The Psychology Of Typo Spotters, Grammar Police And Other Nitpickers

Typo spotters are the bane of any author’s existence.

I’m sure you’ve received at least a few messages highlighting typos, grammar mistakes, or nitpicking at minor details within your material.

This can be exhausting to the author.

Imagine spending hours researching, developing, and designing material.

You publish the material and the first response is:

You made a typo on page 9”

Consider the psychology behind this behavior. People do this for one of three reasons:

1. They want to help. This group is easy to spot. They begin their message with flattery, highlighting how much they like the content, and they thank you for your work. They get your buy in to them first. Then they highlight one thing in a static message (not in an email you can’t change) they noticed you might want to fix if you have the time. We all know people like this. These people are on your side and great people to work with.

2. They care a LOT about nit. This is the group raised to care a lot about specific elements of your message. Their topic-involvement leads them to challenge minor factors, grammar or spelling mistakes. This group is random, hard to predict, and usually very involved in a minor element of the activity.

Shortly after every event we have former event managers giving event tips, former caterers giving tips on catering, web developers suggesting event apps, and former speakers suggesting better speakers. Each sees the topic from their own experience. This group wants to feel respected for their experience. This is a competence factor.

3. They want a sense of superiority. This is the most common group. They are not favourably predisposed to your messages. They either dislike the content, dislike the sender, or are looking to increase their self-esteem at your expense.

This third group won’t debate with you on the core issues of the message, but score tiny victories by pointing out minor mistakes. Don’t engage the final group – especially if they end their message with snark (i.e. “You made a typo on page 9, just sayin’”). This group is highly resistant to any messages from you. Their needs are to feel superior, unchallenged, and increase their self-esteem at your expense.

This behavior often stems from the message challenging the recipient to change their ways. Instead of assessing the problem, they ignore it. Instead they react against the message and its sender.

Focus on the first two groups. Remove the errors and niggles where possible. But don’t change or sand the edges of your messages to appeal to the nitpickers.


  1. Anton says:

    We used to fix ALL typing, grammar, spelling and formatting errors, but it was terrible for the users, especially elders. They felt disappointed when a young man like me fixes what they write.

    So we stopped doing so and people got much happier. They feel free now to write more.

    We still tend to improve formatting, especially for important and/or long materials that get spotted by Google and othe search engines. We fix just FEW grammar and punctuation errors occasionally, and at least a few days AFTER the material was published, so that there is conversation going on already and the authors are satisfied about the topic in overall by that time, so the stress is not so severe.

  2. Suzi Nelson says:

    Great post! Total agreement.

    I too find that most people who are nitpickers are those who are emotionally invested in our brand and really do just want to help. They feel like they are contributing to making our products/website/emails/etc better. We always thank and encourage feedback like this, but in the end we work to not sweat the small stuff. :wink:

  3. Ralph Mason says:

    Remember that for (many) nitpickers, the whole universe feels out of alignment when they spot a typo, and there’s a compulsion to do something about it—just like a desperate need to scratch an itch, or to get treatment on a bad back. As a nitpicker myself, I ask you to have pity on us, as we’re a tortured breed. :smiley:

    PS: there were some typos in your post … No, just joking. :wink:

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