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?
To me, typos in a faculty application suggest one or more of the following:
Detail - you do not pay enough attention to details.
Rigor - you were not rigorous enough to ensure the document is error free by double checking and letting other people check the document.
- 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.
- 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.
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.