Why Typos Should be High-Priority Bugs

Long ago, before prepackaged content management systems and WYSIWYG HTML editors, my manager asked me to refresh our internal quality assurance (QA) website. So, I built some wireframes of the layout, then opened my favorite text editing tool. Thus began the arduous process of coding the new website.

Once the code was completed, I uploaded it to our staging folder and began to test it — as any good tester does. Unsurprisingly, I found a few bugs; that’s why we test after all. But one issue was egregious. If anyone else had caught this bug before me, I would have been appalled.

It was a typo.

I know what you’re thinking: “Typos happen. Low severity. We’ll fix it after we fix the high-severity bugs.” But, in my opinion, this typo was of high severity. If it had published, my reputation as a good tester in the company could, and rightfully should, have been called into question. At the very least, my colleagues would never let me forget that I let this typo make it into the world. What typo could be so bad as to put me into such a panic? Somehow, in the title of every page of the new QA website, I had misspelled the word quality. Everyone in my department now worked in the quailty assurance department. I assume this meant we were still tasked with finding bugs — the kind of bugs you use to feed small game birds, rather than those that populated bug reports for software developers. One small typing error had not only renamed my department, but it had changed its entire area of expertise. Quite a fowl change, indeed.

I corrected the typo before anyone saw it, but, to this day, I have never forgotten it. It is an easy typo to make, in fact I even made this typo once while writing this blog post. It’s also an easy mistake to overlook when proofreading, but it’s ultimately important to spell quality correctly when your role is in quality assurance.

Curious if anyone else had ever made this typo, I entered the term quailty assurance into a web search engine. The results were shocking. Pages upon pages of results displayed for quailty assurance services, personal résumés and training materials — with more results showing up every day.

Do you still believe typos are low severity? If yes, then let me ask you a few questions.

Let’s say you’re suddenly in need of legal services. You peruse a few law firm websites to find the best representation for your needs. Would you feel comfortable hiring the most knowledgeable layers in the industry?

How about a real-world example? In 2018, Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific misspelled its own company name on the side of one of its airliners as Cathay Paciic. The internet had a good laugh about the mistake, but some customers might think twice about trusting an airline company with their safety if they can’t catch an important detail like that. Maybe it wasn’t the company’s fault; perhaps it hired the most detail-oriented poofreading company in the business to ensure these errors didn’t materialize. Or maybe the blame fell on the QA department head, who might have claimed they had decades of product manger experience.

Even the most intelligent organizations and engineers commit a costly typo. Back in 1962, NASA launched the country’s first interplanetary probe, which was set to explore Venus up close. Instead, the probe exploded just minutes after takeoff, a costly $80 million failure — nearly $740 million when adjusted for inflation. The cause of the explosion was one missing hyphen in the part of the code that set speed and trajectory. That's hardly the lone example of engineering typos resulting in losses in the millions. Still think typos are minor defects?

Your business might be the best at what it does, but one simple overlooked typo can raise enough doubt to make a potential client hire your competitor. Typos happen, but brand reputation and customer confidence is more important today than ever. Think twice before you relegate that typo to a low-severity status, where it may linger in your bug backlog.

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