Really Need Something Proofed Perfectly?

A paragraph filled with rearranged letters and typos
Image courtesy of Gizmodo

Weird, right? So how is it we can read the above paragraph? According to a researcher at Cambridge University,

… it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place.

The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself but the word as a whole.

Huh. Well, that makes proofreading our writing really problematic, doesn’t it? Particularly because, “… Our own typos are hard to spot because we know what we meant to write, and so this gets in the way of seeing what we actually did write.”

OK, so we need to figure out how to trick our brains into catching typos, not missing them. But how?

Here are a few easy techniques:

1.) Read your writing two to three times, letting it sit between reads. Then you’re reading with “fresh eyes.” If possible, put a night’s sleep between you and your project/paper/blog/social media post/marketing copy/email.

2.) Read your super-important projects forward and backward. I can’t emphasize this enough. Albeit it doesn’t work for long-form content unless you have five hours to spare, but it does wonders for short emails, social media posts, marketing copy, titles, subject lines, and the like.

3.) Get an actual fresh set of eyes to read your writing–a friend, a colleague, or a family member. And not to push my own services, but another option is to hire a professional. You know, someone like me who spends 40 hours a week catching writing errors. Just sayin’.


21 thoughts on “Really Need Something Proofed Perfectly?

  1. I have seen that photo circle around and have read quite a few times but every time I do, I’m baffled! It truly is amazing. I think those three tips you provided are very good. In my case, my patience is the question. I am usually so excited to get my work out there that I rush through the proof-reading process which is totally wrong…. thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same here. I used to be a fairly fast reader, but since I started working as an subeditor I got slower and slower because I had to sound each word, at least in my head.

      I really hate it, though, when people use that example to justify not needing to spell correctly. Why bohter, rgiht, wehn you can raed it?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well, it’s not required, just one of those things recommended during training and it actually did help when I was new, and it just stuck, I guess! Now I can’t stop doing it.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Possibly the most frustrating thing about being the sole proofreader at my agency is the lack of a second set of eyes.

      The last time I sent out an agency-wide email, I begged the HR person to proofread it for me, but I don’t think she took me seriously (she probably figured I’M the proofreader, not her).

      Once the email was sent out, I spotted the glaring typo in the second paragraph. I could only pray it was a TL;DR situation.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. For me the longer I can afford to let an essay sit before actually publishing, the better off I am. I need time to forget what I wrote before I can catch anything but the most obvious mistakes.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. An annoying but useful method of proofreading is to begin at the last word and read backwards. That way, the form of the sentences are less defined and the eye picks up many more mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

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