Why is it so hard to proofread your own work? Read this.

Thanks to my friends at the Bay Area Editors’ Forum, I just learned of a great Wired.com article called “What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos.” The article offers some of the science behind that all-too-common malady.

The piece quotes psychologist Tom Stafford, a researcher at the UK’s University of Sheffield: “When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high-level task.” And your brain temporarily concentrates on that task to the exclusion of other ones, such as accurate typing.

Essentially, when you’re writing you’re in what I call the “creative” phase. And well you should be! Get it all out and do your best to say what you want to say.

Then switch to the “editing” phase. You can find lots of advice about that in a former blog post of mine HERE. Here’s one of those tips:

Double-check the spellings of familiar words. Pay special attention to familiar words or phrases that show up in a lot of your work. You can easily gloss right over them and ignore transposed letters or words.

Cognitive psychologists tell us that when we encounter word fragments, our brains will fill in the letters that we meant to include, or believe should be there, but are actually missing. We also tend to skim over high-frequency words, assuming that they are always correct. We can find it hard to notice repeated letters or words when we were intending to just write them once (a phenomenon called “repetition blindness”).

You can also listen to a Writing Wednesdays podcast on the topic HERE.

If you’re interested in getting some individual guidance and feedback on your own editing challenges, feel free to drop me a line. We’ll do a complimentary strategy session to figure out if writing coaching or hiring an editor will help you get where you want to go.

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