Typo on doorI used to get irritated when I came across typos online. What’s wrong with him? Why can’t she double-check her work? Don’t they realize they’re undermining their credibility?

Then, one day, the lightbulb went on: rather than being peeved, I was pleased. Here was an opportunity for me to come to someone’s aid and serve as a sort of Spell-Check Superstar swooping in to save the day or, at least, the sentence.

What prompted the shift in my thinking?

A Biblical perspective. 

You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the great wisdom and compassion expressed by Jesus Christ in John 8:7. That is when he encountered the scene of self-righteous men preparing to kill an adulterous woman by stoning. Jesus challenged the group by declaring, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

A typo is hardly a life-or-death matter. We’re talking syntax, not sin. Just the same, rather than mock the “offender,” it feels so much better to step in with a life-giving heads-up about the miscue.

I have had some doozies when it comes to typos, not to mention some other humbling mistakes that go well beyond typo-hood. Any experienced writer is acutely aware that there are ample opportunities to make mistakes, particularly when grappling with tight deadlines.

Especially when viewed in this context, extending grace—pulling the plank out of my own editing eye before getting up in arms over another’s speck of dust—is simply the right way to be.

A networking perspective. 

Among those whose typos I have caught, and alerted, doing so has cultivated our relationship. They appreciate that I am looking out for their best interests.

If I have no prior connection with someone, then offering the feedback can be a powerful way to get our relationship off on positive footing. By taking a minute or two to provide help, I am not only demonstrating my editing ability, but my empathy.

Some final thoughts:

*Turning this approach into a habit can only do good for you in the long run.

But just remember, keep the big-picture view in mind. It’s probably not a good idea to look for a referral from someone within minutes of playing the Spell-Check Superstar role.

*Correct in private, praise in public.

So one moment you may write words of praise in the publicly viewable comments at the end of someone’s essay, and the next moment you are discreetly, one-on-one, passing along the typo alert related to the same piece of writing.

*The proliferation of web-based writing and communication makes this so much easier now than in the pre-Internet era.

Back then, you would have to make a phone call or otherwise need to take time-consuming steps to offer a correction. And in that print-heavy world, there was usually no real opportunity to fix the mistake—the horse was already out of the barn and all you’d be doing is playing Monday morning quarterback. Hard to come off as helpful in that context. Nowadays, it’s a simple matter for someone to erase their errors.

*Be diplomatic in shining a light on the mistake.

Rather than bluntly stating, “You misspelled this-or-that word,” couch your correction. My most common approach is to begin with “as a fellow writer, I know I appreciate it when others alert me to my mistakes, so I wanted to let you know that I noticed…”

*Whenever possible, review your own online work and see if you find anything to fix.  

At the same time, double-check links and other references to ensure they are still current.

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