mean “unclear” rather than “nuclear”), muscle memory flaws (the “data” vs “date” example), and the reason we only spot them AFTER pressing send (using text messages as an example: “when our text moves up from the white background input box to the colored bubble that contains our sent message, our brains are tricked into believing they’re reading a completely new piece of text. Our brains aren’t matching to an existing mental image, they’re now slowing down as though they’re taking in new information. That’s when you see the typo.”)
I was pleased to discover that not only is there research around this (of course!) but that there are recommendations we can apply. Dr Tom Stafford, Lecturer in Psychology and Cognitive Science at the University of Sheffield, says that editing your own work is tricky because “once you’ve learned something in a particular way, it’s hard to see the details without changing the visual form”. Nick Stockton, who wrote the Wired article I’m quoting, gives a nice analogy for this – “We can become blind to details because our brain is operating on instinct, like when you accidentally drive to work on your way to a barbecue, because the route to your friend’s house includes a section of your daily commute. By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination.” He quotes Dr Stafford’s tip for spotting your own typos – tricking your brain by “mak[ing] your work as unfamiliar as possible. Change the font or background color, or print it out and edit by hand.”
Do you have your own “scholcomm typos” — or any tips for self-editing? Please share in the comments!