We all know what it’s like, you post something online, or send an all-staff e-mail, then notice the glaringly obvious mistake in the first line.
That happens because when you read something you’ve just written, you read what you want it to say – not what’s actually written.
This is something that affects me, both as a teacher and a writer. I imagine I’m not alone in that – whether you write as part of your job or just for the love of it, the ability to spot and correct your own mistakes is essential.
If I, as a relatively experienced writer, struggle with this, it’s no wonder that for my students just reading back through their work isn’t particularly effective.
Here are a few ideas I use personally, and I’m going to start tying with my classes to make their proofreading more effective:
Change the font
Sometimes, something as simple as changing the font can convince your eyes that what you’re reading is new. The text looking a little bit different will mean you start to see the mistakes that you were used to seeing before.
Reading out loud
I find reading the text out loud really helpful for perfecting the structure and flow. You’ll suddenly hear when a sentence is too long or short, where punctuation is missing or used in error, or where ten words are used in the place of five.
Text to speech
Listening to your work read back in the emotionless tone of the computer voice makes clunky phrasing or unnecessary words stand out. Obviously, this would drive you mad in a class with 30 students – so I’ll probably just use this for small groups with headphones or for my own writing.
One of the problems with proofreading is that you read too quickly. Reading your work from the back to the front, a sentence at a time will stop this. You’ll have to focus on each sentence individually, considering if it’s phrased correctly and makes sense.
Let it rest
Too often I’ll ask students to read back over what they’ve written straight away. Since spending more time writing myself, I now know this is the worst thing to do. What you think about your work straight after completing it has little or no reflection on the quality of the piece. Some of the bits I’ve thought were awful at the time are actually great, and visa-versa. You need time. I’m going to have students check their previous work at the start of the next lesson when they’re looking at it with fresh eyes.