We all know that computer spell-checkers can’t catch all of our spelling errors due to words that are spelled correctly but used in the wrong form, or words that should have been written as a compound word but were instead written as two correctly spelled words, etc.
But, have you noticed that even you don’t always catch your spelling errors–even after reading through your document two or three times? One reason for this is because your eye tends to rearrange the order of letters in words to see them correctly. When you just read through a sentence at normal speed, your eye will adjust letters and words, and therefore, you often won’t catch your own mistakes.
In fact, studies have determined that the only letters that are truly important when we read are the first and last ones, if they are forming a word that’s familiar to us. The letters in the middle don’t matter!
One way around this is to start at the end of your document and read it backwards. This forces you to look at every single word on its own instead of allowing it to form a sentence. And, it causes you to actually “see” the letters and not just skim through them so your mind will fill in the blanks. Not only will you catch spelling errors this way, but you’ll also pick up on grammar mistakes that you may otherwise not see.
Another use for backwards reading is for counting words. I often write my draft with pen and paper but still need to do a periodic word count. By starting at the end, I’m less likely to lose my count as I don’t “read” the words while I’m counting but rather only “see” them.
Another tip for catching mistakes is to read your work aloud. Your mouth moves slower than your brain (well, for some of us), and just the action of having to speak your words will slow you down long enough to find errors or to hear words and sentences that don’t sound right.
So, next time you have to proof your work, read backwards. Then read aloud. Just don’t try to do both at the same time!