How to Catch Mistakes When Proofreading Texts

Catching mistakes when proofreading texts.

 

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.

 

Sample fonts for proofreading texts Arial, Times New Roman, Comic Sans MS, and DPCustomMono2.

 

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 keywords (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.

 


The Spotlight Effect: How to Stop Being So Self Conscious All the Time

The spotlight effect: thinking others are more aware of what you do than they actually are.

 

The spotlight effect is a phenomenon which causes us to think that we are being observed and noticed by others more than we actually are.

This occurs because we naturally see everything from our own point of view first, so we struggle to imagine how we look through other people’s eyes. Essentially, we forget that while we are the focus of our own inner world, we are not the focus of everyone else’s.

This article will show you when the spotlight effect manifests in your everyday life, why it affects you, and what you can do to reduce its impact and become less self-conscious and more confident.

 

Examples of the spotlight effect

We all encounter this effect in our life, and research found that it occurs in a wide variety of situations:

  • One study showed that people overestimate how noticeable their clothing is to others. Interestingly, this occurred both when people were wearing an embarrassing T-shirt, as well as when they were wearing a flattering T-shirt. (These findings were later corroborated in a follow-up study).
  • The same study also showed that people overestimate how memorable what they say is to others (during a discussion). Once again, this effect appeared both for their positive contributions (e.g. cases where they made a good point), as well as for their negative contributions (e.g. cases where they offended someone).
  • Another study showed that students overestimate how noticeable variations in their looks and physical attractiveness are to their classmates. As the researchers put it: “The blemishes and cowlicks that are so noticeable and vexatious to oneself are often lost on all but the most attentive observers.”
  • This study also showed that people overestimate how much other people notice their athletic accomplishments, as well as their performance in a video game.

 

Why it happens

This cognitive bias is similar to the illusion of transparency, which is our tendency to overestimate how well other people can discern our emotional state. Both occur because when we make judgments regarding how other people see us, we suffer from an egocentric bias, or a tendency to anchor other people’s viewpoint to our own. As one of the premier papers on the topic puts it:

Both the spotlight effect and illusion of transparency appear to derive from the same anchoring-and-adjustment mechanism. People are often quite focused on what they are doing (the spotlight effect) or what they are feeling (the illusion of transparency). To be sure, they realize that others are typically less attentive to their actions or have less access to their internal states than they themselves, and they take that realization into account when trying to anticipate how they appear to others. As is typically the case with such anchoring-and-adjustment processes, however, the adjustment is insufficient… and so people end up believing that the perspective of others is more like their own than is actually the case.

 

How to be less self-conscious

While being aware of this phenomenon won’t make it disappear completely, it can certainly help reduce the negative impact that it has on you.

By understanding when and why the spotlight effect occurs, and how it affects you, you can make sure it won’t influence your thoughts and feelings as much. Next time you are feeling self-conscious about some minor negative thing, whether it’s something stupid that you said or a bad hair day, remember that odds are that almost nobody else noticed it. Even if someone did, they probably don’t care about it nearly as much as you do, and are pretty unlikely to remember it in the long-run.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • The spotlight effect is a psychological phenomenon which makes us think that we are being observed and noticed by other people more than we actually are.
  • This occurs due to an egocentric bias, which is our tendency to anchor other people’s viewpoint to our own.
  • Because of this, we tend to think that people notice and care about every little negative thing about us, from a bad hair day to something nonsensical we said, when in reality they generally don’t.
  • Whenever you feel self-conscious about something, remember that other people probably don’t notice it or care about it nearly as much as you do.

 


The Money Envelope: How an Opponent’s Choices Reveal Their Position

Money envelope game.

 

In game theory, a smart player accounts for the fact that the choices that other players make reveal a lot about their position. This article will show you how this concept works and how you can take advantage of it, by looking at a round of the Money Envelope game.

 

The setting

Richard and Bob are the final contestants in a game show called “The Money Envelope”. As the winners of tonight’s episode, the host gives each of them one of five possible envelopes. They know the following things:

  • Each envelope contains a check with either 500$, 1000$, 2000$, 4000$, or 8000$ (so that there is only one envelope with 500$, one with 1000$, etc.)
  • One of the contestants is getting an envelope with twice as much money as the other.
  • After each of them sees how much money he got (in private), he can ask the other person to exchange envelopes (without knowing how much money the other person got). If they both agree, the exchange occurs.

 

The game

Note: this example involves some simple math. You don’t have to follow the specific numbers too closely, what matters is the concept behind it.

In the current game, Richard opened his envelope and found 2000$. Based on the rules, he knows that Bob got either 1000$ or 4000$, with equal probability.

Richard calculates that he should make the exchange, since he stands to gain more that way; on average, he will earn 2500$ dollars after the exchange, compared to the 2000$ that he’s getting now. This is because there’s a 50% chance he will get 1000$, but there’s also a 50% chance that he will get 4000$ (0.5*1000+0.5*4000=2500).

However, Bob is thinking the exact same thing, regardless of whether he found 1000$ or 4000$ in his envelope:

  • If he got 1000$ and he makes the switch, he will get 1250$ on average. (0.5*500+0.5*2000=1250)
  • If he got 4000$ and he makes the switch, he will get 5000$ on average. (0.5*2000+0.5*8000=5000)

Based on this, we would assume that both players would want to make the switch. However, what happens is that both contestants choose to keep their original envelope. How come?

 

Game Theory analysis

The issue here is that if both Richard and Bob are perfectly rational, and both know that the other person is also perfectly rational, an exchange is never going to take place. We can see why by considering the situation step by step, starting from a slightly different angle:

  • Let’s say that Richard opens his envelope and finds 8000$. Since he knows that he already has the envelope with the most money, he won’t agree to an exchange.
  • In this scenario, Bob has to get 4000$ in his envelope (since Richard got the maximal amount). However, Bob doesn’t know whether Richard got 8000$ or 2000$. What he does know is that Richard won’t agree to an exchange if he got 8000$. Instead, the only way Richard will agree to an exchange, is if he got 2000$. Therefore, Bob can conclude that he himself should not agree to an exchange, since he will lose out on money if he does.
  • Based on this, we know that a player who gets 8000$ won’t ever agree to an exchange, but neither will someone who got 4000$.
  • Now, we’re back to the original scenario, where Richard got 2000$. If Bob has 4000$, then he’s not going to agree to an exchange, as we saw above. Therefore, if Bob is interested in an exchange, Richard can conclude that Bob got only 1000$, in which case Richard will be the one that doesn’t agree to an exchange.
  • Furthermore, if Bob has only 1000$, he knows that the only way Richard will agree to an exchange is if he has 500$ (the minimal amount), in which case Bob shouldn’t want an exchange in the first place.

See the idea here? Basically, before making a decision, each player looks at the other player’s behavior. If the other player wants to make an exchange, the original player can conclude that it would benefit the other player more than it would benefit him. Eventually, the only person willing to trade is the guy who got the minimal amount, but no one wants to trade with him anyway.

 

A note on the math

This setting is based on the two envelopes problem/the exchange paradoxIn practice, the assumption that each player stands to gain from making the switch may be inherently flawed (which is why it was originally termed ‘the exchange paradox’). There is a large number of papers on the topic, which address different variations of the paradox, and offer different explanations. So far, no consensus on the topic has been reached.

In general, most formulations of this problem focus on a situation where a single person is given two envelopes, and is allowed to switch between them. However, the current scenario involves two players, engaged in a zero-sum game (because one contestant’s gain is exactly balanced by the other contestant’s loss).

In practice, it doesn’t matter that the original motivation to exchange may not exist, because the logic behind the players’ decision to keep their envelope, as presented here, still holds. As always, when reading about game-theory models, you should focus on the concept behind it, rather than on the scenario itself.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • The Money Envelope Game involves players trading envelopes filled with different amounts of money if they believe that doing so will help them get more money on average.
  • By seeing the choice that the other player makes regarding the exchange, each player can decide whether or not to make the trade.
  • This provides an important lesson about game theory: in many situations, the decisions that your opponents make can give you insights regarding their position.
  • Use these insights to make better-informed and more strategic decisions.

 

The basis for this strategy and example comes from “The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life”. It’s a good read for someone looking to understand basic game theory and how it applies to real-life situations.

I recommend it over the earlier version of the book (“Thinking Strategically”), because that’s what the authors themselves recommend. However, the difference between the two versions isn’t crucial.