Saturday, February 23, 2019


August 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Proofreading, Publishing, Self publishing

Have you noticed how it’s easier to spot the errors in someone else’s writing than in your own? When we’ve written, revised, read, and reread the same text over and over, we see what we think we have written, not what we have actually written. Our eyes, our minds, and the mechanics of reading are to blame for this situation.

Saccades are among of the culprits, those jumps that our eye makes in the course of reading. When we read, our vision alights not on every word in the sentence but on say every fifth word. The words in between are registered as a blur in our parafoveal vision.

The serious proofreader must train herself to let the eye pause on every single word in turn and  allow time for the brain to analyze that word: is it correctly spelled, is it the word the author means to use or one that looks or sounds similar, is it correctly punctuated, has she repeated that word in the same sentence or the same paragraph?

This analysis requires an ample knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, a quick mind, and an aptitude for spotting patterns and anomalies in patterns. Some people have it and some don’t, just as some people can identify plants just by looking at a single leaf and others can’t.

Try your hand at proofreading your own writing. Take a page of rough draft and read it so that your eye lands on every word and you pause momentarily to consider each word in turn. Notice the time it takes to complete reading the entire page in this way.

Try reading the page from the bottom to the top, backwards from the last word to the first, as some proofreaders recommend. Notice how challenging this can be and how time consuming.

Try reading your writing aloud. Do you trip over certain words?

Proofreading one’s own writing to catch all the errors is a much bigger challenge than most authors realize. For authors who need proofreading assistance but are reluctant to hire a professional, their next best option is to draft in an English-teacher or journalist friend or relative. Beware of well-meaning friends who claim to be great at spotting typos in printed matter. Their ability to catch errors is likely to spotty.

For more on saccades and how we read, see this Wikipedia article on eye tracking.

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