The excruciating anxiety of typos
The anxiety that builds from a typo can be massive, especially when it is a glaring error that you have created, or been accountable for.
Strangely enough it’s often the title or main headings that have the error, which can make it all the more embarrassing. I was recently told of a FREE T-SHIRT PROMOTION that was unfortunately missing the all-important R in t-shirt. This was more than just a single email, this was a nation-wide promotion. Luckily enough the clients saw the funny side and some even ran the promo as it was!
Typographic errors make us look as though we are not paying attention. It suggests we whizzed through the document, slapped it together without much thought and sent it through. Even if we know that we thoroughly and thoughtfully went through the document it is clear how we will be received. The more we care about how the recipient sees us, the worse the feeling when we realise there is a mistake.
Mistakes leap out once you are aware of them. But before a mistake is detected hundreds or thousands of eyes may miss it.
The adrenaline-laced shock of discovering you have made a huge error is one of the worst feelings one can suffer at work. Especially when it means embarrassment for the company or a costly reprint. It may seem minor but the anxiety that accompanies proofreading activities can be consuming. Yet when we think about real life problems, health and well being of loved ones, tragedies, etc it seems ridiculous to be upset by a typo!
The stress and boredom of proofreading
Proofreading isn’t a very stimulating task. It’s about reading and re-reading the same piece of work over and over until you can be absolutely sure that there are no errors throughout. There is no burst of satisfaction or completion when something is proofread, just an easing of anxiety. Usually it’s done under the cloud of a looming deadline after an arduous effort to bring the project to fruition. These aren’t ideal circumstances to critique your own work. The tiredness, preoccupation with the deadline and the tuning out that occurs from reading the same thing multiple times is the combination of factors that leads to blindness – which causes us to skim past errors that seem blatant and obvious to others.
Everyone has made a mistake from time to time. If you have ever been behind a mistake that has been sent to a wide group of people then you may suffer from what I call perfection anxiety. The knowledge that it is easy to miss something that can cause such a high degree of embarrassment and discredit to you is the root of this anxiety. As with most forms of anxiety it also causes a decreased performance once the tension hits a certain level. The break in tension once you click “send” is also the exact moment that you discover a previously unrealised error.
How to avoid it – get someone else to do it
While it isn’t feasible to have someone else check every email that you send, for larger projects such as catalogues and product sheets, advertising brochures or contracts it is much more effective to have fresh eyes scan over the document. By getting someone else involved in the proofreading process you are removing the issues caused by zoning out. The other person is less likely to have the same level of tension and anxiety around the document.
Assume everything is wrong
When we are confident that something is free of mistakes we tend to skim through too quickly. It causes our eyes to accept the text on the page and we fail to scrutinise at the level required. By assuming that everything is wrong we begin to look more critically and find errors that would otherwise have been missed. A great way to get proofreading done with fun is to offer small prizes to anyone who finds an error – lunch, movie ticket, $5 – but beware of budget blow outs.
Proofread in different ways
There are different levels of proofreading that can be done. The trap is to try and assess a document in all these ways at once – it’s much more effective to scan for one element at a time. Spelling may be the first, correct headings may be the next, format and layout another layer, making sure the content is in the correct place is another. It can also be useful to review a document in reverse order, or to split them amongst a few people in different sessions. The trick is to make sure your brain isn’t fooled into taking shortcuts.
Beware of the limitations of spell check. Always make sure you use it – many avoid this step when they’re in a hurry, only to find themselves red-faced later on. Although Microsoft Word is becoming more sophisticated and is now highlighting words that are grammatically incorrect, there are certain things that still get missed. A common error is typing “form” instead of “from”. The default spell-check settings also skips words that are written in capitals – this is the most common place for mistakes to happen.
Create a no-blame culture
When there is a group project that has come under the spotlight due to an embarrassing typo there is a tendency to blame someone. The person who first typed it? The proofreader? The manager? There is typically a rush of finger pointing when something goes wrong but this is entirely counterproductive. The best approach is to look at what you could have done better, how you could have improved the situation and what will be done differently in the future to ensure the problem won’t happen again.
Find out what happens when an “I” is inadvertently added to PENS in a major corporate social responsibility initiative in Eve Ash’s latest comedy film CREATING A NO-BLAME CULTURE in her newest series release – CUTTING EDGE COMMUNICATION COMEDY SERIES from Seven Dimensions.