Picture this. After hours of racking your brains for the most perfect choice of words and arranging your sentences in the best possible manner for the blog idea that has been brewing in your brain, you finally bring out your article.
It has been an intense two hours or so to pull out those words and ideas from inside the deep crevices of your brain and as expected, you leave a bit of a mess on the paper or rather, in your case, your computer screen. You are supposed to do a proper cleaning up of this mess that you leave behind before you can even think of publishing it.
Yes, things are a bit messy indeed for you see many typos and grammatical bloopers in your draft. This was expected and after the preliminary checks and corrections, you start combing hard for those little nagging mistakes that had slipped past you when you proofread your copy for the first time.
More mistakes are noted and there have been certain areas where your expression was nothing less than cringe-worthy. You trim out those frills and smoothen out the rough edges.
You read again from start to the finish, this time very slowly, for the last time, and now, what you have before you is the final, edited version of your draft copy. You are satisfied and absolutely certain that there are no more corrections or revision needed.
The featured image is designed, the images are there with all the SEO attributes and are optimised, the ads look inconspicuous (and hence less distracting), the click-to-actions (CTAs) are there in the most strategic places, and you have created a good Meta description too.
You finally hit the “publish” button.
You start sharing your content on your Facebook page and other social media channels.
It’s Hard to Catch Our Own Mistakes
Nothing can be more mortifying than your readers finding those little pesky mistakes in your intricately-crafted and well-researched blog post.
It’s more annoying to find that the first thing that your readers notice is not how well you have written your piece but those embarrassing little demons of typos and grammatical mistakes.
But how could that be?! I mean, you had proofread it, didn’t you? Not once, not twice but thrice. But still, how did they slip past your well-activated and robust error detection sensors in your brain?
Let me share with you something that I feel will resonate with most of the people and especially bloggers and those who are in the publishing world.
It’s the mistakes that we make in our copies and our failure to catch those nagging typos and grammatical errors despite proofreading them again and again.
The thing is it’s so hard to catch our own mistakes!
Typos and Grammatical Mistakes are Common in the Blogging World
In the publishing world, they say no book is error-free. They even go to the extent of saying that if you look hard enough, you can find an error in every book ever published.
While this contention is debatable (Can you imagine Henry James or Thomas Hardy making a grammatical error?), it is an annoying fact that no matter how hard you forage for errors in your writings and how many times you proofread your intricately-crafted copy before you click the publish button, the mistakes will slip pass your brain. Mistakes will happen. Some mistakes will never be detected by you for a long, long time even after you had read your post more than twenty times.
It’s as if some mistakes have inbuilt error-detection jammers in them and they somehow never register on your brain.
Why is it Difficult for Our Brain to Catch Mistakes in Our Own Writing?
Typos suck. They either make you look careless or ignorant. At any moment, a random check in one of our earlier posts will, five times out of ten, reveal at least one mistake in them. Whether it’s a misspelled word, the same words repeating in succession or a misplaced tense, errors will always be there. Why indeed is it so hard to catch our own mistakes?
The answer, they say, lies in the way our brain processes words to bring out meaning in our writing. They say when we’re writing, we’re trying to convey information and this is considered a high-level activity. The brain prioritises the high-level tasks like combining sentences into complex ideas over simple, low-level tasks like combining letters into words and words into sentences.
In other words, our brain focuses more on these complex tasks and hence overlooks the relatively simple tasks. Duh! This means when we are reading our own writing, the brain is too busy trying to transmit the information rather than get involved with trivial tasks like checking for typos and grammatical errors.
Our brains are programmed to let us see what our expectations and experience tell us we should see. When I misspell a word (say misses a letter in a word) the brain just fills in the omitted letter and auto-corrects it because it expected the correct word to be there. So a misspelled word like “intetion” will be autocorrected to “intention” by filling in the letter “n” by my brain when I read it. Same is the case with homonyms like “there” and “their”. The brain just transposes the letter in their correct positions to read the expected word.
When we’re writing, we are trying to convey an information to our readers. So, we already know what we want to say. The brain, in this case, reads what we want to say in what we’re writing. It WILL read over the words even if they are not cent percent correct.
This is not too comforting for a blogger, is it?
Ways to Catch Mistakes in Your Own Writings
Everybody has their own way to proofread their drafts. We’ll have to figure out what works best for us in different situations. Even with all the spell-checker tools in place and despite your rigorous proofreading, it might not be possible to make an article 100% error-free.
As humans, we are not infallible. But our job is to minimise the mistakes as much as possible. There are some techniques that seem to work universally.
Let me share some of these proofreading best practices.
#1: Let Someone Read the Article Aloud
Getting someone read the article aloud will help to detect the rhythmic flaws and misplaced words.
If the person who’s reading has the ability to find misspelled words, this technique works optimally.
Otherwise, this is more suitable for finding grammatical errors and inappropriate diction.
Here, we are using both the visual and auditory senses to filter out the errors. It shakes you out of the familiar zone and catches those pesky mistakes.
#2: Get a Print-Out Copy
This is a time-tested technique and is very effective too.
In today’s digital age, we are mostly using computers to write our articles.
We edit on computers, sometimes assisted my spell-checker tools.
However, reading on a computer screen and reading on a physical paper are two entirely different things.
When we get a print-out of what we have written, it allows us to get ourselves disconnected from our computers and come down to the real world.
I have seen that I detect errors better that way. I start seeing mistakes that I didn’t notice before on my computer screen.
Perhaps, my brain perceives the physical paper a bit differently and in the process, thrusts me in a different terrain.
My brain is more alert and the mistakes are no more inconspicuous and jump out like little demons on the paper.
#3: Change the Format
When I say change the format, reading on a print-out copy is included.
But if you have no printing option, you can change the format. It can be a change in the font, the font size or text background colour, etc.
It can be anything different from what you have been reading all this while on your computer monitor.
The idea is to read the words when they appear differently on the paper.
It lets your brain perceive the words differently than what you have been reading on the computer screen till now.
It pulls up the errors more easily.
#4: Delay Publishing Your Post
As bloggers, we are mostly in a hurry to publish our post. After all, time is crucial in blogging and we may want to find the idea for our next blog post instead of lingering on to an already finished article.
But one of the primary roots of having typos and grammatical errors in our writing is because, in our eagerness to publish posts frequently, we are in the habit of shooting out articles before proofreading them properly. We want to serve everything hot.
It’s always a good idea to go against this common convention and let our article set in properly instead of publishing it immediately.
Step away from your article. Take a walk, watch a video or work on something else. Give yourself a break and come back to your article the next day.
The idea is to bring ourselves from the familiar zone. Because when we read our article the following day, our brain does not perceive it as something entirely familiar.
The brain is tricked into believing that it is reading something different.
This technique is effective because when we try to read a freshly-written copy, the brain skims over all the errors and reads from the memory what it expects us to convey.
Reading the article the next day dulls the memory and alerts itself to readily scan for errors.
#5: Employ Grammarly and Spell-Checker Tools
You are surrounded by technology, and so why not use it? There are countless spell-checker and grammar-checker tools available on the Internet. While some are paid ones, there are many that are free.
I use Gammarly and absolutely love it.
These tools act as the first line of defense and can filter out the maximum mistakes.
One word of caution though. No tool is completely fool-proof and I have seen that even an amazing tool like Grammarly skips certain mistakes.
But if you’re going to concentrate only on the highlighted or underscored words or phrases, it again puts you at risk for errors creeping in that went past the spell-checker and grammar-checker tools.
Sometimes, the highlighted errors point to wrong suggestions even.
Don’t become too dependent on these tools.
#6: Be Extra-Cautious of the Important Parts in the Article
The important portions like the first paragraph and the concluding part are where most mistakes are hiding. Why we need to be extra-careful is that since these parts of our post are perceived to be important, we have managed to memorise them and know each word by heart.
So, when proofreading, the brain skips over the mistakes even if they are there.
We are so familiar with what we want to say that we sometimes even commit typos and grammatical mistakes in the title itself!
It is very easy for the brain to shut itself out to mistakes in extremely familiar parts in our writing.
It pays to be extra careful there.
#7: Proofread on Small Screen Devices
This is in a way very much the same thing I mentioned in Point #3 about changing the format.
When you have been writing on your computer all this while and try to proofread from the same screen, the brain starts skipping the mistakes. This is because it already knows what you want to say and assumes the words even if they are misspelled or wrongly placed.
But when you save the draft on a small screen device like the mobile, the brain begins to perceive it as being different from what it already has seen.
I have seen that it works for me.
I’m able to catch the errors better when I read my posts on my mobile.
So, what I do before I publish my post is to save the file (I write on MS Word) on my mobile device and read it from there many times.
The proofreading is more effective then.
Here, the format is changed, the environment is different.
I have a lesser area of vision (because of the smaller screen) and hence is more focused.
Only a small portion of the article is visible in the reading area and hence, I’m more mindful of the words I use and the meaning conveyed there.
This is one of the best ways to check for errors after the post has gone live.
#8: Finding Your Favourite Words
Most of us tend to have favourite words that we use frequently in our day to day use.
There’s nothing wrong with the words themselves but when they are found repeatedly, they make your article to look less impressive and unoriginal.
Being our favourite words, we sometimes tend to overuse them so much so that they are used in the wrong context.
The best thing is to list down your favourite or frequently-used words and expressions.
Find them wherever they are (Ctrl+F) and cross-check to see their usage.
Proofreading is Crucial
I have seen that we all have different ways of proofreading our articles. What I see as a good method might not be taken so kindly by others.
Hence, it’s best that you find out suits you best.
The methods that I have listed are the ones that work for me, and my personal favourites are getting print-outs, changing the format, and saving drafts on mobiles for proofreading.
It might not always be possible to have print-outs all the time.
Similarly, you might not always be able to find someone to volunteer reading aloud your draft.
I have heard of certain techniques other than the ones listed here like reading each word slowly or reading the whole draft backward.
Just know that regardless of what technique you use, you cannot ignore proofreading. It is a critical part of your writing process.
Your reader is not concerned about how hard you worked to bring out the post. He is not bothered about your good intentions.
If he finds even one error, he might form a low opinion of you as a writer. He starts judging you. And the worst part is, the readers are the ones who’ll be noticing your errors.
Let us ensure that our writing goes through several rounds of edit before we put it out in the open for all to read.
Let us ensure that they come out as the best version of our post.