There was a time, not so many years ago, when our word processing programs were not as sophisticated and helpful as they are now. There was a time when we had to ask the program to run a spell check.
Then the software boffins decided to enhance the programs so that a squiggly red line would appear under words we had misspelt.
Great. That will save us time and effort proofreading, won’t it?
Our subconscious brains are clever. They know what we meant to write. They string our words together for us without us having to think too hard. The problem occurs when we want to make sure that we have typed what we wanted to type.
Have you ever read, and re-read, something only to find that days later you spot an error which you had completely missed? Your brain will often read what it thinks you wrote.
Add in the effect of the helpful red squiggles and we are even more likely to miss some errors. Our subconscious knows we need to look at these words. They’ve been flagged for us. But when we proofread in MSWord, or another program that provides helpful squiggles, our brains automatically seem to focus on the highlighted errors, and may miss others.
We all know that spell checks don’t pick up all of the errors that people make when typing. If I type ‘peace’ when I mean ‘piece’, or ‘form’ when I mean ‘from’, the spell check doesn’t know to include a red squiggle.
I start proofreading, carefully looking at each word, but the more I do, the more my brain tunes in to the squiggles, and the more likely it is that I won’t notice some errors.
So, what’s the solution?
One solution is to print the document and proofread the paper version. Our eyes seem to see mistakes more easily on paper than they do on a screen.
But Kirsty Stuart of Freelancer Writers Online has another tip. She suggests you create a pdf version of the document. It will look more like a printed document and, somehow, mistakes will be easier to find. Ms Stuart isn’t quite sure why this works, and I’m not sure either, but it does. My best guess is that our brains aren’t led astray because there aren’t any red squiggly lines.
Go on, give it a try. I’d love to hear if it works for you.