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  #1  
Old 01-23-2005, 02:53 PM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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Why Is It So Hard To Proofread Your Own Work?

What is it about the human brain that causes it to ignore obvious writing errors? I find that if you ask someone else to proof your work they usually uncover spelling mistakes much more easily than you can.
Has anyone ever studied this phenomenon? What conclusisons did they make?
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  #2  
Old 01-23-2005, 03:06 PM
rjung rjung is offline
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The more you re-read your own stuff, the more your brain gets tired of the repetition and makes shortcuts to get it over with sooner. Mistakes get overlooked as a result of your mind's laziness.

The tendency of the human mind to take shortcuts in everyday tasks is well known.
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Old 01-23-2005, 03:13 PM
aahala aahala is offline
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Everything that comes into our brain must be intrepreted. Our mental set and expectations influence how we intrepret the input. We expect certain words as we wrote them and expect the correct spelling. What we don't expect is often unnoticed.
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Old 01-23-2005, 06:22 PM
Nunavut Boy Nunavut Boy is offline
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You'll catch more mistakes of you read backwards. (that is, start at the last page and read every word, separately, starting at the last word and ending at the first)

Shit. Does that make sense?
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Old 01-23-2005, 06:55 PM
MEBuckner MEBuckner is offline
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Moderator's Note: I don't think this is a Great Debate, but I also don't know that there's a particular factual answer, so IMHO it is.
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Old 01-23-2005, 07:01 PM
Johnny Bravo Johnny Bravo is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nunavut Boy
You'll catch more mistakes of you read backwards. (that is, start at the last page and read every word, separately, starting at the last word and ending at the first)
The caveat to this trick being that you only catch spelling mistakes. You won't catch grammar errors, you won't catch a misused apostrophe, you won't catch a homonym error, or anything else. Only blatant spelling errors of the sort that a spellcheck will catch.

Asking a friend is a good idea, but you might also find that your editing will improve if you put your work aside for a day or so.
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Old 01-23-2005, 07:24 PM
Fretful Porpentine Fretful Porpentine is offline
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Because when you read over your own work, you generally perceive what you meant to write, while other people will perceive what you actually wrote.

After several years of teaching freshman comp, I have this problem with student papers as well -- I'm so used to mentally filling in what I think the student is trying to say that it usually takes a second reading before I realize they haven't actually said it very well. Often, other students in the class are better at proofing for mechanics and clarity than I am.
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Old 01-23-2005, 07:51 PM
MaddyStrut MaddyStrut is offline
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This frustrates me no end. I can proofread others' work and I'm incredibly careful. However, I am absolutely pathetic at proofing my own writing.

I agree that it's mostly your brain filling in what you meant to say and skipping over stuff since it's repetitious. I also agree that it helps to put the work aside for a day or so.

Even so, there are those times when a memo or email has to go out that same day, and there's no chance to put it aside (and likely no one around to grab for a quick proofing). I'll try the reading backwards thing. Perhaps that will help.

The other thing I've noticed is that I cannot proof something on my screen. I have to print it out and read it on paper to have any chance of catching my mistakes. Why glaring errors hide themselves in an electronic format, I will never know. Those typos are sneaky little bastards!
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Old 01-23-2005, 08:38 PM
vivalostwages vivalostwages is offline
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As rjung mentioned, people get sick of looking at the same thing over and over and can either no longer notice errors, or they just grow weary of the process.

A colleague of mine was in this position recently with her sabbatical leave project. She left it in my hands for a while and I fixed all the problems so she could turn it in by the deadline. The typos and inconsistencies were, in fact, the only things keeping the district from accepting it.

As for my own short stories, I send them to a friend for critiquing. She doesn't find typos so much but can find clunky sentences, unnecessary words, etc.

Another pair of eyes is a helpful thing.
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Old 01-23-2005, 09:30 PM
Athena Athena is offline
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I actually wrote a Word macro that goes through and picks a random sentence out of a Word document, highlights it in yellow, and scrolls to that sentence. I proofread that sentence, then hit another key to choose another random sentence. In this way, I proofread through my document, one sentence at a time, completely out of order.

I catch a lot that way. Much more than I catch if I just read through the document in order.
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Old 01-23-2005, 09:46 PM
Captain Carrot Captain Carrot is offline
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As others have said, to some extent you read what you meant, not what you wrote. I've actually skipped over large blocks of text subconsciously because I already knew what was written there; as it turned out, there were a few typos.

Another aspect is that when you proofread your own stuff, there's no new perspective. Someone else can offer something that you would never have thought of in a million years, and a lot of the time it makes your writing a lot better.

Just $.02 from an amateur writer and editor...
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  #12  
Old 02-01-2005, 09:08 PM
spingears spingears is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ralph124c
What is it about the human brain that causes it to ignore obvious writing errors? I find that if you ask someone else to proof your work they usually uncover spelling mistakes much more easily than you can.
Has anyone ever studied this phenomenon? What conclusisons did they make?
Long mathematic solutions are like texts. If you proof your own work, let it rest for a few days or even a week or more. When you go over it then it will seem like new material and errors are easier to detect and correct.
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  #13  
Old 02-01-2005, 09:20 PM
dwc1970 dwc1970 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Athena
I actually wrote a Word macro that goes through and picks a random sentence out of a Word document, highlights it in yellow, and scrolls to that sentence. I proofread that sentence, then hit another key to choose another random sentence. In this way, I proofread through my document, one sentence at a time, completely out of order.

I catch a lot that way. Much more than I catch if I just read through the document in order.
This is an excellent method and I'd like to try it myself. Would you be willing to post the code for this macro, if it's not too long or complex?
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