Typos–we all hate them–but are some typos more unforgivable than others? That depends largely on what you are writing and for what audience. Below are several typo scenarios ranging from green light (no problem, speed on ahead) to yellow (caution) to red light (zero, and I do mean zero, typos allowed). A good general rule of thumb is the wider the audience and more formal the setting, the less “allowable” the typos.
First draft/stream of consciousness phase of creative writing: Few things shut down the creative impulse more quickly than trying to correct as you go. Writing and editing are two different processes so let those fingers fly when the muse comes calling. Backspacing to fix typographical errors puts the brakes on inspiration as your inner critic takes the wheel. Move in one direction–forward. Do give a quick glance back at the end of your creative spurt to add in words that your fingers skipped the first time but that may be essential to making sense of your work later. Then, set the work aside and come back after a day or so to refine and polish.
Text messages: We are all “all thumbs” when it comes to text messaging. Typos and odd auto-corrects are acceptable, particularly when the recipient is your BFF or SO. As long as the message’s core meaning–such as what time the movie starts or which dinner ingredients need to be picked up on the way home–is understandable, it’s all good. Even the most OCD of grammar mavens typically do not sweat a transposed letter pair or an absent apostrophe in such instant communications.
Message boards: Many of us frequent Internet message boards and frequently see typos. However, there are message boards, and then there are message boards. Making a few typos in a long-winded commentary to fellow racing fans about what Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 victory means for Junior Nation is understandable. However, what if you are a student in an online college course? You do not have to be perfect, but it is strongly encouraged that you practice professional communication skills when posting to a more “official” board. Now suppose you are on staff at the National Institutes of Health. You are answering a question that a member of the public has posted about N1H3 and you keep calling it N1H5. The reader will get confused, and you will lose credibility, at least on the board, as a public health authority.
Anything scheduled for publication: Any writing that you plan to publish should always be carefully reviewed, preferably by at least two proficient proofreaders. A company’s quarterly report, for instance, will likely be thoroughly read by shareholders. Any errors in wording, or worse, numbers, can cause shareholders to lose confidence in the company. Published fiction, whether it is an e-book or “dead tree” edition, should have zero typographical errors. Readers want to immerse themselves in your imaginary world. They find typos to be jarring. It disrupts their enjoyment by pulling their focus out of your story and to the mere mechanics of the written text.
Presentations: Perhaps the most glaring type of typo is the one that sneaks into a key bullet point on a slide show presentation. This is especially true if you are presenting a sales pitch to a potential client or you are an expert in your field trying to convince an audience to take your side on a particular issue. Such a typo not only distracts the audience from your message, but it tells your audience that you are sloppy and ill-prepared.
To sum up, weed out all typographical errors in your formal and set-to-publish manuscript with extreme prejudice. Know, however, that typos are accepted in the messy process of creativity as well as within instant, informal communication.