Did you ever spend hours going over a document again and again, and found yourself automatically skipping over whole words and sentences, because you already read it so many times that your brain just goes on autopilot?
Proofreading is an important but tedious part of writing. The problem is that since your brain already knows what to expect, it tends to partially autocomplete texts that you read, and shows you what it thinks should be there, rather than what is actually there. This is a part of our tendency to conduct good-enough processing, where we subconsciously prefer to misinterpret and “autocorrect” texts when the true content is problematic for some reason.
While there is no perfect way to solve this, there are some tips which can help you proofread texts more effectively. They all share the same overall goal: to trick your brain into thinking that the text you’re encountering is new, and therefore to avoid the ‘autopilot mode’ which prevents you from noticing mistakes.
Change the font
Changing the font is one of the easiest ways to make a text look distinctly different. The choice of font is up to you; in general, the more distinct the font, and the more different it is from the original font, the better. However, make sure to account for legibility, and use something that is convenient for you to read.
Two suggestions for possible fonts are:
- Comic Sans– a highly-informal font, which works great because it looks so distinct from anything you might write in. (Note: if you are already writing professional texts in Comic Sans, stop.)
- DPCustomMono2– a font which was developed by the proofreading community, in order to help readers spot common typographical errors.
Read it aloud
Read the paper aloud to yourself. This is especially useful in spotting problems with the flow of the text, since it roughly shows you what the text will sound like to the person reading it. If you can find someone to read it to, that can also help.
Have it read to you
Having someone read the text to you is another great way to spot errors. The easiest way to do this is by having your computer read it aloud. There are several methods for doing this, and your choice should depend on the length of the text and your personal preferences. The most common methods are:
- Online software- an easy plug-and-play solution, since there are a lot of free options that you can take advantage of (such as Google Translate).
- Downloadable software- search for “speech synthesizer” or “text to speech” software.
- Built-in word processor/operating system function- to figure out whether this option is available to you and how to activate it, simply look up the name of your word processor/OS together with the relevant key words (e.g. “text to speech”).
Change the environment
This is less convenient than changing the font, but changing the environment in which you read the text can also help. For example, if you originally wrote the paper on a laptop in your room, you can print it out and read it outside, or go work on a desktop in the library.
Another option is reading it in a different software. For example, if you wrote it in Word, export the draft to PDF and read it like that.
Give it time
The best solution is of course to wait as much time as possible between the writing stage and the proofreading stage. While the amount of time you can give it might be limited, remember that even a good night’s sleep can significantly help. If nothing else, even a short break can allow you to clear your head a little.
Summary and conclusions
- Catching mistakes at the proofreading stage is difficult because you’re already familiar with the text, so your brain goes on a sort of autopilot mode, and misses obvious things.
- To avoid this, there are things you can do to help trick your brain into thinking that the text you’re reading is new.
- These methods include changing the font, changing the reading environment, reading the text aloud, and having the text read to you (generally by a computer).
- In addition, taking time off between the writing and proofreading stage can also help, even if it’s only a small amount of time.