In a fast-moving world, a writer’s image depends on the quality of their edits.
Though their impact is often overlooked in higher education, simple typos and punctuation errors can do a lot to hurt your first impression. While other studies have listed which errors are most grievous, Larry Beason (2001), professor and writer of grammar and composition at the University of South Alabama, goes deeper into this issue in his article “Ethos and Error: How Business People React to Errors.” to find out why people are bothered by certain small errors and what those errors say about a writer.
Beason studied how fourteen business professionals who write in their jobs reacted to relatively small typos. Citing several previous studies that found the most grievous writing errors people notice, Beason narrowed the errors in his study to the top five errors on those lists: misspellings, homophones, unnecessary quotation marks, sentence fragments, and run-on sentences. After the participants took a questionnaire ranking how bothersome each type of error was in a given context, Beason then interviewed each participant extensively to discuss why each error bothered them.
From the interviews, Beason concluded that “the extent to which errors harm the writer’s image is more serious and far-reaching than many students and teachers might realize” (48). The simple errors in the study questionnaire harmed every participant’s opinion of the author as a writer, as a businessperson, and as a representative for a company. The participants further labeled the writers as a “careless writer,” “faulty thinker,” “poorly educated person,” and much more based on the type of errors they made.
This study indicates that “in the nonacademic workforce, errors can affect people and events in larger ways” (59). While a potential employer might overlook the typos on your job application, a similar mistake in the wrong workplace could cause more grievous errors—even health hazards if made in the medical field.
In closing, Beason clarifies that writers shouldn’t “obsess over one aspect of writing while giving less attention to other significant concerns” (59). However, as editors, we need to understand that those small errors that get skipped can be the difference in promoting not just our own image, but also the image of all those we work for.
To learn what what business readers think of writing errors, read the full article:
Beason, Larry. 2001. “Ethos and Error: How Business People React to Errors.” College Composition and Communication 53 (1): 33–64. https://www.jstor.org/stable/359061.
—Noelle Conder, Editing Research
FEATURE IMAGE BY TIM FUZAIL