Why is it so hard to see your own typos?!

Why is it so hard to catch your own typos?

They’re not important. That’s why.

Your clients. Your marketing campaigns. Your message. They’re important to you.

But to your brain? It’s not interested in the level of detail we need in our comms-heavy and trust-building business world. It’s too busy focusing on what it does find important. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Slip ups slip through

I’m talking about accidental typos here. The ones that creep in as we hammer at the keys. It’s nothing to do with knowing your ‘to’ from your ‘too’. Everyone has words they struggle with.

No, this is about autocorrect. It works pretty impressively most of the time but can easily let an unexpected clanger through if we’re not careful. You know the situation…

You’re typing and look at the keys as you tap away rather than the screen. Or at that person walking past your desk with a handful of bourbon biscuits but you don’t remember seeing bourbon biscuits in the kitchen when you made a coffee 12 minutes ago and now all you can think about is dunking and devouring those bourbon biscuits. You’re still typing as your mind drifts (and mind dribbles). When you do look at your screen you won’t have seen that something was automatically changed when you pressed the space bar 11 words ago.

But was that change correct?

I was told about a chap who worked at Penstraze Business Park here in Cornwall. That’s not what his email would’ve said if he hadn’t read through it before he pressed send. I don’t know if there is a Penetration Business Park but there’s definitely not one just off the A390 outside Truro.

There are the slip-of-the-finger typos too. It’s how I once didn’t sign off an email with ‘kind regards’. And I didn’t know until I saw my original email underneath their response. Those ‘t’ and ‘g’ keys are rather close together.

If we don’t notice that it’s changed a word as we type, we might not notice when we read it through either. We expect to see what we thought we’d written and that’s often what we accidentally read.

The copy con

The copy you’ve written may be for your business. It may be for your client’s business. Either way, you’ve typed those words yourself.

You can string those words together exceptionally well to elicit just the right response. You know what’s right and what’s wrong with the language. And which rules you want to smash apart to share that message in a powerful way.

And now you have to proofread that very same copy? To meet a deadline?? I don’t know how to type the noise I just made. And I’m just not a gif type of gal. There was definitely eye rolling and a curl of the lip.

Your creative copywriting skills have put you at a disadvantage.

I’m a proofreader. But can I proofread my own stuff? I risk typing poofreading (again) just as much as you might accidentally entice someone in with a whopping 25% discocunt on their first order of washable toilet wipes. (They exist. I use them. But only for wees. And there are no glitterballs down there.)

Proofreader or not - we’re the same. And proofreading your own copy is damn hard.

Weird science

Yuo’ll prabolby be albe to raed tihs evne though it’s a jubmeld mses, rgiht?

This is because we don’t read each letter individually. Instead, our brain streamlines the process and bundles together the lower-level cognitive tasks based on what we’ve already experienced. So we read those letter clumps as a shape. We attribute meaning to that shape. And we can predict what shape’s likely to follow another shape.

It’s all about context.

Our brain does this to free up cognitive capacity so we can focus on what’s really important: the meaning.

To successfully communicate with someone else we need to turn the thoughts and ideas in our mind into a clear message, so someone else with their own experience and knowledge can understand our thoughts and ideas in their mind.

Not so top tips

Our brain simplifies things. We’re off the hook! Babycham and battenberg celebrations all round! (Bourbons won’t cut it right now.)

It doesn’t make it any easier for us to proofread our own copy though. And when you’re working on marketing materials and high-end high-cost campaigns, your words are everything.

There’s a bunch of proofreading tips knocking around online. I wrote a post about them too because I wanted an excuse to write about Xena Warrior Princess.

Give it to a colleague. Take time away from it. Read it backwards.

But what if you can’t…?

If you work from home

  • There’s no one else to ask to read it for you.

If you work in an office

  • It’s not so easy to read out loud or find a quiet space.

  • It’s hard to avoid distractions. And phone calls. They’re urgent. Apparently.

If you don’t have the time

  • You have a deadline. Today.

  • Your client wants it for a meeting with their designer. In 53 minutes.

  • Your manager asks if you can get it done. NOW.

And reading it backwards is way too risky. Even I don't do that. You might notice a typo in a chunky word but it doesn’t help you find correctly typed words that are incorrectly used. I’d actually typed ’works’ by mistake in that line above. (I’ve no idea how - they’re nowhere near each other on the keyboard.) That could’ve slipped straight through if I’d been trying to proof on rewind.

So… how do you proofread your own work?

You need something to bring your focus back. To give you structure and make the process easier. To let you in on all those little details you may not think to check. And a checklist is just the trick.

So I made you one.

Your proofreading checklist is a handy tool whenever you need to proofread your own copy. And it’s even more helpful when you’re in a rush.

It takes you through the most important elements of your copy. Specifically copy written in Word. But you can apply it to other formats too. They’ll just have slightly different set ups.

It’s split into simple steps for each area of your copy. You can add your own words to look out for. There are even little boxes to tick so you don’t need to print it out. And it’s a rather satisfying click to tick those little boxes off.

It doesn’t cover everything. That’d be a beast of a sheet. And there’s no time for that when you’re already feeling overwhelmed and up against it.

Use it for marketing collateral like websites, blog posts, white papers and business reports. You know, those varied documents that come your way (or are flung at you) when you’re a copywriter or manage client accounts in-house.

Give yourself the space and structure to make your words work just as they should.

And I’ll give myself a pack of bourbons for finally writing this post. And maybe an episode of Xena.