In my first job, I had a colleague who was a whiz at proofreading. No matter how closely or how many times I checked my copy, she would always catch something I missed. How? She employed a clever technique.

There are all sorts of ways to proofread. Some people read out loud, which can reveal errors that our eyes miss. Others run a finger over hard copy as they go or hold a ruler under each line. Some bump up the resolution on their screen to 200% or more to hyper focus on each word.

All of these methods have a flaw. My colleague knew it, which is why she proofread from back to front.

You see, our brains can trick us when we read, fixing wrong spellings and punctuation and filling in missing words. As one editor wrote, the brain is the original autocorrector.

If you doubt it, consider a few passages that I saw on a science website. See how easily you can read this:

It deson’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aepapr,

the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer

are in the rghit pcale.  The rset can be a toatl mses and

you can sitll raed it wouthit a pobelrm.

What if numbers replaced some letters?

S1M1L4RLY, Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1NG 7H15

4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17.

That’s the power of our brains to process information in chunks. It’s a great asset for comprehension, but also an enemy of proofreading.

Spellcheck isn’t perfect. Nor are a lot of traditional proofing methods. When you read text backwards, word by word and sentence by sentence, you block out the flow and context. You don’t see it all at once. So you can concentrate more on every detail.

And that’s that’s the way to avoid mitsakes.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.

July 12, 2017

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