How do you prevent careless errors?

No one seems to take me seriously when I ask for advice about this, and I hope you guys will be different. The answer I usually get is some version of “care more!” I’m told to “try harder” or “focus more” as if there was no way I could have thought of this brilliant strategy on my own.

By “careless” I mean the type of errors that you know are wrong if only you noticed them. Like misspelling someone’s name on a letter when you could have easily looked up the correct spelling. Or getting someone’s biographical information wrong when transferring data.

It’s possible that there is no other solution other than to try harder. In that case, why am I still making small mistakes? Not trying hard enough? Don’t care enough? Not possible to eliminate all mistakes?

What can I do to reduce careless errors? Should I try even harder?

Have you ever checked for ADHD? My son has it and he makes a lot of careless mistakes.

If you can manage to re-read what you write after some time has passed this will help. Finish the letter before lunch, say, then read over it after lunch before sending. This has greatly helped me to catch these kinds of errors.

For one thing, Lakai, they’re not “careless” errors. After all, you care enough to get on a message board and ask for ways to help.

There are a lot of instances where the tasks we’re asked to do are in opposition to where our skills lie. At work, I’m often tasked with getting MAC addresses off network phones (a MAC address is a unique 12-digit hexidecimal identifier for any device connected to a TCP/IP network). The string of digits is completely arbitrary, and there’s almost no pattern to help me spot mistakes. And there have been at least four times in the last two months where the guy handling the phone network has had to ask me to go look it up again, because it’s not correct.

What do I do? I remind myself that I have a crap time with copying down random strings of digits, and when I have to do it, I take measures to prevent making mistakes. I don’t just read them and write them down. I read, write, read, check, read, check, read backwards, check. When I had to do 30 of them in an an afternoon, I got the barcode reader.

Two other things have really helped me on repetitive tasks. The first is to create a checklist and use it every single time. The second is to do the task, set it aside, and then come back and check.

Lakai, do you know if you have a learning impediment like ADHD or dyslexia? There are specific ways to deal with each.

Reading aloud helps, also as **KayT **says, finish it, let it rest for a while then look over it again. Do you get interrupted? I have phonecalls and walk ins, so there are certain things I won’t attempt at certain times.

Usually when you’ve written something you can’t actually see the errors well – your brain glances over them because it knows what it’s “supposed” to say.

Proofreaders tricks include:
#1 first and foremost have someone else review it if at all possible.
#2 if you can’t, let it “rest” at several hours, or ideally more than a day, between writing and proofreading, during which time you read or write something unrelated.
#3 if you can’t, read it upside down, or print it in a very different, but still readable color and font.
corollary to #3: always proofread a hard copy.

And finally, to quote the one sensible thing my first boss ever said: If you need it done as fast as possible don’t rush.

Do you not use the spell-checker on the word processing program? it normally brings any but the most common names up as a possible spelling error. Instead of just hitting “ignore”, double-check it against the source.

Are you getting enough sleep? I make more careless errors when I’m short of sleep.

As others have said, the best proof-reading method is time. If you don’t have time to wait and do read it later, ask someone else to proofread it, if possible.

I’ve never checked for ADHD or dyslexia. I have no problems with focusing or with reading comprehension. Should I still be concerned?

I usually ignore the spell checker and check every name against the source. Doesn’t always work.

Don’t put yourself in a place to make careless errors if you can help it. That might look the same as “try harder”. It’s not quite the same though, and this is different from your example, but think of it this way: if you’re always misplacing your keys, find a spot to always put your keys. You always put them there, they’re always there, you’re not misplacing them. Eventually it’s a habit, and you’re not searching for your keys anymore.

If you have trouble misspelling names, check more than one source. I don’t think it’s possible to be perfect, but you can reduce the amount of errors you make by not giving yourself the chance to make them.

(Edit: typo.)

There’s also different types of “careless errors” out there, and each type needs a different solution.

Typos or document production mistakes? They happen to anyone. They aren’t so much always careless errors as they are a result of quantity of output - typos happen to everyone, and you can’t catch them all, regardless of how hard you try. You can proof people’s names 99 times out of 100, and the 100th is when you misspelled “Smith.” It just happens. Apologise, move on with good grace, and keep trying to catch as many as you can. The advice given above (especially having someone else check for you) is quite good.

Forgetting to do/finish things is another type of “careless error” - oh crap, I had to do ABC, WXYZ, 123, and feed the fish at work today - I get home, and realize that 123 is only half finished, and I let the fish starve (again).

That forgetting is caused by too many things on your plate, and is best fixed through a combo approach.

Routines and rituals are your friend - checklists are even better. There’s a reason that surgical prep nurses do a ritualized checklist of their prep tools before and after surgery - that reason is that you don’t want a scissors left in your lung. It works damn well too.

I’ve set up a routine where ABC and WXYZ get done at a specific time, cued by a specific thing, and I DO NOT INTERRUPT the routine until I’m done with them.
Next is focusing on ONLY what you’re doing while you’re doing it. I can’t set 123 on a routine, because I only do it every once in a while - so when I start 123, I DON’T DO ANYTHING ELSE until I’m done with it.
Next is eliminating the things that can’t be done with routines or in specific chunks, or that you keep forgetting despite your best efforts. The fish is mechanical now, because after two of them died, I decided I wasn’t going to remember, and it wasn’t worth it to try.