Blind to mistakes

I got another reminder this week of how blind I am to my own mistakes. Not that I’m unusual here – we’re all good at missing the blatantly obvious.

My mistake this week was the simple copying of a number from one spreadsheet to another. I couldn’t understand why I had money left after a transaction, and I spent time hunting for income that I’d forgotten. It didn’t even cross my mind to look for a silly typo! Thankfully, someone else noticed it.

Some mistakes leave me feeling pretty silly, and this was one of them. And they’re so easy to miss when we’re caught up in getting the work done on time, thinking about what needs to be done next, and thinking about what we want to say. The time required to consciously check for errors can be difficult to find.

Of course, it’s obvious to any communicator that we should all spend time looking for simple mistakes. They’re the last thing that we check for, because they’re the first thing that our readers notice.

My mistake-spotting strategies include:

  • Putting the document aside for a while before I check it
  • Asking someone else to read it
  • Reading it multiple times, looking for different types of error each time
  • Crossing my fingers
  • Admitting a mistake as soon as I spot it – particularly if this requires phoning a client and admitting that I’ve stuffed up
  • Presenting myself as someone who is more than capable of silly mistakes – welcoming them, noticing them, and talking about how and why I make them.

My mistake this week brought some memories flooding back: of the expensive promotional brochure with ‘Australia’ misspelled on the cover, of the book with the lead author’s name spelled incorrectly, of the book-selling brochure with an illegible text box (it came back with reversed text instead of black text on a 15% screen of red), of a chart that was printed upside down in an information kit, and of the booklet that turned out pink instead of fluorescent red – all 15,000 copies!