If you regularly use your laptop or PC, it is useful if you can touch type on your keyboard. But even if you have mastered this, things can often go wrong while typing. Strikingly enough, we are inclined to keep making the same careless mistake, such as ‘Netherlands’ instead of the Netherlands. Or end with ‘kind regards’, instead of kind regards. Or confusing ‘becoming’ and ‘words’. Where does this habit come from? And why are these typos so persistent?
Confidential emails from US military leak due to typo
Typos and sloppiness occur at the very highest levels. Dutch internet entrepreneur Joost Zuurbier has received confidential emails from the American army for years, he revealed to the business newspaper in mid-2023 Financial Times. Zuurbier currently manages the domain code .ml, the termination of e-mail addresses from Mali. The US military has .mil as its domain code. And then a small typo can have major consequences…
How do typos occur?
In any case, it can often happen that you slip with your fingers while typing. So if you type the word Netherlands, but accidentally switch the r and the l. Or the o and the e, when you wish the recipient kind regards. This may be due to haste and time pressure, if you are still typing a word while you are already thinking about the next part of your message. In addition, touch typing is in any case a complicated form of language processing, a combination of thought processes and motor skills. You form words in your head, you have to remember where the corresponding letters are on the keyboard and you control the movements of your fingers.
This often goes well, but of course some sloppiness can always creep in. As early as 1964, in the era of the typewriter, an American study (PDF, English) was published into possible causes of these types of typos. For example, you may type an i instead of the o that is next to it on the QWERTY keyboard. For example, the word ‘vilgens’ instead of according to. According to another explanation, right-handed people often have problems on the left side of their keyboard, where they have to type with their left hand.
Also read: Digitip: connect keyboard to tablet
Why are we prone to making the same typos over and over again?
In addition, so-called cognitive ease, which we will discuss in more detail in this article, can play a role. For example, you type ‘become’, a word you use more often, when you actually mean ‘words’. Another common typo is ‘surprise’, instead of ‘surprise’. Due to the cognitive ease, your brain automatically fills in what you expect to read, not what is actually written. The spelling corrector also recognizes the word ‘surprise’ and therefore does not add a red line. That is why you may not notice this typo yourself.
Such an autopilot is treacherous in any case. If you make the ‘Nedelrand’ mistake more often, your subconscious apparently thinks that the l in this word comes before the r. “I wouldn’t be surprised if motor skills are also influenced by expectations, in combination with automation,” says Liset Rouweler, dyslexia researcher on behalf of the University of Groningen, in conversation with NRC. “If you make a certain mistake more than once, it is difficult to get it out of your system.”
How can you still prevent these types of typos?
You can edit a sent WhatsApp message within 15 minutes after sending, if necessary. But unfortunately a typo in a sent email message will remain. Read the text carefully before sending, it is the most obvious way to remove errors. Perhaps Microsoft Word’s dictation feature can help you. You can then record the text, after which it will automatically appear on your screen. What you can also do is have your own written text read out loud, so that you notice typos and irregularities more quickly. We explain how to do this in this article.
Also read: Digitip: clean the keyboard
(Source: Archive, SeniorWeb, Financial Times, NRC, Haskins Laboratories New York. Photo: Shutterstock)