Are You A Fussbudget? Study Examines Types Who Spot Mistakes In Emails

Nobody likes typos in an email, especially in a personalized marketing message. But they happen. And it takes a special kind of person to spot them, according to research published in Fast Company.

The study was conducted by Julie Boland, a cognitive psychologist, and Robin Queen, a sociolinguist. They examined five personality traits, including:

  • Extraversion (i.e., how outgoing or social a person is) 
  • Agreeableness, 
  • Openness to experience,
  • Conscientiousness 
  • Neuroticism (prone to anxiety, fear, moodiness).

Are those the only types of people who exist? Don’t ask us: The objective was to determine how each personality type reacts to typos and “grammos” (grammatical errors). 

In prior research, in which students rated email writers as potential housemates the authors determined that those who “reported higher use of electronic media were less sensitive to the errors, though time spent pleasure reading had no effect.” 



Here’s how the five traits “considered to be important in personality research” affect email response.

“People who scored high in conscientiousness or low on the “open-to-experience” trait were more bothered by the typos,” the authors write.

Those who scored low on agreeability “were more bothered by the grammos. And people who scored low on ‘extraversion’ were more bothered by both types of errors,” the authors write.

They continue that “how people scored on neuroticism did not alter the impact of either type of error.” 

Got it: Contrary to what we might have believed, neurotics don’t particularly care about typos. Nor do friendly people. It takes a fussbudget to worry about all this.

Note: Differences in age and education did not seem affect people’s outlook.

What bearing does this have on marketing?

Just this. The authors did not invite participants to complain, but you could place those who do gripe into segments based on their neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, etc. 

It’s not clear what this would tell you about their shopping habits. But you’d at least get a handle on their personality traits, if you felt that was at all valuable.  

Or, just for a hoot, you might insert deliberate errors as Joe Sugarman used to do in DR space ads as an engagement device: He would ask readers to find his spelling mistakes (“please don’t correct my grammar.” )

Speaking of grammar, marketing copywriters often leave verbs and subjects out of sentences: It’s a kind of shorthand. It’s not clear whether different types are aggravated by that.

What can you conclude from all this? First, that it doesn’t necessarily follow that “your friends will view you more negatively if you don’t proofread your email messages, or that you can predict which people will call you on it based on their personality,” the authors write.

But “you might want to keep these findings in mind when you write for an unknown audience or when you read something from someone you don’t know,” they conclude. 

Update: This column was altered after publication. I corrected a typo. 

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