Have you ever gone back and read something, only to find that you missed some major errors? There is a reason for that. It’s a brain phenomenon called “filling in the gaps.”
Personal proofreading brain gaps
You may have seen the following paragraph in a forwarded email. It makes the point very effectively.
“Aoccdring to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”
Most people are able to read the paragraph with little difficulty. Why? Because many words are recorded in our brains by their first and last letters. Our brain sorts the scrambled letters in between in its own version of shorthand. The problem is complicated when a word could become many words, such as could or cloud. Then the brain does become a bit confused, but it can easily overlook such misplaced words just because they contain the right letters. And no spell checker is smart enough to catch the misuse. The words are both spelled correctly!
The error of assumptions
There’s another quality the brain uses to achieve efficiency, and your ability to accurately proofread your own work slides exponentially because of it. The brain uses your past experiences to make assumptions. For example, as you are writing, you know what you intended to write. Your eyes look at the page, and your brain shows you what you “wrote.” Yet, extra words may be present, and you don’t see them. Or words are missing, and you don’t see that either.
The drive to be right
There’s another fatal flaw in your brain. It likes to be right. So as you are reading through your own writing. No matter how much you would like to be critical and accurate in your writing skills, there is always something you miss. Your brain refuses to see the mistake(s).
This is especially true of double words. You don’t expect to see the the, so your brain skips over the second the. (Fortunately, spell checkers are good at picking this type of error up.)
Objectivity offered by proofreading services
Objectivity only comes in two ways. Either you have to let your writing sit for a few days so you forget what you wrote, or you need to turn to someone who is not familiar with your work. If you have a very good memory, you may have to let a document rest for over a week before you achieve a high level of proofreading accuracy.
A proofreader doesn’t have this obstacle. The copy editor has no idea what you had in your mind when you started writing, so gaps and duplications stand out. And someone who is trained in copy editing recognizes the way in which the brain works so certain spelling errors are easier to spot than they might be for you.
There’s a reason that all publications and publishers pass a manuscript by a minimum of at least one, if not two proofreaders. And now you know from science why this practice will continue to be an important part of publishing.
If you want your work to look professional, you need proofreading services. You can’t depend on your brain, so enlist help.