Typos, Trust & Context: When Do Typos Really Matter?

Before I get started on this one, I want to stress that I’m of the belief that any time a typo can be prevented, it should be prevented. But we’re all human, right? Typos happen, even when you’ve reviewed something about 100 times.

In general, we like to avoid typos when writing and creating content, because a typo can signal a number of things to a reader:

  • The writer doesn’t pay attention to detail
  • The writer doesn’t know how to spell or care to use spell check
  • The writer doesn’t edit or review their work prior to publishing

These are three basic things that a reader could think upon reading a typo, but how much does the context of that typo alter how the credibility of the writer, the app or the company in question is perceived?  Let’s take a look at some common contexts that might affect a person’s perception of a typo and how that typo might affect the reader’s trust of the writer or producer of that content: The Job Hunt, Online News & Media, and Passwords and Personal Information.

The Job Hunt

There is a common sentiment that when you are applying for a job, your resume and cover letter should be completely free of typos or grammatical errors. In fact, it’s even believed that one single typo could make or break your chance of getting the gig in question.

Cover letter with a typo

Avoid typos in your job application if you want to get that job!

In the context of a job application, a typo signals a few things:

  • This person does not pay attention to detail
  • This person may not be reliable when communicating with customers
  • This person’s inability to catch typos may reflect poorly on the company
  • This person doesn’t care that much about getting this job

A hiring manager may be reviewing many different job applications at a time and when they all are starting to look the same, a typo is an easy way to separate the wheat from the chafe. Having a single typo (or heaven forbid: multiple typos!) in an application also contributes to a breakdown of trust of the applicant. If this person cannot put together a job application, which could very well determine their future livelihood, without errors, how can they be trusted to produce a simple monthly report without errors?

Online News & Media Content

News article with a typo

Image Source: ShamefulTypos.com

Whether we like it or not, we live in a 24/7 news and media cycle. If you read enough articles online, you’re bound to spot a typo somewhere along the way. It’s not uncommon to find a commenter pointing out a typo that they found in an article. Being a flexible and fluid medium, publishers are able to go in and quickly make the update.

In the context of the 24/7 news cycle, a typo signals a few things:

  • The author was in a hurry to publish
  • The rush to get an article published didn’t leave enough time for a detailed editing effort
  • Spell check didn’t catch the typo

Will a tiny typo completely ruin the credibility of your news or media site? Probably not. Especially if you’re producing a lot of content rapidly. Over time, egregious typos could reduce consumer trust, but I’d wager than you’ll be okay, especially if you take the time to fix the error once it’s pointed out to you or if you notice it first and fix it right away.

Passwords & Personal Information

In online news and media, a typo didn’t really have must of an effect on the reader. If a typo degraded their trust and they don’t believe that the information is accurate, they can walk away and go to another website.

In the job application scenario, the typo could have a potential negative effect on the manager in the future, because the applicant could one day poorly represent their company with typo-ridden emails or botch some other task that requires attention to detail.

Both these examples show that people care most about typos when they are negatively affected by them directly. Following this logic, typos will really make or break a person’s trust in places that handle sensitive information or passwords. Any time security of a user’s personal information might be in question, you really really don’t want to have a typo.

Secure website with a typo

Image Source: ShamefulTypos.com

If you’re about to log into a website or sign up for a new app that requires your password or other personal information, a typo might signal to you that:

  • This app won’t take every effort they can to protect my information
  • This app is a potential security risk
  • This app potentially won’t work as it says it will
  • This app could be the target of a phishing scheme
  • This app will potentially spam me in the future

When someone’s password or personal information is on the line, a user is less likely to be lenient about a typo and trust is more likely to be negatively affected. This is especially important for those of us in working in potentially sensitive domains such as financial services and healthcare. Our companies and products are judged more severely and consumers trust us with their information. The worst thing that could happen is having their trust degraded by an errant, completely preventable typo.

The Takeaway

There are a couple of key things that we can take away from this exercise:

  •  Proofread, proofread and proofread again
  • Proofread after you hit publish and address any typos you find immediately
  • Pay special attention to typos when dealing with websites, articles or apps that deal directly with passwords or personal information

In some contexts, a typo won’t make you or break you, but over time they could degrade a user’s trust and negatively affect your brand.

Categories: Digital Marketing, Experience Design
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