Every January since 1975, the Lake Superior State University publishes their list of banished words from the preceding year. The complete list has more than 900 entries, words considered overused, misused or just plain nonsensical. It includes words like “babyboomers” from 1989, “BAE” from 2015, and “talk to the hand” from 1998. This year’s list contained something special: covfefe, a word that isn’t even a word, described as “an impulsive typo, born into a 140-character universe, somehow missed by the autocorrect feature.” Yes, even on Twitter it’s important to proofread your own writing.
We like to think that this year’s list also contained a lesson about just how loud a mistake can be. In 2018, resolve to proofread. The website Grammarly put together these five tips to help you be a bit more effective at proofreading and hopefully avoiding your own impulsive typos this year.
1) Start a list of your most common mistakes
Everyone has a few grammar errors that they seem to make over and over again. Maybe you can’t ever seem to remember whether you need your or you’re or automatically click a misspelled ‘definitely’ over to ‘defiantly’. Start keeping a list of the items you have trouble with, along with the correct way of writing them. Keep the list somewhere visible. When you have easy access to answers for these common mistakes, you are more likely to double-check what you are writing. Once you develop the habit of writing it the correct way, you are less likely to trip on the same problems.
2) Take a minute before you even start proofing
After you finish writing, go do something else before you begin proofing. Everyone knows that you are supposed to read it again before you hit send. But sometimes when you have been sweating over something you’ve written, reading it again is the last thing you want to do. Stop. Wait a minute. Get up, walk around, get a cup of coffee. Come back and look at it again. As Brittney Ross at Grammarly points out, “The more time that passes between writing and proofreading, the better you’ll be at spotting mistakes your brain skipped over the first time through.”
3) Proofread your own writing by reading it backwards
Did you know that according to a famous study done at Cambridge, for many people, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae? If you could still read the second part of that sentence, this kooky tip is for you. Our brains have a tendency to fill in misspelled or repeated words as correct, especially when we are familiar with the piece. Reading backward, slowly, word-by-word can help to correct for this. Your brain simply won’t be able to tell you that the words are correct, even if the first and last letters are in the right place.
4) Change how you are looking at it
Grammarly advises that you change how your writing looks and “zoom way in so you can see only one sentence at a time. Change the font. Print it out.”
Changing how it looks will make the text feel unfamiliar so that, once again, your brain is less likely to “fill in gaps and blind you to mistakes.” This tip is particularly helpful if you don’t have time to read it backward or let your writing sit for a while first. Think of it as a shortcut to seeing your work with fresh eyes.
5) Read it out loud
It might make you feel silly, but reading it out loud is the best proofreading technique. You’ll find yourself stumbling over typos when you say them out loud that your brain whizzes by when they are written. Taking your time and focusing on each word will help you spot misspellings. As a bonus, when people read their work out loud they find themselves changing sentences around and making phrasing less awkward.
Shut your office door, hide in a broom closet, or head to the abandoned bathroom that no one likes and read your work out loud. It will help you spot anything that confuses the reader because, effectively, you become the reader.
Here’s to a typo-free year!