Unfortunately, a new pair of glasses won’t change your preconceived judgments, criticism, and bad habits. You just can’t wipe away a lifetime of engrained programming.
Editing and proofreading is a learned skill. You train your physical eyes to see errors, typos, and inconsistencies–things that just don’t make sense or are contradictory to previously stated fact or fiction. This is a different skill set than reading. You have to slow down, read each word separately, then each phrase or clause, making sure it’s a complete sentence, and check the construction of the sentence to make sure the objects, prepositions, verb tenses, and subject(s) are in a logical parallel pattern. Lastly, you go back to the beginning of the sentence, paragraph, or piece to check the validity of the statement in conjunction with the rest of the facts in an expository or the forward progressive action in fiction.
Your mind’s eye is a little harder to train. The mind’s eye is a collection of programmed data that has been input into cellular, organic gray matter since the day you were born. The conflicting material is a little overwhelming, to say the least. The number of times you’ve spelled or used a word incorrectly may far outweigh the times you’ve seen it correctly. So what’s going to pop up in your database, the brain, when you do a search/retrieve? The wrong, more plentiful data, of course. But a firm, conscious override of what has been programmed previously will stick, if only you could see with fresh, uncensored eyes.
The training begins anew, guiding your physical eyes to notice things you would normally just read right over, especially if it’s your own writing. Those of you who’ve read my editing/proofreading tips before know that I’m a firm believer that you cannot peruse your own writing for errors, typos, inaccuracies, and inconsistencies. What’s engrained in your computer database or brain is what you think is there, not necessarily what your physical eyes are seeing. A professional editor is still your best investment, but there are a few tricks that can fool the physical eye into seeing what is really there and not what your mind’s eye perceives. This would be like fresh data to the brain.
- Read sections, sentences, paragraphs out of order. I’ve known many proofreaders who read things backwards, sometimes one letter at a time.This, of course, only works for catching typos and errors. Inaccuracies and inconsistencies won’t be seen if you’re reading in nonsensical fashion. This process works best if you’re reading/spelling aloud with two people swapping off and reading to each other. Two heads are better than one? Two sets of eyes and ears are even better!
- Your Kindle, e-reader or app can change-up your writing to make it appear somewhat fresh by enlarging the text, changing the font or typeface, changing the color, and especially switching the background to black with white type. Sometimes that’s just the ticket to make errors pop!
- If the eyes and brain are programmable, data-driven organs, use something else, like auditory. Use your Kindle or computer voice to read to you. A multitude of errors and misspellings can be heard in awkward phrasing, mispronunciations. Extra words, doubled words, left out words, wrong words are very noticeable in auditory.
- Using a professional editor or proofreader is always, still, your best bet. Spell-cheek, grammar-check, and so-called editing or grammar software packages are as finite as your operating system. If it makes a word, it makes logical computer sense to a computer. That does not make it the right word. Nor does it catch inverted construction (different languages have different sentence construction), repeated words, left out words, and will never pick-up inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and errors in content.
The last item I’d like to share is cadence. Have you ever read some authors where the words just glide through your mind with flowing, almost poetic smoothness? Edgar Allen Poe was the master at this. Poets are known for keeping the cadence rhythmic. But this idea of fluidity can be applied to any type of writing–business, technical, essays, academic papers, and especially advertising and promotional media. Read your own writing back to yourself aloud, record it, listen to it in your own voice and inflection. Is it catchy, creative, smooth, persuasive, dramatic?
Other Points to Consider: Have you used the same word or words too repetitively? That gets boring to read very quickly. Do you have trouble reading an awkward sentence? Does it make logical sense or is it too rambling, ambiguous, losing momentum and cadence? Is it too long, too short; are you too repetitious in your ideas? Does each sentence have a subject, a verb, and an object or predicate? Do you have your clarifying remarks in the correct order? Does the entire piece have a dominant theme, supporting material, and a conclusion? Then look at each paragraph under the same premise–an opening sentence, substantiated information, and a conclusion that is linked to the theme. Paragraphs are just mini essays that support the whole concept.
Writing is considered a free expression of thought and creativity, but if you want to make your point, there are tried-and-true steps to follow to get that point across.
Best wishes on manuscripts and media that say much about you, the writer, in subtle clarity that speaks for itself.
Deborah A Bowman
11 thoughts on “The Challenges of Proofreading and How to Express Yourself in the Use of Words”
Great tips. Thanks for sharing. Hope you’ve been well. 😊
Thanks! Hope you found some tidbits you could use. Doing okay as the weather gets cold. I hope you are doing well also.
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I’m well thanks. Way too cold here in NYC for October. Bracing ourselves for another long winter. Sigh… But fun new things have been happening so stay tuned 🙂
Using your tip to view my work on different platforms /screens/ fonts . It’s certainly helping me catch mistakes. Thanks 🙂
Have a great day ☺
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So glad to hear it’s working for you. Slowing down the eye and the programmed automatic responses of the organic brain, especially with an accelerated, creative mind, can help the mechanics of writing–I know, so boring, but so crucial–work with you and for you instead of against you.
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This looks like a winter to curl up in front of the fire and write a novel or poetry book. We just had our first frost in Washington, D.C. Way too early!
Hi Deborah. Thanks for ‘cadence’. I mean it. 🍸
PS: Funny, somehow it makes me think of ‘co-dance’ (I’ve just made that one up) 😀
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A dancing rhythm can lend itself well to written material, not just songs and music, I would think. Btw I write poems, lyrics, and music as well. Whatever works, I say.
Other factors include how you learn and process information and the type of written material to which you are exposed.
As an English teacher, I was exposed to so much of the students’ work, there were times when the incorrect was more common than the correct. 😀
Another thing we noticed was that many students would handle spotting and correcting grammar errors when tested, but could go and make the same mistakes they corrected when they were answering other questions on the same test.
If you are a visual, auditory, or kinetic learner influences how you process reading and composing text. A related factor involves whether you are more concrete or abstract in your problem solving & thinking style. Depending on your dominant learning style you approach language acquisition and expressive language differently.
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I can see how these habits in students would be a challenge to reveal and then reverse, if needed. I’ve worked as a ghost writer (nonfiction) for a couple of clients where English was not their first language. That’s a real job to make the book sound like the author speaking, only correctly. I incorporated enough of their English non-idiomatic phrasing to flavor the piece, while still getting smooth, flowing, readable copy. I have studied the different types of learning, experiencing the world through sensory input. Once you realize how you best perceive data, it can free your writing style and open up veins of creativity never tapped before. I am very visual, but highly auditory as well. I think that’s why recording my writing and hearing it in my own voice helps me find weak areas that need work. Have you studied NLP–Neuro-Linguistic Programming? It can teach you much about yourself and how to identify learning patterns in your students. You have an important responsibility in your teaching, and it looks like you take it very seriously on an one-on-one basis. I commend you for your dedication.