Saturday, June 2, 2007

How can I get rid of those @#$%^&* typos?

Question: No matter how carefully I proofread, I find after I have turned in the report that I have left an “o” off “too,” and “f” off “off”; I put a comma where a period should be and use “an” instead of “and,” etc. They always seem to be mistakes that escape the spell checker. How can I catch those @#$%^&* typos?

Answer: Read from the last word to the first.

Remember that old trick about someone giving you a passage to read and asking you what is wrong with it and you never notice that it contains “the” and “the” next to each other and you didn't see them? The reason you missed the two “the’s” is the same reason you miss the typos.

Most people try to proofread the same way they read for ideas, from left to right, beginning with the first word to the last word in the report. As a result they are reading too fast to notice all the details of words and punctuation. They’re too familiar with the material. They mentally supply the appropriate word or punctuation as they focus on the meaning.

You can’t proofread the way you normally read. You need to slow down. And if you slow down reading left to right, first word to last, you still will not pay attention to all the details of words and punctuation. You can’t slow down enough when reading for meaning.

On the other hand, if you read from last word to first word, you will have to slow down; you have no meaning to distract you; you will have to pay attention to every detail in every word and every item of punctuation. Try it. It’s a pain, but I know how you feel about finding mistakes after you have finished and turned in your project. Misspellings distract from your message even when they are obviously typos.

Remember: To find missed typos, read from the last word to the first.

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