There is a reason why proofreading can be difficult. To illustrate, here is a simple test: Just read the following sentence:
Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.
What is the total number of Fs in that sentence?
Before I give the answer, please read the following paragraph:
Papehrs you hvae seen tihs in an emial anolg the wya, but it is poorf of how your bairn can ‘ees’ wdors taht are not selpeld crrotecly. Tihs is an imrtaopnt coencpt to udrteannsd wehn it cemos to prfodoaering dconumets.
Ha ha ha…. Spell check anyone?
Studies have shown that the brain does not focus on individual letters but, rather, the whole word. This has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that you can read through material fairly quickly and have some level of understanding what you’ve just read. A definite disadvantage is that you can miss things when proofreading.
Most people can read most words (except very long words) mainly through the first and last letters and recognizing the shape and content of the full word. It is for this reason that we can read the misspelled words in that earlier paragraph with little difficulty and why it is easy to skip over word errors when you are proofreading your work.
When you are proofreading, you have to try to retrain your brain to see individual letters and not just the words as a whole. This takes some extra concentration at first but, as with anything, the more you do it, the easier it will become.
There are various methods of proofreading. Maybe one of these will help you strengthen this skill.
Read out loud. This works quite well because you are hearing your words, not just scanning them silently. You will detect things like poor sentence structure, repetitive or extra words, and omitted words. Reading aloud will also help to catch errors in spelling and punctuation.
Read your work from the end to the beginning. This technique is one that forces you to focus on one word at a time as you read backwards. It can be challenging, but some people swear by this method.
Read one sentence at a time. This will stop the tendency to speed read through paragraphs, missing possible errors. It will help if you can cover the lines below the one you are reading. This can be accomplished on the computer by opening a word-processing program, like MS Word and resizing the text so you can drag it down as you are proofreading – much the same as you would use a blank piece of paper or a ruler to go down a printed document.
If you notice that you tend to misspell certain words frequently, you can use the search/find feature to scan your document for that particular error. As an example, many people misspell the word ‘the’ as teh when they are typing quickly. When proofing your work, you can search your document for that particular error and make your corrections as you find them. Better yet, set up MS Word to auto-correct the terms you often misspell.
Finally, after you have proofread the document and corrected any errors you may have found, step away from your computer for 2 or 3 minutes, then come back and read your work one last time. This acts as a reset. This works especially well if you are transcribing a report because it gives both your eyes and ears a break. In most cases, this reset period is enough to allow your ears and eyes to start fresh and help you to find things you may have previously missed.
You may be utilizing one or some of the above methods already, but if not, give them a try. The results may surprise you.
For some reason, it can seem more difficult to proofread your own work, but with practice, you’ll become a proofreading guru!
By the way, the total number of Fs in that sentence is 6. Did you get them all?