How damaging are writing errors like typos in faculty application documents? Do search committees usually tolerate a couple of small errors in cover letter, sample publications, etc?

  • 6
    Is the application in a language other than your native language?
    – GEdgar
    Dec 27, 2014 at 17:54
  • @GEdgar The application is in English which isn't my native language.
    – user21272
    Dec 27, 2014 at 18:38
  • 6
    If you can't be bothered to give the application serious consideration, why should I bother giving your application serious consideration?
    – Paul Smith
    Dec 28, 2014 at 12:51
  • @paul: A fair point, but typos sometimes sneak in, despite the author's best efforts. Dec 28, 2014 at 15:54
  • 1
    @GauravdadaPawar yes, it is obvious by your typo (matters, not matter's) :)
    – padawan
    Dec 29, 2014 at 22:24

5 Answers 5


To me, typos in a faculty application suggest one or more of the following:

  1. Detail - you do not pay enough attention to details.

  2. Rigor - you were not rigorous enough to ensure the document is error free by double checking and letting other people check the document.

  3. Importance - if the application was important enough you would have made sure it is error-free, therefore it may not be very important to you.
  4. Culture - you come from a culture where typos are acceptable, and did not bother to adapt.

Having said all that, in the end it is just a tiny factor amongst many more important factors. If you are awesome, this probably won't matter.

  • 10
    I would add a note of caution to interpreting point #3. The more important something is to me, the more likely it is that I have mentally drafted and re-drafted it before I even sit down at my desk. This can occasionally have the effect that I do not read the text back when proof-reading, but rather remember what I had planned to write. If you have a good memory, then even writing your piece far in advance of submission may still not be enough. Ideally, pass anything vitally important to a proof-reader who was not involved in drafting it. Dec 27, 2014 at 21:36
  • 8
    @imsotiredicantsleep hence point 2 ;)
    – Bitwise
    Dec 27, 2014 at 21:51
  • absolutely, but you rightly separate points 2 and 3. A lack of rigour does not necessarily imply a lack of importance, and vice versa. Rigour is an acquired mentality, not something you can merely throw effort behind. Dec 28, 2014 at 9:22

It's a minor factor, but certainly one that does influence my judgement of an applicant. If I'm down to deciding between two candidates to interview and they otherwise look to be about equally good, this is something that could be a deciding factor.

Since you're likely to be in competition with many other applicants, it's in your interest to make sure that there aren't any typos in your application.


It varies enormously among the faculty evaluating candidates. There are faculty I've worked with who read applications extremely closely and point out the existence of typos, misspellings, and formatting errors in faculty meetings when we are discussing candidates. Some people are bothered by small errors and see them as a strong signal of a lack of professionalism, respect for the application process, attention to detail, and potentially as evidence of an inability to teach students how to write well.

Personally, I don't read application materials with an eye for these kinds of mistakes so only the most glaring and disruptive mistakes will even be noticed. When minor issues are pointed out (e.g., in a faculty meeting) I don't think it affects my feelings on candidates.

If the former type of person is a search committee chair or member, an applicant with typos in their material might be in big trouble. If the search committee is made up the latter type, it might not matter.

Since there are at least some of the type who care deeply, and since small mistakes really are evidence of a lack of attention to detail and time spent on the application process, take the time to carefully proofread your documents. If mistakes tend to slip past you, ask others (either friends or a professional proofreader or copyeditor) for help.


It depends on the conditions, for sure.

If there are a lot of applicants of your quality, then they should look for some criteria to eliminate people among applicants. And that criteria, in your case, would be the grammar of the cover letter.

If your work is outstanding, then they probably would overlook a few typos.

However, keep in mind that there can always be a pair of grumpy(!) professors in the committee.


There is literally no good reasan for you to have typos of any kind in your application, whether it be for faculty or student positions.

While more difficult than simply running the text through a spellchecker, you should definitely go to some effort to find someone to proofread your application for spelling and grammatical issues.

Since there is a nonzero chance that at least one person in the application committee is a pedant for spelling/grammar (and such people are clearly overrepresented in the academic community), it would be rather risky to submit any piece of application without having it proofread by a native speaker first.

  • 1
    Actually, the typoed word might have a meaning e.g. effect/affect. Best way to avoid typos are proof-reading for sure.
    – padawan
    Dec 27, 2014 at 18:48
  • 1
    Typos are not always (and these days, not usually) spelling errors. Your answer seems to assume that they are. For example, before I edited it, the original version of this question had several grammar errors.
    – mako
    Dec 27, 2014 at 19:20
  • Both good points, edited.
    – March Ho
    Dec 27, 2014 at 19:24
  • They happen. Rarely do I submit or review a manuscript that makes it through the review process (or the copy editing process) without at least one typo/minor grammatical mistake being fixed. This is in a field where 3-5 authors is not uncommon so the majority of manuscripts are read by multiple people.
    – StrongBad
    Dec 28, 2014 at 14:58
  • 1
    Another example besides spelling and grammar errors is when people accidentally a word.
    – user541686
    Dec 28, 2014 at 17:16

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