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An error is the deviation of a state , process or result from a standard , the rules or a goal .

It is also defined as a "characteristic value that does not meet the specified requirements" and as "non-fulfillment of a requirement"; The requirement is defined as “a requirement or expectation that is specified, usually presupposed or mandatory”.

Display of an error? Whether a clock is out of order or which is showing incorrectly cannot be determined from the photo.
Example of an incorrect form (missing predefined space for specifying the calendar date) and incorrect filling of the form (the underscore in front of "the" is actually intended for the place of issue)


Standards in particular come into question as standards. Standards are legal , social , linguistic or technical specifications or the work process regulated in work instructions . If there is a deviation from this, it is an error. These standards must be established beforehand and known to those involved, otherwise there are no faulty deviations from the standard. If they are complied with, there is conformity with standards or rules; Deviations from this can be proven as errors. Errors not only affect actions such as malpractice or casting defects , but also conditions such as heart defects or material defects . Error is also what is missing from a thing or a given condition , such as a missing pipeline or missing information . However, the error also stands for the deviation of a measured value from the true value or from the error tolerance . George A. Miller therefore defined errors in 1960 as all deviations of the actual state from the target state. The actual state, such as the actually achieved work product , (which here with the target state task ) compared. Therefore, an error can also be revealed by the fact that an action or a measurement result is subsequently subjected to an assessment . This, in turn, can lead to assessment errors.

Mistakes affect all areas of life , but are particularly salient in some , such as in school , in traffic or in the work process . Errors underlie all words from its word family such as failure , weak point , disruption , deception or failure . Every accident (such as a road traffic accident ) or every accident ( work accident , household accident , sports accident ) is a sudden event that causes considerable damage to people or property and threatens to cause further damage; both are due to previous errors. They are associated with negative cues ( fear , anger , shame ), so that one tries to avoid mistakes or to hide them ( escape from an accident ).


The words "error", "fail", "missing" or "wrong" are rooted in fraud / deception ( Latin falla -substantive- or Latin fallere -verb-). As early as 1925, Hermann Weimer pointed out that “by no means everything that is wrong must be a mistake”.

Causes of failure

In humans, the errors are predominantly based on psychological causes. These include in particular insufficient or lack of attention , concentration or motivation as well as distraction , monotony , tiredness or stress . The work curve (learning curve) gives clear indications of physiological error potentials ( workload , fatigue ). The causes of machine errors can be traced back to operating errors , inadequate maintenance or repair , excessive work intensity , improper use , wear and tear, or material fatigue.

These causes of error can also be divided according to whether they are in the person's environment or within the person :

These external (environment) and internal sources of error can occur in isolation or in combination.

Types of errors

In error analysis , there have been many attempts to systematize the types of errors . There is a division into structural / mechanical / other failures, information errors, diagnostic errors, target errors, strategy errors, procedural errors and execution errors. In 1990 James Reason classified the errors as unintentional (attention deficit), forgetful (memory error) , faulty (rule-based errors) and intentional (violation of routine, exception violation, sabotage).

In error analysis, a general distinction is made between the following types of errors:

  • A systematic error occurs when standards or measuring devices are incorrect or imprecise and the - actually objectively correct - work results deviate from them. If, for example, a scale is incorrectly adjusted , the weights of the weighed objects cannot be precisely determined. These errors arise from the legal context of an action that encounters incorrect standards. The frequency of errors is very high, in extreme cases 100%. Troubleshooting starts with the higher-level error source and eliminates a large number of incorrect measurements.
  • An accidental error occurs by chance without any legal connection and is based on malfunction due to human errors , technical defects or machine malfunctions. The latter is when machines or other devices do not function according to the task . The frequency of errors tends to be significantly lower for random errors than for systematic errors. Troubleshooting, on the other hand, is more difficult than systematic errors because each individual error object can have a different cause.

Chains of errors in a context are called an error chain ; they can lead to the breakdown of entire systems, e.g. B. Airplane crash or extensive power failure .

Classification of defects

Defects are classified according to their effects in the defect classification as follows:

The consequences of an error are usually undesirable. Therefore, errors are often - but not exclusively - classified according to the severity of the error effects . According to the extent of the error, a distinction is made between

The decisive factor for error detection is who discovers the error, either the agent himself or whether errors are not noticed until the inspection . According to the Pareto distribution, only 20–30% of the types of errors are responsible for 70–80% of all errors.

Errors in individual subject areas

There are other types of errors in individual subject areas , such as in pedagogy or mathematics . Pedagogy knows reproductive errors (insufficient access to learned content), comprehension errors (comprehension difficulties), application errors (insufficient application of existing knowledge in new situations) or communication errors (misunderstandings). The numerical analysis defines the error other than the vernacular. According to this, an error has occurred if the violation of calculation rules , the use of incorrect equations or an incorrect mathematical conclusion produces an unusable result. The deviation of an approximate value from a - mostly unknown - true value is also an error.

everyday life

Common everyday mistakes are errors in reasoning , printing errors , fat finger errors , calculation errors , spelling errors , hearing errors , speech errors or typing errors . All of them can become gross mistakes if they go undetected and cause damage. Perceptual errors are deficiencies in the ability to derive a comprehensive and adequate representation of properties of the physical and social environment from sensory information.


The primary goal of the production of goods and services is the avoidance of faulty production in order not to impair the product and service quality and to prevent fault costs . This contributes to both product safety and customer satisfaction and requires the highest possible quality of work . The zero-defect strategy aims at production that is as error-free as possible, in which no scrap is to be generated and therefore no reworking is necessary. The earlier DIN ISO 8402 and DIN 55350 described the error as "failure to meet a specified requirement". This includes types of errors such as the planning fallacy , the wrong decision , construction errors or incorrect staffing .


The law is concerned on the one hand with errors in the regulation (eg. B. unconscious loopholes ), on the other hand with those of the application of the law (z. B. The method error ).

In the law, every deviation from a legal norm is to be regarded as an error. In civil law , due diligence is a norm of behavior from which negligence and intent differ incorrectly. The criminal law or ancillary criminal law threatens the behavior errors expressed in the criminal offense or in administrative offenses with punishment .

civil right

A medical treatment error is presumed if a general treatment risk has materialized that was fully controllable for the treating person and that led to injury to life, limb or health of the patient ( Section 630h, Paragraph 1 BGB ). All advice-intensive professions involve the risk of incorrect advice . The tour operator is obliged to provide the trip in such a way that it has the warranted characteristics and is not afflicted with defects that nullify or reduce the value or suitability for the usual benefit or benefit required by the travel contract ( Section 651c (1) BGB) .

A product is defective if it does not offer the level of safety that can reasonably be expected, taking into account all the circumstances, in particular its presentation, use, which can reasonably be expected or the time at which it was brought into circulation ( Section 3 (1) ProdHaftG ). If someone kills someone, their body or health is injured or something is damaged as a result of a fault in a product, the manufacturer of the product is obliged to compensate the injured party for the resulting damage ( Section 1 (1) ProdHaftG).

Administrative law

An administrative act is null and void if it suffers from a particularly serious error and this is obvious after a reasonable assessment of all the relevant circumstances ( Section 44 (1) VwVfG ). A serious mistake makes the administrative act absolutely unbearable, that is, makes it appear “incompatible with fundamental constitutional principles or essential values ​​immanent with the legal system [...]. The requirements for proper administration must be violated to such an extent that nobody can be expected to recognize the administrative act as binding ”. A distinction must be made between the merely incorrect, the illegal and the ineffective administrative act. Incorrect administrative files contain the errors listed in Section 42 VwVfgG (typographical errors, calculation errors and similar obvious inaccuracies).

Criminal law

A criminal offense is characterized by the factual nature , illegality and guilt . The core of the charge of guilt is that the perpetrator acted unlawfully, although he was able to act in accordance with the norms according to his facilities and circumstances. If he therefore complies with a certain penalty standard through his culpable misconduct, he faces a penalty.


Rounding errors are planned deviations that are knowingly accepted, while calculation errors usually occur unconsciously.

In statistics, there are type 1 and type 2 errors , random errors, and sample or standard errors .


Errors and their consequences can also be caused by malfunctions such as technical defects . In this case, the error is not caused by people who use and operate a system or device, but rather arise during production and / or construction ( construction errors ). In many cases, technical errors can therefore be traced back to human errors in the design phase or in the production process. The Failure Modes and Effects Analysis ( FMEA ) tries to systematically identify and evaluate all possible failures, the failure consequences and possible failure chains in order to initiate appropriate measures. Digital data transmission uses error correction methods .

Physics and measurement technology

The classical physics is used for the physical variables unique true values ahead. The aim of measurement technology is to determine the values ​​of these quantities with an estimable approximation. As a rule, however, there remains a deviation from the value that corresponds to the definition of the special variable under consideration. The designation of any type of measurement error as an error goes back to Carl Friedrich Gauß and was retained until 1983. The term is used in different meanings.

In terms of the definition of the term error as “non-fulfillment of a requirement”, the error only applies to impermissible implementations, such as those that can arise due to technical inadequacies of a measuring device or a material measure. Only “gross” measurement deviations that result from incorrect handling or obvious defects in the measuring devices can correctly be described as measurement errors .

Even in permissible implementations, in which nothing contrary to the rules or defective is used, the true value is not measured. However, the deviations are not errors in the sense of this term. To distinguish, after ten years of discussion, the language formation in German-language standardization , especially in the basic standard for measurement technology DIN 1319 , has been changed to the designation measurement deviation with a meaning that is dealt with in the associated main article. In linguistic usage, this measurement deviation is often referred to when speaking of measurement errors. But even internationally it is stipulated: "Measurement deviation should not be confused with error."

The word error is still used in metrology in connection with other words ( error calculation , error limit , error propagation ).


Errors related to software are caused by

  • Inadequate, inadequate program specification,
  • Mistakes in programming, forgotten cases,
  • Inadequate ergonomics (usability),
  • Incorrect data input (e.g. incorrect operation or other application errors): A program can only deliver a correct output if the input is correct . In addition to this core function, which often follows the EVA principle , a robust program must also deal with all foreseeable incorrect entries. The user should be given relevant, as clear as possible, understandable information in the form of error messages about what he is doing wrong or where the cause of the incorrect entry is. These error messages can appear optically on the screen, (additionally) acoustically or continuously in a simultaneously continuous error log .


In linguistics , errors mean deviations from a binding rule of language and differentiate competence errors as fundamental uncertainty or knowledge gaps ; Performance errors, on the other hand, indicate failure due to implementation difficulties. Visible errors are externally recognizable, hidden errors remain initially hidden; Productive error is an error that can be perceived through one's own speech, while receptive error is a hearing error. The error Linguistics examines errors in speaking and reading.

Sports and games

In a game or in sport , a mistake is a play or action that usually results in loss or a decrease in profit . A mistake can be decisive in the game, but it can often be compensated for by other actions. The chess grandmaster Savielly Tartakower claims in his Tartakowerisms : “The existence of the game of chess is justified by the existence of mistakes”.

Error analysis and error correction

Failure analysis is understood to mean a systematic, rigorous, objective investigation of the facts, the decision-making process, the action, the plot and the other circumstances that led to an “undesirable event”. It is the method of determining the causes of the errors, and doing this as carefully as possible in order to avoid them in the future. By fault diagnosis and root cause analysis resulting errors are statistically recorded, systematic sources of error in a error rate shown. The error management has to ensure the detection and elimination of weak points , whereby future error potentials can be reduced or completely excluded. The error correction contributes to the elimination of errors that have occurred. Finally, an error culture should ensure that errors are dealt with correctly. Here, the play learning from mistakes an important role. It concentrates on the causes of errors and develops strategies in quality management to avoid errors. Dealing with errors is an essential feature of sustainable business management and thus economic success.

Defects themselves can only be insured in exceptional cases. With the infringement principle of financial loss liability insurance , the insured event occurs when errors occur and not only when the error has caused damage. For all other insurance companies only need a insurance claim be proven.

Avoidance strategies


Errors that have arisen are to be uncovered by means of a detective control . With regard to the scope of control, it can be carried out as a random check or a total check. If it is integrated into individual workflow sections of a work process, it can prevent chains of errors. The results of systematic controls can contribute to error analysis, which can be used for error prevention.


In controlling, a distinction is made between three types of errors when analyzing the causes of deviations:

  • Planning error : here the environmental situation is described incorrectly. This can be due to incorrect assumptions about market developments , incorrect assumptions about cost or income functions or the like.
  • Realization error: this can result from unintentional misconduct but also from intentional ( principal-agent theory ) .
  • Evaluation errors due to measurement errors, incorrect postings , incorrect interpretations or similar errors.

The aim of both types is to correct errors that have been discovered, but to learn from errors in the future.

Error research

Error research is an interdisciplinary field that deals with research into errors in thinking , planning and acting. As the first psychologist , James Sully tried in 1881 to classify errors of perception and memory errors (or illusions) and to find cognitive explanatory principles for them. Already Sigmund Freud contributed coined by him terms blunder (1901) and faulty action (1935) in error research. Failures are therefore promising , forgetting , prescribing , interrogating , losing , grasping or misplacing objects. Typical mistakes in kitchen work are dousing, splashing or staining. Failures and misconduct are performances or actions that, under the influence of unconscious conflicts as disruptive factors, fail to achieve the originally intended goal or only achieve them in a distorted way, and thereby help unconscious wishes to break through. In 1926 Hermann Weimer focused on error research and error research with his error research and error psychological writings. Dealing with mistakes and learning from mistakes are addressed in learning through insight , learning through trial and error and problem solving .

Creative mistakes

Errors do not always have negative consequences, even if the term has negative connotations overall . A navigational error by Christopher Columbus led to the discovery of America in October 1492 . In September 1928, at the beginning of the summer vacation, Alexander Fleming made the mistake of not tidying up his workplace . After his holiday return, he realized that a forgotten laboratory agar plate with a mold ( Latin Penicillium notatum was covered) that it the invention of penicillin stimulated. The inventions of Teflon (July 1941), Post-it (1974) and Viagra (March 1998) were also based on previous research errors .

See also


  • Martin Weingardt: Mistakes set us apart . Transdisciplinary basics of the theory and productivity of error in school and the world of work. Klinkhardt, Bad Heilbrunn 2004, ISBN 3-7815-1276-2 .
  • Ulrich Frey: The blind spot. Cognitive errors in science and their evolutionary basis. Ontos-Verlag, Heusenstamm et al. 2007, ISBN 978-3-938793-51-0 .
  • Philip B. Crosby: Quality is free: the art of making quality certain. McGraw-Hill, New York 1979, ISBN 0-07-014512-1 .
  • John Taylor: Introduction to Error analysis: The Study of Uncertainties in Physical Measurements. (German "failure analysis"). 2nd Edition. Univ. Science Books, 1997, ISBN 0-935702-75-X . (on the cover of the book is a photo of the railway accident at Gare Montparnasse in 1895)
  • Manfred Drosg: Dealing with Uncertainties: A Guide to Error Analysis . 1st edition. Facultas, 2006, ISBN 3-85076-748-5 .
  • Rolf Dobelli : The art of clear thinking. 52 Mistakes in thinking that are better left to others. Hanser, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-446-42682-5 .
  • Klaus Horsten: Make real mistakes! This is how wrong becomes good . Edition Imperfekta, Vienna 2014, ISBN 978-3-200-03588-1 , google books online .

Web links

Wikiquote: Errors  - Quotes
Wiktionary: mistakes  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. DIN EN ISO 9000: 2005 "Quality Management - Basics and Terms"
  2. George A Miller / Eugene Galanter / Karl H. Pribram , Plans and the Structure of Behavior , 1960, pp. 59 ff.
  3. Gabriele Steuer, Error Climate in Class , 2014, p. 12
  4. RGZ 71, 189
  5. ^ Friedrich Kluge , Etymological Dictionary of the German Language , 1999, p. 255 f.
  6. Hermann Weimer, Psychology of Errors , 1925, p. 1
  7. Otto Neumaier (ed.): What can be learned from mistakes in everyday life, science and art , 2010, p. 10 ff.
  8. Petra Badke-Schaub / Gesine Hofinger / Kristina Lauche (eds.): Human Factors: Psychology of Safe Action in Risk Branches , 2008, p. 51
  9. Jens Rasmussen, Human Errors: A Taxonomy for describing human malfunctions in Industrial relations , August 1981, pp. 311–333
  10. James Reason, Human Error , 1990, pp. 115 ff.
  11. The theory of the chain of errors. ( Memento of the original from May 25, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. on: @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  12. Hubert Gräfen / VDI-Gesellschaft Werkstofftechnik (ed.), Lexikon Werkstofftechnik , 1993, p. 286 f.
  13. Gerd F. Kamiske, Die Hohe Schule des Total Quality Management , 1994, p. 313
  14. Karl-Heinz Kompenhans, Business Mathematics with Small Computers , 1978, p. 3
  15. Ludger Schmidt / Christopher M. Schlick / Jürgen Grosche (eds.): Ergonomie und Mensch-Maschine-Systeme , 2008, p. 448
  16. BVerwG, judgment of September 9, 2014, Az .: 1 C 10.14
  17. Gerlinda Smaus, The criminal law and criminality in the everyday language of the German population , 1985, p. 58
  18. a b Walter Geiger / Willi Kotte, manual quality. Vieweg, 2008, p. 388 ( limited preview in Google book search)
  19. Susanne Heinicke: Mistakes make you wise. A genetic-didactic reconstruction of the measurement error . Logos, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-8325-2987-1 , p. 88 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  20. Rainer Parthier: Measurement technology: Basics and applications of electrical measurement technology for all technical disciplines and industrial engineers . Vieweg and Teubner, 2010, p. 52 ( limited preview in Google Book Search)
  21. ^ Franz Adunka: Measurement Uncertainties: Theory and Practice . Vulkan, Essen 2007, p. 44 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  22. Burghart Brinkmann: International Dictionary of Metrology: Basic and General Terms and Associated Terms (VIM), German-English version ISO / IEC Guide 99: 2007 . Beuth, 2012; in definition 2.16 ( limited preview in Google Book search)
  23. Gerhard Helbig / Lutz Götze / Gert Henrici / Hans-Jürgen Krumm (eds.): German as a foreign language , Volume 2, 2001, p. 988
  24. Alexei Suetin , Typical Errors , 1980, p. 28
  25. H. Troidl, B. Bäcker, B. Langer, A. Winkler-Wilfurth: Failure analysis - evaluation and prevention of complications; its legal implication in the 1993 volume of the congress: W. Hartel: Change of surgery in our time. Springer, 1993, p. 67
  26., Deutschlandfunk, Pisaplus , 23 October 2010, moderation: Kate Maleike: Main topic: Attempts make "smart" - On the error culture in schools and companies in Germany (24 October 2010)
  27. James Sully, Outlines of Psychology , 1884, pp. 8 ff.
  28. James Sully, Outlines of Psychology , 1884, pp. 17 ff.
  29. ^ Sigmund Freud, On the Psychopathology of Everyday Life , 1901, p. 268
  30. ^ Sigmund Freud, The Fineness of an Error Handling , in: GW XVI, 1932–1939, p. 37 ff.
  31. Christian Müller (Ed.): Lexikon der Psychiatrie , 1989, p. 292
  32. Martin Weingardt, Errors distinguish us , 2004, pp. 28–30