my coworker keeps emailing our bosses about typos

A reader writes:

How would you suggest dealing with the guy who literally emails every single higher-up he can every time he catches anyone making a typo? My boss now has to go into meetings with the big boss to account for us making typos.

Ironically, this dude is literally the worst at making typos in the entire office-about one out of every four things he sends us has incorrect information. He claims to “spot check” and blames it on the people who send them to him, but he has to retype his information and that’s all on him. He has a PhD and is higher up than us lowly clericals. Basically, we can’t yell at him to check himself (or even ask him to) or pull the same crap.

Also, he is not my boss’s direct report-he has another supervisor entirely who isn’t involved in this, to my knowledge. She has no control over what he does. He is cc’ing my boss (which is appropriate) and then her two bosses above her, who come down heavily on my boss because we have to be absolutely perfect. She’s defending us and keeping us out of the direct line of fire.

My boss is annoyed, but it seems like something we just can’t do anything about. She suggested that we have her email the higher ups every time he typos, but so far she’ll only do it if he makes a huge mistake rather than the usual “wrote down the wrong number” crap, because we look petty if we complain. But he doesn’t. In the end, I suspect there is nothing we can do about it other than to be perfect, of course.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago. You can read it here.

{ 188 comments… read them below }

      1. Magenta Sky

        Spell checkers are sometimes a very efficient way to spell the wrong word correctly. (Which is a pet peeve of mine, but that’s my problem, not that of people who can’t spell.)

        On a side note, I once had to get a dictionary out to convince my boss that the word barbecue doesn’t have a “q” in it.

          1. Connie Meier

            Mark132 Absolutely! And when you speak the text, I know you have to go back and edit it, but I find the errors even harder to catch. Like the ones I made quite a few comments below.

            1. Michaela Westen

              Those kind of errors have become so common I don’t notice them anymore.
              “here” instead of “hear”
              That’s the only one I remember seeing recently.

        1. UnderwaterOphelia

          Merriam Webster and Oxford actually list barbeque as a variation of barbecue, because it’s regional.

            1. krysb

              Yeah, it’s kind of like ketchup vs catsup or donut vs doughnut. The spellcheck feature in Chrome is telling me “catsup” and “donut” are not spelled correctly.

              1. Connie Meier

                vs., vs, v, and v. are all variations of the abbreviation for “versus”. I turned up vs. as the American version and vs as the British version. But I have no idea how accurate my source is.

          1. Magenta Sky

            So is spelling it without the q (which was the point in dispute at the time – not that the q spelling was right, but that without it was wrong). The spelling with a q is a variant, and pretty modern. I believe it comes from the very common abbreviation of BBQ (which is how my boss arrived at the belief it was misspelled without a q), often used in advertising (I was making signs for a barbecue sale).

            From The Grammarist:

            “In today’s English, barbecue is the usual spelling of the word with several senses related to the cooking of food over open fire. It’s the spelling that tends to appear in edited writing, and it’s the one that dictionaries note first, for what that’s worth (and some don’t note any other spellings). Barbeque is a secondary spelling that appears especially often in the names of restaurants and products. It has steadily gained ground over the last few decades, but it is still far less common than barbecue overall.”

            That bit about the names of restaurants is telling; it suggests that *because* it’s not (or wasn’t, at any rate) a standard spelling, it’s more easily trademarked (and more easily remembered because it’s odd).

            That we had a dictionary in the office is a hint about why this was funny (to me, anyway): said boss had a real thing about spelling errors, and in this case, it was his.

        2. animaniactoo

          Because:

          Theirs know weigh two ketch awl eras.

          (Former proofreader, I’ll see myself out now…)

    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      I guess I assume that the typos are correctly spelled but the wrong word, so spell check won’t catch them. Or they are numbers, names, highly technical words that aren’t likely in a regular dictionary, etc.

      1. S

        In school I was always so frustrated when it didn’t have the medical names for bones in the Word dictionary. That said, dictionaries will allow you to save words.

        Also, this wont fix every mistake but may reduce the number of mistakes.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

          I created an extensive custom dictionary in Word for my academic work. Even things like place names I mentioned a lot, words in other languages, etc. were added. It saved frustration and accidentally replacing things with the wrong word entirely.

        2. Connie Meier

          “wont” may reduce mistakes, huh?

          Just giving you a bad time. I can’t believe how many stupid typos I made in these comments.

      2. BRR

        I do this a lot. Microsoft Office now has a read aloud feature that has been so incredibly helpful to me. (Don’t worry, I don’t use it without headphones :D ).

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          same! I used to read things aloud to myself to catch errors, but this feature works even better for me.

  1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    Alison’s answer is undoubtedly the correct answer, but I would send Fergus’ typos back to him each as every time. I wouldn’t CC anyone though, just him. “Hey Fergus, this has a few typos.” “Hey Fergus, I’m confused by your email. I think this is a typo.” If he complains back you can always go with, “I realize that typos are Very Important To You. So I’m alerting you so you can fix them. Because OF COURSE you would want to know if you’re making typos.”

    1. Sloan Kittering

      I would be so confused by his behavior, assuming that the typos really are not all that meaningful, that I would have to go talk to him. I don’t care if he’s senior or not in my command chain or what. “I’m really confused, Chris, can you explain why you’re doing this?” He must be an extremely odd guy to not understand that he’s wasting everybody’s time. Maybe you can be direct: “please don’t do this anymore unless you’re legitimately confused about something, in which case please just ask me / my boss.”

      1. valentine

        It’s not a waste of time unless this is an overreaction: her two bosses above her, who come down heavily on my boss because we have to be absolutely perfect. Boss could solve this with an improved process and more oversight.

        1. Sloan Kittering

          Yeah I’m perhaps being biased by OP’s sense that these typos are not mission critical. Alison does suggest that, given senior leadership’s reaction, they may in fact be very important. Or the entire org is kind of wacko.

          1. Falling Diphthong

            Yes, this seems to come down to a senior management problem. Either they have allowed themselves to be dragooned into a subordinate’s “never type ‘its’ for ‘it’s'” campaign when you would think they have a lot of other things to do, or there is a problem with typos on things where there can be no typos and it’s resulted in this weird behavior rather than anything actually time conscious and effective.

            1. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar

              “It’s” and “its” are, ultimately, different words.

              If someone is using them interchangeably — rather than as a keyboarding error — that *is* incorrect usage and indicates a deficiency in writing skills. And deficient writing skills are absolutely a legitimate work issue.

              To paraphrase what they say on Facebook: clients judge you when you use poor grammar.

              1. Elsajeni

                We’re talking about typos, which inherently implies “keyboarding/autocorrect error,” right? But also, deficient writing skills are a legitimate work issue in some contexts. There are lots and lots of jobs where it just doesn’t matter very much whether you spell everything right or use the right its/it’s, as long as your writing is understandable (which a sentence with the wrong its/it’s nearly always is) and your facts are correct. That’s what people are saying — that, if this is that type of situation, Fergus can quietly judge all he likes, but continually pointing out typos to people above him is equivalent to reporting it to your boss every time your coworker comes in at 8:02.

                1. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar

                  There are lots and lots of jobs where it just doesn’t matter very much whether you spell everything right or use the right its/it’s, as long as your writing is understandable (which a sentence with the wrong its/it’s nearly always is)

                  Disagreed. Repeated sloppy spelling and grammar mistakes reflect poorly on you. They “matter.” They may matter more in some contexts than others, but they matter.

                  I will not hire someone who cannot write in clear, grammatical English. Poor communications skills lead to all sorts of avoidable misunderstandings and problems down the road.

                2. DArcy

                  Agree. Employees who push back on having their grammar and spelling corrected on our company reports is a persistent issue at my company, and it’s very much a sign of a sloppy, careless, and unprofessional mindset. We’re too understaffed at the moment to put people on official PIPs and disciplinary action for persistently bad reports alone, unfortunately, but those people are definitely not getting merit bonuses and promotions.

                3. Kiwi

                  We hire a LOT of immigrants. Unless the document is customer-facing, understandable is good enough for us.

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch

            I’ve seen so many people shrug off important corrections. And the overall tone of “he thinks he’s soooooo much better than us!” gives me an aching feeling this isn’t as “it’s no big deal!” as the OP feels.

          3. Grammarian

            There absolutely are fields where banishing typos is mission-critical — publishing, law, and accounting, to brainstorm a few. (That the senior management hasn’t complained about Fergus suggests, to me, that LW may be in one of those fields, as does the statement about being “absolutely perfect.”)

            If that’s the case, Fergus is well within his rights to point out typos. It is true that there is a lawyers’ adage about “the document without a typo doesn’t exist,” but that does not mean it is wrong to point them out. (That process is also known as “editing.”) Personally, I’d think that e-mailing senior management about them is an over-reaction, and the immediate manager ought to handle the quality control issues, but this company’s mileage may vary; and the senior managers

            The fact that Fergus has a PhD is irrelevant, and the fact that he himself makes typos isn’t terribly relevant, either. It may be that the “lowly clericals” are supposed to be doing proofreading work, rather than Fergus, and their product isn’t up to snuff. Spot checks are part of QC/QA in other contexts, and they can be part of the editing process.

            1. Michaela Westen

              Everything I read has typos. Some news organizations have so many typos in their articles, they’re unreadable. Official documents have them, books have them… and they’re obvious ones I notice right away. Everyone everywhere has slacked off on this.

              1. n

                Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s ok. This is largely due to organizations not seeing the value in having a proofreader anymore / individuals not thinking that their work needs to be proofed (because they think, “I’m a good writer already. I don’t need help.”). My company has writers who refuse to let colleagues proof their work– and it shows. We have client-facing communications going out riddled with typos and it drives me crazy that pride is getting in the way of accurate communications. Part of my job is to edit and proofread other writers, and I know they eyeroll me for pointing out their typos (even when that is *literally* my job). Every single piece of writing that is going to be published needs to be proofed by a person who did not write it. Even the best grammar nerds miss their own mistakes.

            2. Nic

              Yeah, I think I’m pretty much in agreement.

              I’m torn on the “is Fergus’s obsession with typos valid?” issue. Assuming for the sake of argument that OP and crew ARE in a precision-critical career, I think it may depend on what role he has in the company. Is he part of OP’s team in any extended way, or does his work or professional reputation depend on the work that OP and team are doing?

              If no to both, then while OP and team may need someone keeping a closer eye on their level of typo-catching (as evidenced by higher management’s unwillingness to slap him down), it’s not Fergus’s job and there’s a lot of arrogance in his giving himself the job of being Lord High Proof Reader To The Illiterate Masses. Especially if he’s doubling down as a hypocrite who makes typos himself but only complains about other peoples’.

              If yes to either…then he’s probably got a valid reason to be complaining even if it does seem like he’s going to extremes at this point.

              Ultimately though, this should be a conversation about work standards that OP and team have with their direct manager (and that manager should be having with their managers).

        2. A tester, not a developer

          Exactly! There are definitely times where ‘minor’ typos, or misuse of words, can be significant. There was the case where drivers from Maine successfully sued for millions because of an Oxford comma: (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/us/oxford-comma-maine.html). And I know there was an issue in Canada where insurance companies were no longer allowed to refer to money coming in and out of a client’s policy as a ‘deposit’ or ‘withdrawal’ (had to be changed to ‘premium’ and ‘redemption’), as there was a regulatory complaint that clients thought insurance policies were bank accounts because ‘banking terms’ were being used.

        3. The New Wanderer

          It could be an overreaction based solely on the fact that the typos are being escalated, giving them the appearance of being mission-critical mistakes rather than one person’s personal peeve. If I were upper management, I might assume that these are only being brought to my attention *because* they’re important, and not realize that the typos generally aren’t that level of important and it’s the wrong call by this guy to imply that.

        4. Connie Meier

          Initially, the absolutely perfect statement confused me. At first read, I thought the OP meant literally perfect. Then I started to wonder if the big bosses got pi$$ed that it was a waste of time that the PhD *expected* everybody to be perfect (emails to all the higher ups, time spent in meetings, etc.).

          I’m waffles for awhile. LW’s boss sticking up for them seems to mean they aren’t expected to be perfect. I wouldn’t think internal emails need to be. There are certainly plenty of typos in these comments. Including mine. No doubt in this very one.

          But numbers certainly do need to be perfect, and neither the OP nor their boss seem to think they do.

          PhDs often tend to work in acadamia and/or research, in which there needs to be a high degree of accuracy in all areas. PhD blames his typos on other people, so I don’t think comments that say it might not be a big deal in their industry or on their team are correct.

          In the end, I’m leaning towards the fact that they need to be literally perfect or as close to it as possible.

          1. Michaela Westen

            But, the kind of person who blames his mistakes on others is often IME the kind of person who makes a big deal out of minor mistakes or issues.

          2. Jennifer Juniper

            If literal perfection is actually required, I wouldn’t be surprised if that same organization did other things, like fire the bottom 10% of its workforce each year. In other words, the organization could be a toxic dumpster fire.

    2. NerdyKris

      I feel like going the passive aggressive route just fuels the problems in a workplace, because it starts becoming the norm.

    3. Anita Brayke

      + 1 million! I realize this answer is not the correct one, but I am so annoyed by this person’s behaviour (of cc’ing ALL the higher ups like Sheldon on BBT would do)! What a petty, childish individual…or as a former coworker likes to say, “what an exceptional person!”

    4. CJM

      Also, rather than the usual I typed the wrong number cr@p? Seriously?

      You can usually figure out a word, but you can very, very, rarely tell what a wrong number was supposed to be.

      The LW, his boss and the PhD all have a screw loose if they think that’s not a big deal.

  2. Guy

    Before I read the letter, I thought this was going to be about him correcting the bosses’ typos. I was going to say to tell him to let it be. It seems the more power you have, the more typos you have in your emails—and the more randomly placed ellipses, too…………

    1. mr. brightside

      I’ve been noticing a lot of random ellipses lately. They haven’t been disruptive or confusing or anything, so I haven’t said anything*, but it does seem to be on trend now, I guess.

      *a few years back, I did have to respond to an e-mail saying, politely, “I have no idea what you just wrote”.

    2. Frozen Ginger

      Yeah, I don’t get it. What are they trying to convey?
      “Have a good weekend!” “You too…” ????

      1. your favorite person

        Ugh, one of my mentors does that. When I read that, it sounds almost passive aggressive. I know she doesn’t mean it that way, because she does it with almost everything. I always read it much different than she intends and it drives me batty!

        1. RAM

          My old boss would always respond to my emails with “Thanks…” Drove me crazy! Always sounded sarcastic!

          1. Dr Wizard, PhD

            My mother does this. I have to keep reminding myself it’s just her style and there’s no other meaning.

      2. Tiny Soprano

        I always hear those with a doppler effect in my head. Like the boss is on a fast train disappearing into the distance, crying, “You toooooo………”

      3. Michaela Westen

        In school I learned ellipses mean “there’s more”. So I take each of these to mean the writer has more to stay, but isn’t because of constraints.

  3. Seeking Second Childhood

    OP specifically mentions commas… if this is an Oxford Comma argument, I have to offer my sympathies. That’s in some ways a religious divide … akin to Windows vs Mac vs Linux.

          1. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impaired Peep

            And my bow.

            (Yes, I realize how silly this sounds from me, but you cannot just leave that hanging there.)

    1. Pipe Organ Guy

      A former co-worker was obsessed with Oxford commas, even where text was unambiguous without that final serial comma. Frankly, I tend to use Oxford commas in my own writing, but this co-worker took it upon herself to proofread church service bulletin copy I had prepared, and was fixated on Oxford commas. She has moved on to another church, and I can focus on other things.

  4. KHB

    From context, it sounds like these “typos” have the effect of changing the meaning of the communication? So they’re less like typing “teh” for “the” or “your” for “you’re,” and more like typing “$6,000” for “$5,000”?

    If so, then this guy sounds like an ass, but it’s possible that he’s pointing out a real problem. If you haven’t done so already, you should sit down with your boss and come to an understanding about what error rate is acceptable in these types of communications, and then hold yourselves accountable to that target. “Be perfect” isn’t a workable solution, but “strive to be more accurate” might be.

      1. KHB

        It’s from that, and from the OP’s characterization of the dude’s typos as “incorrect information,” that I’m inferring that these are the kinds of typos she’s talking about, in general. Also, the whole situation makes a lot more sense that way (i.e., it’s more understandable that the big bosses care about the issue) than it would if the typos were just incidental misspellings of words where the meaning is still clear from context.

    1. Johan

      Yes, I was coming in to point out that there’s zero context (other than that this guy’s emailing everyone up the chain about typos). In addition to context that would let us know if the typos are the kind KHB mentions, we also don’t have a clue what the profession/industry is — is it a resume service, for example, where higher-ups might in fact believe that OP and her coworkers “need to be absolutely perfect” in this area because even one typo can get clients rejected by every place they apply?

      1. Queen of the File

        Agree… there are some situations where minor, understandable, typos are actually a big problem. That said, cc’ing all the managers is definitely not the most efficient way to fix them!

        1. Tiny Soprano

          Yeah, if they are genuinely making typos in stuff that’s important, he could have said, “Hey, I noticed you guys aren’t catching all your typos, do you mind if I do some proofreading for you?” But instead he decided to be a pass-agg weirdo about it.

          1. KHB

            The Man, Becky Lynch has a really insightful comment on this downthread, suggesting that maybe he’s already tried handling things directly with OP’s team and was met with no improvement, so he’s escalating by looping in the higher bosses. So what we’re seeing as “pass-agg weirdo” could really be more like “guy at the end of his rope trying to get somebody to care about and correct a legitimately problematic situation.”

            I strongly suspect that OP is putting a whole lot of spin on the situation in her letter, so it’s hard to understand what’s really going on. Taken at face value, the whole thing is just completely bonkers, so I have to think there’s more to the story than we’re seeing.

    2. Arjay

      I agree. A typo that doesn’t change the meaning is a ridiculous thing to harp on. But if it introduces a significant error in the information being conveyed, I would absolutely flag it for correction, while not escalating to this extent.

    3. CJM

      But LW says his boss won’t point out numerical errors to the PhD. So doesn’t she think they are a big deal either? How can that be possible?

      1. Frozen Ginger

        It might be that PhD isn’t making number errors but typos and LW sees the two as equally wrong.

        1. Connie Meier

          So far the Ops boss has only emailed Fergus if he makes a huge mistake rather than the usual “wrote down the wrong number cr@p”.

          I don’t see how you can read that any way other than Fergus a/k/a the PhD is making numerical errors.

      2. KHB

        Elsewhere in the thread people have mentioned a couple of possibilities. It could be that the PhD gets more leeway with errors because he has more on his plate than the clerical team does. Or it could be that the workflow is such that the clerical team is the last line of defense before documents are published or sent to clients.

    4. HarvestKaleSlaw

      I think a lot of different issues are getting mixed up:

      1) Is it okay that Fergus is cc’ing the OP’s boss, grandboss, and great-grandboss? I say, no. It’s a #$^@ move, no matter how you slice it, and someone needs to explain this to the guy.

      2) Are typos a big deal? It depends. In some fields – PR, lawyerin’, accounting – absolutely yes. In others, not really. In some contexts – email to our biggest client – yes. In other contexts – internal memo about the coffeepot filters – no.

      3) Do we care about Fergus’s hypocrisy, since he makes typos too? I think, yeah, a bit, especially in light of the other two issues.

  5. Collingswood

    I’m curious about what type of work this group is doing and whether they are typos that really matter. There are diminishing returns to making sure every email you send out is perfect, and it sucks time away from more relevant tasks. If I spent the time to make sure none of my emails had a single typo, I’d probably get 50% less work done. I obviously check external documents or documents that go up the management chain more closely than other emails, but for daily correspondence, if someone corrected (and emailed management!) every typo I made, I’d be really annoyed with them for being irritating and wasting everyone’s time. Pretty sure my managers wouldn’t appreciate their time being wasted either.

  6. Autumnheart

    I’d be interested to know what kind of communication is being scrutinized for typos? Is this official communication meant to represent the team or the department? Reports that other departments use to do their work? Press releases to the public? Just internal email? This guy could either be super unreasonable or be making an important point, depending on context.

  7. Liz

    Almost everything I write is checked for accuracy by another person – THAT’S CALLED EDITING. But if the colleagues who edit my work decided that they would send an email about every single edit to my boss’s boss’s boss, it would be an enormous waste of time.

    If there isn’t a formal review process for catching these errors, there should be. It sounds like it might actually be necessary and long overdue. But what this guy is doing is still completely ridiculous.

    1. Mockingjay

      Yes, there should be a review or proofreading process. I suggest using a draft watermark until a document is deemed final.

      Also, is “Nosy Neil” supposed to be part of the review chain? Ask your boss for clarification as to where Nosy fits in the process.

    2. Sloan Kittering

      Hehehe go back to this guy and be like, “Chris, we’ve realized we need an official editor and it seems like you’re really volunteering!”

      1. Jasnah

        This is the passive aggressive response I’d go for! “Since you always kindly point out my errors, could you check this email before I send it out? Thanks!!”

    3. Falling Diphthong

      I agree with your last paragraph’s diagnosis. It seems like there is a problem of not catching the wrong amounts, dates, costs, etc, and it’s being addressed as one person’s quixotic and hypocritically typo-ridden crusade rather than building in a step where someone checks over all the sensitive numbers in someone else’s work before any binding problems can arise from those numbers.

    4. mark132

      Depending on what you are doing this makes sense, but if we are talking informal reports. Email responses to questions, etc. I think having every email reviewed is overkill.

    5. animaniactoo

      Hmmm… as a former proofreader… my definition of editing is suggesting changes for improvement, not a simple examination to catch typos. It’s possible they could use that, but my first thought is that they need to actually have a proofreading process in place that is something other than spellcheck or checking one’s own work (which is what I suspect they do now as it is what many business have defaulted to in the years since proofreading was a standalone job). People will often skip over the same error because it made sense to them the first time and their brain will automatically make the same adjustment.

      1. Xarcady

        This. I’m an editor. Sometimes I edit, and sometimes I proofread another editor’s work. They are two different steps in a long process to make sure we don’t have any errors. (I work in a niche field in which some of our final product is published. Errors cannot be in the final product.)

        1. Michaela Westen

          Good to see there’s at least one company out there that cares about it’s final product.
          Many online news articles clearly don’t.

      2. boo bot

        Yes – no one should be proofreading their own work: you know what it’s supposed to say, so your brain thinks that’s what it says!

        There’s obviously a base level of quality that needs to be met in any job (which varies by job) but if the OP’s work needs to be error-free, they absolutely need either a designated proofreader (ideally), or a process where people pass around each other’s work to check.

        1. AnotherAlison

          Yep, there are few things more humbling than reading yesterday’s sent emails. You know, the ones where you say you need the recipient to discuss the “if a need for any additional materials is determined to be needed.” Lol. Made sense when I wrote it.

    6. Blunt Bunny

      I work in STEM and mistakes in emails would be sent to the recipient asking do you mean X? You wouldn’t ever go above them and say to their boss look this person had a typo, we have a no blame culture it here so that people are open at admitting mistakes. We don’t single people out. Emails are rarely evidence or submitted anywhere so typos are ignored if seen as they have no real impact. If mistakes are spotted in documents you correct and sign and date it where the correction is. The only people that need to be told is people that would have to resign if it had to printed again or who was waiting on the document or someone that might have shared it. But what this person is doing just sounds like snitching, if errors need to be corrected you contact the person who made them.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch

    It concerns me the higher ups being CCed aren’t putting a stop to it. They’re response and crackdown is exactly why this will continue.

    I’m not sure what’s going on with power and socioeconomic dynamics here…is he really looking down on you from his PHD tower? Or is that projection? That’s worrisome regardless if he’s doing it or you’re just assuming so. Super unhealthy and bordering on toxicity when you start fighting between departments and power levels.

    1. Falling Diphthong

      Ideally, Alison’s “For what it’s worth, we find typos in about a quarter of what you send to us. We simply fix them” would put a stop to this from Fergus, and the top bosses would be busy with other things. That that hasn’t happened does make me think there is a legitimate problem being obscured by the absolutely ass-backwards approach to fixing it via Fergus’s angry and typo-ridden crusade.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        I wonder if he’s “snapped”. Has he forwarded just to the manager for awhile and was shrugged off? Leading him to loop in her managers?? That’s a road I think we’ve all traveled or thought to in instances that someone isn’t concerned about the building situation.

        As reports, the OP only has her own POV, that doesn’t include how it came to this. Maybe her manager isn’t on the same page at running her team as tightly as the upper levels want and it’s resorted to petty angry responses to each and every typeo.

        This guy may very well just be terrible and invasive. But as others have said, we don’t know enough about the jobs.

        Clerical work really requires higher accuracy than other sections of the business. I’m imaging data entry errors on orders…I had to ride a few people every mistake because their errors cost money.

        1. KHB

          That’s a really good point in your first paragraph. OP seems to have gone to considerable effort to paint herself in the best possible light here, so I would not be surprised at all if there’s some history like that that she hasn’t mentioned.

    2. KHB

      There’s a whole lot that we don’t know about what’s really going on here. But I’ll just throw out the possibility that maybe it’s legitimate to expect the “lowly clericals” to have a lower error rate than Dr. Dude, PhD. Accuracy with data and documentation is a core element of clerical work, and Dr. Dude is in a different role where he might have different priorities.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Truth! As noted in my response above.

        I’ve had clerical staff who couldn’t fix their accuracy and wasn’t sure why it matters so much. They didn’t last long. It’s not because they’re “lowly”, it’s just a requirement for the position.

        I’m an accountant, my errors also cause big issues…so I beat myself up over any and all of them. If I’m called out, I admit defeat and fix myself.

      2. Falling Diphthong

        That’s definitely come up re law clerks and top lawyers. And that the higher people go in an organization, the less time they have to proofread their emails.

  9. Kathleen_A

    Joanie? Is that you? Because it sure *sounds* like you, assuming you changed your gender and got a doctorate.

    So Joanie, a former coworker of mine, used to do this alllllllll the time with typos and other minor errors. Of course, some of the time, they weren’t actually errors, and when you pointed this out to her, she would remove the higher-ups from any reply she made, but she’d nonetheless never apologize. And she of course made plenty of typos herself – it’s inevitable because nobody is really all that great about copyediting themselves.

    Yeah, she was for sure really popular with us all. We were heartbroken (/scarcasm) when she left for another job, where she is no doubt still pointing out typos and undermining her coworkers with weasel-like glee.

    As for how to handle it, I think Alison’s approach sounds like the best one. At least it should bring the issue – assuming there’s more to it than mere jackassery – out into the open.

    1. Kathleen_A

      Oh, I let myself get carried away with remembered irritation and forgot another point I meant to make, which is that Alison is also absolutely right that you should not let your pardonable frustration with Mr. Supposedly Perfect blind you to any actual problems within your department. If there is a typo problem, acknowledge it and find a way to solve it. Even Joanie was right from time to time. :-)

      1. irene adler

        Probably.
        But given this Joanie is someone from the past, I’d bet there’s some “scars” left behind.

        1. Kathleen_A

          She kind of did. They aren’t too severe because I didn’t have to work with her that often, which was fortunate because the times when I did have to work with her were…seriously unpleasant. Or perhaps “sceriously,” since I am apparently inordinately fond of c’s today. :-)

    2. Mockingjay

      Yes, one of my team’s engineers is famous for this. He once routed a rough, unedited draft document to his supervisor requesting that she edit it because it needed work. When he sent me the marked up copy, I replied all (including MY supervisor and the overall program manager), sweetly noting that this was an old draft two months out of date, and that the current, QC’ed (all of my work is proofed by someone else – standard practice) completed document was available on the share drive.

      He tried this again recently. He went on the share drive and ‘edited’ a document another engineer and I were in the middle of writing (nowhere near ready for edit – we were developing content). Each of the grammatical errors he so kindly pointed out was absolutely incorrect.

      He thinks he is a great writer and needs no editing at all. His stuff takes weeks to edit and is known for its lack of content (thinly disguised by many, many words).

      1. Xarcady

        Someone did this to me today. Looked at a version of a document from early December and sent out an email to everyone they could think of to announce that there were two glaring errors. Errors which were caught and corrected in early December and which are not in the final product sent to the client yesterday.

        I have spent half an hour today researching the errors and making sure they were corrected and another hour and a half responding to increasingly urgent emails to “fix this right away!” as the original email gets forwarded around the company. There is no problem. We have not lost our good name in the industry. No one needs to be fired. Someone just needs to stay out of the “old version” folder.

        To add to the fun, the original errors were introduced by the client during review. Our company did not make the errors–I caught them in the client’s mark-up.

        1. Mockingjay

          I quietly delete drafts as soon as the document is approved. I keep the share libraries pretty clean, but I can’t stop people from squirreling away old drafts and copies on their individual units.

      2. boo bot

        “He thinks he is a great writer and needs no editing at all.”

        GREAT WRITERS NEED EDITING.

        Ahem. Sorry, got a bit loud there. But they do.

        1. Kathleen_A

          Definitely. Great writers, poor writers, middle-of-the-road writers – we *all* need editing.

          But there are an awful lot of writers – and with some notable exceptions, the more amateur they are, they more thin-skinned they are – who like to think they are The Great Exception. Or maybe that needing editing is a sign of weakness or something.

          1. CanadaTag

            *nods thorough agreement to this*

            I write novels. I’m fairly good at grammar (and proud of it, I must admit), but I regularly catch typos and other grammatical mistakes in my documents, and sometimes it’s my friends who review them who catch them. (Or we all miss them for several revisions, and then go, “Ooops!”)

            Of course, I also look at my documents in different formats (on the screen in the writing program, on the screen as a PDF, in hardcopy), which is a trick I’ve learned to help catch those sorts of mistakes, because it can shake it up a bit so your brain isn’t going, “Yes, this is what it says,” because that’s what you remember typing.

            1. Kathleen_A

              Exactly. Your (generic “your”) brain is very good at seeing what you meant to say instead of seeing what it is you actually said.

  10. Not to be THAT person...

    … and perhaps I’m misreading, but is there in error in the sentence below? (Missing the word “that” perhaps?) Only asking because I read it over a few times and I’m still a little unclear.

    “She needs to let her manager know that either (a) yes, there is a typo problem and she’s doing ___ to resolve it, or (b) this guy is making a big stink about minor, par-for-the-course typos that aren’t showing up in things are going to the public or otherwise need to be error-free.”

    1. Falling Diphthong

      She (OP’s boss) needs to let her manager (the one following up on Fergus’s emails) know that either:
      a) Yes, there is a typo problem and she’s doing ____ to resolve it.
      b) Fergus is making a big stink about minor, par-for-the course typos. (Typos that aren’t showing up in things (that) are going to the public or otherwise need to be error-free.)

      It’s missing a ‘that’, but I’d argue the meaning is clear. It’s not like a missing ‘not’ or conflating Fergus and Cormac so the llama groomer starts attaching teapot spouts mid-letter.

  11. BRR

    I was in a moderately similar situation except I was the annoying coworker but I wasn’t really the annoying coworker. Two coworkers were making some pretty egregious mistakes and my manager asked me to cc him. EXCEPT, he never told the offenders that he asked me to. This letter doesn’t sound like it’s the same thing at all though. I’m just venting at how poorly my situation was handled.

  12. AnotherAlison

    I see this as a situation where the coworker is offbase in his behavior, but the point could be valid. We don’t know enough about their jobs and the situation. I’ve received many work-related documents that have surely gone through multiple reviews and editorial checks, and they still end up published and issued with obvious and embarrassing typos. We don’t know if he’s specifically focusing on generic around-the-office emails, or if he’s also pointing out things in documents that the clerical team is the last group to edit, paginate, and PDF before sending. We may not usually assume the clerical team is responsible for document quality, but at my company, that is exactly who has final quality responsibility when we issue engineering drawings. The engineers and drafters are finished, but the drawing coordinator has to confirm all the dates, title blocks, etc. are correct.

    It would be more appropriate to talk to the people making the mistakes than to CC management either way, though.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House

      I’m reminded of a situation at work where I was in a “strategy” meeting about how to attract more “highly educated, upscale customers with professional jobs,” to our business.

      Me: Well, I’m concerned that our brochures and ad copy are full of typos and errors, we should work to fix that.
      Boss: Nobody cares about that stuff, who’s even going to be able to tell if it’s a mistake?
      Me: Highly educated people with professional jobs?

      1. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar

        Exactly. I wouldn’t do business with a company whose work product is riddled with typos and grammatical errors. If they don’t care enough to fix their own work product, what will they do with mine?

      2. Not Australian

        I had two bosses who produced, all by themselves, a company brochure that was packed with typoes. Then they recruited me and I pointed out the errors, only to be told “We like it like that”. I think what they actually meant was that they’d spent all their money having it printed with the errors included, and had nothing left over to produce a correct version. They went out of business, of course.

      3. Michaela Westen

        Also this partially educated person with a mid-level job, who happened to grow up in a houseful of books and has relatives who are involved in writing and editing.

  13. This Daydreamer

    My gut reaction is that this is a problem that will go away on its own. Surely the PTB would get sick of his emails before long.

    The dude sounds like a real charmer. Was there ever an update on this one?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Mine is sadly not as optimistic. The PTB are dragging in their manager to tell her to fix the typeo issue, they’re in his corner for this guy, essentially cheering him on. If they ignored it, then maybe he would stop. I feel next step is PIPs for those who are the worst offenders and the manager being removed if she can’t get it under control.

  14. Wren

    I don’t understand the remark about “wrote down the wrong number” not being worth pointing out. Seems to me such an error absolutely obscures meaning and isn’t easily caught by the recipient. In my first job, I transposed a pair of digits and ordered too few of some item, and my boss was pissed at me because it meant we had to pay the base cost twice in addition to the per item cost (she just charged the client for it in the end without itemizing it.)

    1. Autumnheart

      If someone complains about your “typo” and it turns out that they sent you the wrong number in the first place and CC:s all the upper management, that’s when you reply-all with a copy of their spreadsheet and note that you included the number that was provided. :) (General ‘you’)

    2. LQ

      Yeah “wrote down the wrong number” feels like a GIANT problem. Numbers should matter. So you should get them right. And I’m not saying I don’t write down the wrong numbers ALL THE TIME! (did you know that the order of the digits matters when writing a number? because my brain to my fingers sure doesn’t know) but I absolutely want it pointed out every time I do it and miss it after my 100000th check because numbers matter.

  15. Dust Bunny

    What is going on here?

    Either these typos are important or they aren’t. Either this department collectively needs to make fewer, which the OP’s manager should be handling it (including reporting all Fergus’ own typos to his manager so she can deal with him, since he’s not the OP’s manager’s report), or they don’t matter and the manager’s superiors should be telling this guy to knock it off, like, yesterday. Actually, they should be telling him that, anyway, since he’s not the OP’s manager.

    1. Myrin

      Yeah, this letter is beyond confusing to me. I basically don’t understand anything that’s happening here.

      1. Dust Bunny

        It just seems like nobody is talking to the right people here.

        “he has another supervisor entirely who isn’t involved in this, to my knowledge. She has no control over what he does. ”

        I assume the “she” here is the OP’s supervisor . . . so why is this seemingly not being addressed with Fergus’ actual supervisor? Why isn’t his supervisor involved? If it’s because Fergus doesn’t CC him on the emails THAT IS IRRELEVANT and he should be included in discussions of stuff his reports are doing. If the typos really are a problem, why isn’t the OP’s manager handling them?

        Or is this just a dysfunctional workplace with a bunch of spineless managers and a rogue ego stirring up drama?

  16. MommyMD

    At first I was going to say he’s a lunatic, but maybe the work has been getting more and more sloppy and he’s frustrated. And maybe the typos are incorrect information and not grammatical errors. Typing 14% instead of 19% is not a typo. It’s a factual error. A phone number incorrectly given is an error, not a typo. Typos are small grammar errors that don’t affect the big picture. Relaying incorrect information is much more.

    1. animaniactoo

      Typos are any error that is the result of incorrectly keying in the information. They may result in factual errors, but if the information is correctly referred to elsewhere and incorrectly referred to in this instance, it’s often clearly a typo by the person who maybe missed the 8 key on the number pad and ended up with a 5 instead.

      It’s what makes some typos major issues and some minor laughs. Go ahead – ask me how I learned the difference between oviparity and ovoviviparity. Or about that time that the Encyclopedia of Victoriana went back and forth between the typehouse and the publisher 4 times before somebody caught that “these gardens were now places for pubic pleasure”.

      Obviously typos that result in major errors are more important to fix – and they need to make that the focus of whatever process they have in place, but it’s the miskeying vs being misinformed that determines whether it’s a typo.

      1. MommyMD

        No matter, putting in wrong data is a factual error not a simple typo. It doesn’t matter the intent. It’s the responsibility of the writer to make sure the facts are correct. Maybe the guy is tired of important mistakes.

        1. animaniactoo

          I’m not trying to be pedantic (although I may be achieving it and if so I apologize) – getting a number wrong IS a simple typo. What it is not, is a minor typo; because it has resulted in a factual inaccuracy.

          No disagreement on the responsibility for proofreading and possibility that the guy is tired of important mistakes.

  17. a1

    I wonder if it’s not the typos so much as cc-ing the world about them. He should just sent to LW’s manager and/or team.

  18. RubyJackson

    I have this same problem but the co-worker who is cc’ing my manager is my managers WIFE, and she works in another department. I don’t know what to do.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Ask your boss? It seems that if your boss has issue with your work then the BOSS should tell you, not their wife.
      “Boss, this is awkward for me. Jane has cc’ed you and I multiple times about my typos. Do you have concerns with my work?”

      key points:
      Say, “Jane”, do not say “your wife”. You don’t want anything to sound like it’s personal.
      Draw it back on yourself, ask what you can do to improve the situation. Inquire about the boss’ sense of the size of the problem. Focus on the exact problem rather than the email aspect of this story.

      To get myself in the mindset for this conversation I would remind myself, that I am here to help. If something is going awry, then I am not helping. I want to change what I am doing so I can continue being a good employee.

      IRL, if your boss defends his wife up and down and tells you that you basically suck, then it’s probably wise to start job hunting. (I have seen this happen, too. And no, you don’t suck. Your boss doesn’t know how to manage.)

  19. Stuff

    My question is how often is this happening – if it’s once in a great while this is his problem and he’s being nit picky. If it is all the time I think it’s more your problem. You say your bosses want things to be perfect so maybe you need to be really careful to proof read. His escalation may be frustration at the lack of proof reading. You say he’s not perfect either but he is above you in the chain. He is within his rights to expect things to be sent to him that have been proof read. Especially if it is his job to aggregate and send up as your post implied. You say he has to re-type and send on so it’s “on him”. Frankly if I am taking people’s work and sending on I should not have to proofread their stuff first. I was a financial analyst and often has to send people’s work on after aggregating. It was NOT my job to proofread . He is probably copy/pasting exactly as I would in that type of role. He says he is spot checking and that is exactly how it should be in this type of role. Maybe I am misunderstanding the situation but that’s how I’m reading it having been in an aggregator role before. I can understand his frustration and escalation.

  20. I edit everything

    I wondered if the “we have to be perfect” remark was meant to be sarcasm. Anyone else get that sense?

    1. Kathleen_A

      My feeling is that it expresses frustration – sort of sarcastic but really more “we are being asked to do the impossible” in intent.

    2. KHB

      I’m reading it as passive-aggressiveness, meant to downplay the possibility that she really is making too many mistakes.

      1. Kathleen_A

        Oh, that’s a possibility, too. I mean, people can get really defensive about errors, including typos, and then try to deflect attention from them by declaring that anybody who expects anything better is just being nitpicky and unrealistic. But then again, other people can be really extremely petty – and nitpicky and unrealistic – about typos in casual emails, too. I’ve personally worked with both kinds. So I can’t tell what’s going on with the information we have now. And heck, it could be that all of that’s going on at the same time. There’s no reason why not.

        1. Stuff

          What really put me off was the he has to retype so it’s on him part of this. Soooooo he is expected to catch and correct your errors?

    3. Not So NewReader

      That we have to be perfect thing wears thin fast.
      Decide how much of this you are going to listen to OP and decide at what point you will tell them “Good luck only hiring perfect people.”

      You are there, I am not. You catch 27 mistakes an hour and you miss one tiny little obscure thing off in the corner then it might be time to tell them to only hire the perfect. I can remember getting called on the carpet for tiny, obscure error that never happened before and probably never will again. All I could think about what “I move mountains every day, and you can only talk about this little issue that NO ONE else has ever been concerned about in all of recorded history??” This was a place where the standing joke was, “You know if you are doing a good job because of the silence. No one is complaining that you aren’t doing a good job.”

  21. Essess

    My question is where the typoos are occurring? If they are in outgoing correspondence or other public-facing communications then he is right to keep bringing it up. If they are in quick internal memos and other informal documents, then his boss needs to be pulled in to knock it off.

    1. Essess

      I sent an email to the university administrators when the first two signs that parents would see when the arrived at at administration building for the school open house were “Get you student ID here” and the next sign was advertising one of the open house events going on in the building “Cariacaturist downstairs”. I told them that if I was a parent looking at schools for my child, I wouldn’t send them to one where the administration made it so obvious that it couldn’t be bothered to spell correctly.

      The same year, we were greeted at the entrance to campus with an official traffic sign stating the “Birdge” at the entrance was being repaired.

  22. Xarcady

    Solutions for this problem could be using spellcheck. If the OP is in a niche industry, there are sometimes dictionaries with specific jargon that can be added to the Word spellchecker.

    Or if the issue is transcribing information from one format to another, looking for software that will do this without mistakes. Or having coworkers proof anything that is intended for clients or the general public.

    While this coworker is definitely annoying and I don’t think he should be emailing the higher ups, in the OP’s shoes, I would be doing everything possible to prevent him from finding fault with my work.

    I’m also wondering how he gets to see everyone’s work?

    1. animaniactoo

      Repeating myself from above, but spellcheck has limited usefulness. Because “Theirs know weigh too ketch awl eras”. Grammar checkers have varying accuracy and can be a helpful additional step. But there is nothing. Nothing. That replaces proofreading by another set of eyes. They need a proofreading process that involves the material being checked by someone – an actual human – other than themselves.

      1. Kathleen_A

        Spellcheck is generally much more useful than grammarcheck, IMO. Grammarcheck can be helpful, but it’s right significantly less than half the time, in my experience, so it’s helpful only if the human writer/editor knows enough grammar to tell when it’s caught something that the human missed and when it’s just flat-out wrong. Of course spellcheck is sometimes wrong, too, but I do think it’s right more often than it’s wrong. It’s just that when it’s wrong, the sentences it approves are just so dang silly.

        Personally, I live in fear of someday writing about a “pubic meeting,” a “diary farm” or an event in “Terre Haute, Indian.” I don’t think I have so far, but…

  23. Old Lady

    I smell a rat.
    One of the ways to discredit someone that you want to get rid of or who’s job you want is to start pointing out every mistake to higher ups even if there is no impact on your job.
    My guess is that he is after your bosses job.
    In which case, Allison’s advice is correct but I would also document his errors even if you don’t send them in.
    Also, find out what is causing so many typos.
    While grammar check is in it’s infancy, spell check is everywhere.
    If this isn’t handled, this guy may be your boss soon.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Yeah, this is pretty much an attack on your boss, OP. “Look, Boss of OP is not doing her job, she is not providing adequate supervision.”

      Your boss sounds a bit laid back given the nature of this situation.

  24. AnotherKate

    I am a copy editor by trade, which means I tend toward the “gives a shit” end of the spectrum when it comes to misspellings and errors.

    However: this jerk is not following appropriate procedure, which is every bit as important to my copy editor’s soul as accuracy is. It’s not enough to notice errors–if you flag them the wrong way, it doesn’t lead to accurate work, and accurate work should be the ONLY goal of a copy editor. This dude does not appear to be in an editorial role, so his goals are suspect, too–he wants to look good, or feel like he’s Thorougher Than Thou, none of which has any place in actual editorial work.

    If I were the OP, I certainly wouldn’t be letting any of his errors slide, but unfortunately it sounds more like she has a Boss Problem than a Persnickety PhD Colleague problem–it’s her boss’s job to address the inappropriate cc’s and smooth over any issues with her higher ups.

    1. Tiny Soprano

      This. Whether or not they genuinely have a spelling error problem, they definitely have a jerk problem.

  25. Hamburke

    I feel like my next set of typos would mysterious spell something like “myob, Fergus last name”

  26. Not So NewReader

    He is not your supervisor, OP. One has to wonder why he has so much time available to check on all these details. Yet, he can’t check his own details. Probably doesn’t have time what with keeping up with the rest of you.

  27. BoredFed

    On the one hand, we really lack the context needed to evaluate how important these typos are. On the other hand, the way that the co-worker is approaching this seems passive agressive at best.
    For an occasional error, I would think that the more appropriate approach is to notify the sender, alone, to enable them to fix their own error without embarrassing them. In more serious or obstinate cases, cc their immediate supervisor.
    If important errors continue to the extent that further escalation is necessary, then one email, collecting (prior) examples for context and explaining why escalation was necessary, is the more appropriate procedure.
    If I, as a senior manager, were to be copied on a “gotcha” email such as the OP is referring to, it would drain my respect for the sender.
    The fact that the co-worker is so focused on the mote in OP’s eye, while ignoring the beam in their own, would complete the evisceration of their credibility.

  28. Noah

    I’ve worked with several people (at different jobs and different cities) who do something similar: they’ll point out spelling, grammar and style mistakes in very public ways (emails to the entire office and a general channel on slack) rather than pointing it out to the person/people responsible for the document.

    The difference is that I’ve only ever see it come from relatively junior people who are either angling for a promotion or angry that they didn’t get a promotion (in the latter case the “helpful grammar/spelling notes” are usually only sent for things the person who got the promotion creates).

  29. LGC

    So, first off: The dude is handling this in the exact worst way. Like, I’m going to be honest – notifying supervisors/management about every mistake is (as many people have noted) a waste of everyone’s time. I’m assuming that if you’re calling me over to look at a mistake, it’s serious enough to warrant me dropping everything, and if it’s obviously not, I feel like I’ve wasted five minutes. I feel like even if it’s a really important mistake, let the person who made the typo know first (except in extreme cases).

    That said, again – we’re lacking context, but there can be some typos that are really important! For example…we have to pull specific files pretty often. Each file usually has a specific identifier attached to it. If that identifier is wrong, that can be an entirely different file or even an invalid identifier. (One digit can change a lot.) A lot of people have pointed this out, but just because the coworker is a jerk doesn’t mean that the issue is invalid.

  30. Connie Meier

    Fergus should just email the typos to the OP and possibly OP’s boss and tell him to fix them.

    If they are important, problem solved without ticking off the big bosses. If they are no big deal, OP could fix them anyway to give him practice proofreading.

  31. JBx

    Of the bosses disagree with the co-worker, it is their responsibility to tell him to knock it off. However, OP indicates that the bosses agree about the typos being a problem because the workers “have to be perfect.” So I only see two conclusions:

    1) OP works in an industry where errors are unacceptable, for legitimate reasons. If so, the problem is that the co-worker is being inefficient in how he solves the problem. This is something for the leadership to solve among themselves.

    2) If there is not a legitimate reason for perfection-ism and the bosses are just being pedantic assholes, then OP is in a toxic environment. The OP can’t fix toxic leadership and needs to either accept it or get ready to bail.

    Either way, I can’t see how this is a problem that can be fixed by the OP. FWIW, if the bosses are arguing amongst themselves about the employees’ work and the standards for performance, that is still not the OP’s concern. The bosses can argue and criticize all day long. It doesn’t become the OP’s problem until instructions come down from OP’s direct supervisor.

  32. Iain C

    I have seen several “they’re” instead of “their”, “Of the” instead of “If the”, and many more of that ilk in the comments today. I wonder if I looked at other posts whether the typo-osity would be as high, or am I just primed to be on high alert by the topic? None of which would be caught by spell-czech.

    I also wonder how many are deliberate, and just going whoooosh above my head?

    ps, Knowing Muphry’s Law, I reread this comment three times! I wonder how many accidental errors I still made?

  33. BurnOutCandidate

    I have a coworker who does exactly this — email a bunch of people about typos in copy. My way of dealing with it is to have his emails filtered straight to my deleted items; this is the only time I hear from him, I can’t fix his problem, so I feel 100% safe ignoring him.

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