Why is it easy to miss a spelling error?

The missing ‘t’

A regional newspaper reported  a spelling error that went unnoticed until it was too late. The sign was up. On a busy lead road. Oh dear. Take a look below. If you are not familiar with the local area, then you may not notice the error straight way. You may see that the spelling of one Gravat is GRAVAT and the other is GRAVATT  but be unaware of which is correct or incorrect. The correct spelling is GRAVATT with two ts and the incorrectly-spelled version is the one  spelled GRAVAT with one t.

missing t

Have you had this experience?  You write something and believe it is finished and ready for release.  You post, email, tweet, share or present what you have written.  Then, in a quiet moment, you re-read it and realise you’ve made a spelling error that previously was imperceptible, but now is glaring at you!  You cringe, and change colour with embarrassment.

The spelling isn’t quite right – oh dear! OOOPPPSSS!

Correct spelling can be a gateway or barrier throughout life. There’s no doubt it creates an impression.  What the reader sees contributes to a judgement made about the author or the organisation the author represents – it may be unfair or misleading – but it happens.

So how can this be explained, and what can we do to minimise it happening to our learners?

Why wasn’t this noticed during the preparation stage?

Shall we put it down to time? Is it convenient to blame ‘not enough time’ to check things? Is there a process in place? Do the authors have an approach, or system in place to minimise the potential for errors to occur.

Could it be the plan→ draft→ review→ edit  culture needs some tweaking?


In the example of the incorrect road sign above, it’s likely the sign author accessed a template or knew the standard format to follow. This guides the author with where to locate the key information and may provide an example of what text or symbols should be used and where to place them.

In this case noticing the words are written in upper case and two symbols are used  – a direction arrow and the number 2 within a hexagon.


The four key pieces of information required are on the sign in the correct place:

  1. the name of the road: Mt GRAVAT – CAPALABA RD         
  2. the direction to turn: arrow to the left                                    
  3. the towns involved: MT GRAVATT and IPSWICH              
  4. the road number: number 2                                                     


Mmmmm. What may have happened during this part of the process? How often have you asked learners to re-read their writing and check for spelling errors? Some errors are noticed and others are not. How often have you re-read your own writing and not noticed errors? It happens.

There may be a range of reasons an error is unnoticed. Contributing variables are: a person’s capacity to apply the necessary skills and knowledge, familiarity/unfamiliarity with the content, previous reviewing experience, access to relevant resources and support.

Spelling strategies are also in the mix. What might the author have thought in this case:

  • I’m not sure how to spell this so I’ll have a guess?
  • I’ve seen this before, I think it looks like this?
  • I’ll try to use a phonological approach – what does this word sound like when I’m saying it?

The power of prediction

Why is prediction involved? The reading process involves predicting. Read this sentence cluster.

PredictingDid you notice the mistakes? (This example comes from the resource Literacy Face to Face)

Most people reading this for the first time don’t notice the errors.There is one spelling mistake and one repeated word. The word though should be through and the word the is repeated

It’s not unusual that this mistake occurs, because when we read our eyes skip ahead with expectation, anticipating what ‘s next. We don’t stop at every word and actually decode.  In this example it’s likely you saw enough of the word through in though and just kept going.

When we read something we have written, the content is very familiar.  We know what to expect, so we see what we expect to see.  Therefore, it is possible that the sign author, and any other person involved with the production, saw enough of the word Mt GRAVATT in MT GRAVAT – and thought it was OK!

Promote a review culture

How might this error be avoided? Whether we work or learn, in a group, or in isolation, knowing that there is an expectation to check at the review stage is a good start. Explicit encouragement and processes to access support can make such a difference. As much as possible:

  1. promote a culture which values asking for another pair of eyes to review the work (within reason), or check the spelling of a word
  2. provide explicit strategies to enable learners to access tips, tools, and resources.

Encourage comfortable, respectful, connection between:

  • learner to learners
  • learner to learner
  • learner to trainer
  • learners to trainers

Promote different ways your learners can connect with you and each other, on a needs basis, to ask – ‘is this correct‘?  Consider these suggestions:

  • Learning management system (LMS)
  • Google groups
  • Social media sites
  • WordPress
  • Blogger
  • email/sms txt messages

Also useful is access to:

  • glossaries
  • rough draft paper/note pads
  • word processing resources eg use of spell check
  • Google or Google Maps (for Mt Gravatt)
  • relevant internal workplace documents


If the chance to access relevant support is taken, and the feedback or advice is accepted – then this part is straight forward!

If you are thinking about embedding a plan→ draft→ review→ edit culture into training, preparation is necessary to make it explicit, seamless and embraced. The most important aspect is the ‘culture’; the willingness of everyone to support each other, the way requests are responded to, and how support is provided.

If you are interested in more ideas and strategies to support writing, access the Writing webinar or other webinars in the series  – Build it in: tips to build your learners’ foundation skill within adult education and training here

2 thoughts on “Why is it easy to miss a spelling error?

  1. Peter Mays November 20, 2015 / 5:12 pm

    I had a recent experience with my State Manager where he had spelt competency as “competentcy” & was adamant that it was correct – as spellchecker didn’t pick it up. We had a serious discussion about it until I pointed out that his spellchecker may be set to ignore words in CAPS, as it was in this instance…..


    • llnandvetmeetingplace November 25, 2015 / 10:00 am

      That is an excellent example Peter. Thanks for your comment highlighting something that could be easily missed through the ‘spell check’ process.


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