I am continually amazed at the number of typos and other written errors I find.
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. Run 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 content make sense? Is it logical and clear? Does the title or headline “fit” the material?
Next, read for details. Pay special 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 a screen.
To make it even easier, use a large font and wide margins. Or change the look of the content. 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 something you’ve written, 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.
Read the document aloud. This forces you to read every word. And, according to Literary Education Online, we often “hear” more errors than we see.
Focus on the words
To stay focused, slide a blank sheet of paper down the page as you read. This helps you to read what is on the page, not what you think is there.
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.
A final note
Keep your skills sharp. Look for mistakes when you read. Chances are you’ll find plenty.
Versions of this article appeared on October 14, 2016, and on July 12, 2012.