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Using Typos to Your Advantage

No one likes to find typographical errors in research documents. Not only are they distracting (i.e., if I find one, I will stop reading the document for content and instead read for other typos), they can give the impression that the data is flawed.

Metal movable type. Great information about typesetting here. Source:

Metal movable type. Great information about typesetting here. Source:

Although you’ll find typographical errors in the papers from the early 1900s, I tend to cut those editors a little slack. Producing a daily paper when one had to set type by hand is something beyond what I can imagine or what I would want to do.

So, in scanning for information, consider that your subject’s name could be misspelled. For example, I’ve found Emmett’s name spelled a variety of different ways in the contemporary media: Emmet, Emett, Emmett.

An example from the December 31 post of this blog, where Emmett's first name is misspelled.

An example from the December 31 post of this blog, where Emmett’s first name is misspelled.

I honestly hadn’t thought that there may be more articles out there about Emmett, hiding in plain sight behind a typo in his name. After I found a few articles with Emmett’s name spelled incorrectly, I started typing the misspelled name into a variety of different search engines as a part of my regular research practice.

Lo and behold, I located dozens of articles I had not seen before. Mostly the articles with the wrong spelling of his name were from newspapers and other publications outside of the Pensacola newspaper market (i.e., Washington, D.C., New Orleans, and so forth).


I now routinely type different spelling variations of subject names into databases, just to be sure I am finding as much information as I can. I never thought I’d recommend using typos for anything to anyone.

One other tip: Don’t overlook using initials as identifiers in searches. For example, Emmett never went by his initials at any time, but his older brother, Cephas Wilson, often went by “C.L. Wilson.”

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Categories: Book Recommended Sources

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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