I often say, “I notice other people’s tpyos but not my own.”
I even have it as a pinned Tweet/xPost.
I know I’m not alone, but why does this happen? I’ve had some thoughts on this, so I decided to do a deep dive to find out more.
We’ve all been there: meticulously crafting an email, only to hit ‘send’ and immediately spot a glaring typo. Frustratingly, it seems easier to spot these errors in others’ work rather than our own. But why is that?
The Brain’s Autopilot
When we write, our brains know what we intend to say. This familiarity causes us to skim over our own text, with our brains automatically correcting any minor errors.
Essentially, our brains are on autopilot, prioritising meaning over minute details. This is part of what’s known as the “word superiority effect”, where we recognise words as whole units rather than a series of letters.
Confirmation bias plays a significant role in proofreading. It’s a psychological tendency where we pay more attention to information confirming our beliefs and ignore information contradicting them.
When proofreading our work, we expect it to be error-free, leading us to overlook typos.
The Freshness Factor
When you’re deeply familiar with a text, it’s easier to miss mistakes because your brain is not as actively scrutinising the details.
On the other hand, when you read someone else’s work, it’s fresh and new, which means your brain is more alert and likely to spot errors.
Change blindness is a phenomenon where we find it difficult to spot changes in something we’re looking at if we’re not actively searching for differences.
When proofreading our work, we may not actively look for errors, making it easy to miss typos.
Tips for Better Proofreading
So, how can we improve our proofreading skills?
- Change the Format: Altering the font, size, or colour can make the text appear unfamiliar, allowing you to spot errors more easily.
- Read Aloud: Reading your work aloud can help you notice mistakes you might have missed when reading silently.
- Take a Break: Distance yourself from your writing before proofreading to approach it with fresh eyes.
- Use Technology: Spell-checking tools can help identify errors.
While our brains are wired to understand meaning and context, this can sometimes lead us to overlook typos in our writing.
By being aware of the psychological factors and employing strategic proofreading techniques, we can become more adept at catching those elusive errors.
So, next time you’re proofreading, remember: your brain is a powerful tool, but a little strategy can make it even sharper.