Three Tips To Cache Those Typos
You saw it, didn’t you? Even if spell check didn’t. You can’t ignore that single, pesky mistake. It bothers us. What bothers us even more is that we tend to spot others’ mistakes more quickly than we spot our own. Why is this?
The science behind it
Nick Stockton’s article for Wired explains it. When you’re doing a high level task like writing an article, your brain generalises the simpler components of what you’re doing (like turning letters into words). This frees up ‘brain processing capacity’ for the more complex components of the task (like conveying a complex idea).
Editing on autopilot
It’s this same generalisation that makes it difficult to recall your drive to work this morning. When you drive the same route every day, your brain engages its autopilot, freeing itself up to think about other things. This is bad news for editing your own work. Your brain is already familiar with the words, so it tunes out the details.
Three editing tips
You’re no doubt writing because you feel you have something valuable to say, and want to be read. These editing tips will help your readers focus on your message and not your mistakes:
- Make it unfamiliar: Tom Stafford, lecturer in psychology and cognitive science at University of Sheffield, says it’s possible to trick your brain. When you make your work as unfamiliar as possible, your brain thinks it’s seeing it for the first time, and pays closer attention. Try changing the font or background colour. Alternatively, print it out and edit by hand.
- Train your brain: it’s all too easy to look up a grammar rule in the moment, apply it, and then move on without internalising the rule. Don’t move on. Draw up your own style guide. Explain a grammar rule to a colleague. Draw up that list of UK and US spelling. Do what you need to do to internalise the rules.
- Ask the experts: there is always someone smarter than you. This is a good thing. Learn from them, buy their reference books, and subscribe to their blogs.
All the best for ‘caching’ those typos.
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