How could such mistakes happen? It’s easy because we read:
- The outside shapes of words, not the individual letters
- Words in phrases, not just individual words
- Words in context, not isolated from the sentence’s meaning.
Specifically, aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
Scary, isn’t it?
However, here are some tips for proofreading success.
Take advantage of spell checker.
Let Microsoft Word do the heavy lifting. Spell check early and often.
At the same time Word does not read for content. That’s your job.
So first read for the big picture. Does the document make sense? Does it present its information logically and clearly? Does the title or headline “fit” what is in the copy?
Next, read for details. Pay particular attention to common errors, such as:
- Subject-verb agreement (e.g., “He swims. They swim.”)
- Sentence fragments
- Pronoun references
- Missing words, and
- Duplicated words.
Prepare the document.
Most people find it easier to proofread from the printed page, rather than from the computer screen. Use a large font and wide margins.
Or change the look of the document. Making the text a different size, color or style can trick your brain into thinking it’s seeing something new.
Time your proofreading.
If you’re proofreading your own writing, take a break between finishing the draft and proofreading. This can give you a fresh perspective. Ideally, proofread more than once, in short blocks of time, and take breaks between sessions.
Read the document aloud. I have been amazed at what I discover this way. Or have someone read the document to you. (A luxury I know.) However, we often “hear” more errors than we see.
Focus on the words.
Run your finger along the text. Point at each word as you go along. I feel silly doing this, but it helps.
Use two pieces of blank white paper to cover all but one sentence at a time. Or slide a blank sheet of paper down the page as you read. Either technique can help keep you focused.
Read the copy backwards paragraph by paragraph. I find this effective the second or third time I go through a document. “Starting at the end” helps me catch mistakes I might otherwise miss.
Use today’s tools.
Keep your skills sharp.
Look for mistakes when you read magazines, newspapers and the like. Chances are you’ll find plenty.
Some information in this article came from LEO (Literary Education Online).