Most of us who blog regularly do our best at proofreading before we publish. Sometimes, we rely on software as well as our own eyes.
I have a confession to make. As much as I talk about the importance of good grammar and proper spelling, I sometimes make mistakes. And as much as I try to make sure I never miss anything in the proofreading process, sometimes I do.
It’s aggravating, to say the least.
But it happens. And for bloggers, proofreading can be a very tricking proposition. More on that in a moment.
I received a very nice email recently from a reader who wanted to alert me to two typos in the same article. Ironically, he found those typos in a recent post about the Grammarly plugin. I use Grammarly to help prevent such errors.
Oh, the irony.
One of the errors involved the word necessarily. I remember what happened. I restructured a sentence to make it a bit less cumbersome. When I did, I should have changed necessarily to necessary. But somehow, I missed that.
The second error involved an inadvertent omission of the word to. I just left it out of a sentence.
To be fair, Grammarly, which is a spell-check tool that has some grammar-checking capabilities, can’t catch everything. Necessarily, for example, is not a misspelling, even though it was the wrong form of the word. It would have been nice if it had noticed the missing to.
But then again, it would have been even nicer if I had noticed it.
Proofreading your own writing is difficult.
And I’m beginning to think that in this Information Age in which we’re constantly staring at screens, it’s even harder.
Part of the problem is that our brains auto-correct mistakes on their own.
Consider the headline in this article: “Breaking the Code: Why Yuor Barin Can Raed Tihs”
If you scan text — which seems to be how most of us read — your eyes make quick calculations. Your brain processes what it thinks it sees and moves on. That’s why some people will read right past a typo without noticing it.
There’s even a recently-coined word, typoglycemia, to describe the process.
The Wikipedia entry on the word cites a widely-circulated urban legend about researchers at Cambridge University. The claim is that the researchers found that the brain can easily process misspelled words as long as the first and last letters are in the right places.
The article notes this appears to be an urban legend…but it may be accurate.
But that’s only one reason proofreading can be a challenge.
Yes, our brains help us skip over mistakes others make by “auto-correcting” them before we have a chance to notice them.
But that’s when we’re trying to understand someone else’s words.
When we copyedit our own writing, we’re facing another disadvantage: we already know what we’re trying to say. So we may be blind to a mistake not only because of the auto-correct but because we can “hear” in our heads what we were saying when we typed the words.
We know what we meant to say, and sometimes, we walk into a copyediting session with that very thing in mind. If we don’t pay careful attention, we end up skipping over a typo because we’re sure we said it correctly to begin with.
The guidance is that if we’re going to copyedit our own work, we should take time away from it first. We shouldn’t write something and then immediately jump into copyediting mode. What we meant to say — and what we assume we did say — is still far too fresh and may contaminate the process.
That’s when we’re best-served by turning over our latest post to a team member so they can look it over.
But we’re bloggers: many of us have no “team members” for such an edit. We’re one-man bands, writing, editing, publishing and everything else that comes with blogging.
And even if you’re able to schedule posts out ahead of time, which I always recommend, a last-minute change can force you to crash something together. That could mean you don’t have the time to copyedit with “fresh eyes.”
And that means you could be more prone to making the very mistakes you hope you never do.
I appreciate the reader’s effort to email me privately about the typos.
Even so, I hate that they were there.
I understand why they happened, but that doesn’t make the pill any easier to swallow.
All of us who blog must look at this as a challenge: maybe we need to make an effort to write further ahead of schedule so we have that extra time to proofread one more time before it goes live.
Or maybe we delay the publishing time by an extra hour so we can have one final look.
One other piece of guidance suggests we should always print a paper copy of our work. Since we’re writing it on a screen, reading it on paper might be just different enough to help our eyes spot errors faster. I don’t know how environmentally-friendly that idea is. But it’s definitely worth considering.
Hopefully, I won’t make any embarrassing errors in this post. But I’m going to make sure I give it one extra look before it goes up.
If I do make a mistake, it won’t be because I didn’t try to avoid it!