The brain is quicker than the eye – why typos slip through

Do you wonder why typos slip through even though you’ve read it over numerous times?

I had been communicating with a new client for a few days before he politely pointed out that his name was spelt Bret, not Brett.

Why am I telling you this? Surely as an editor I should be more observant, I hear you say. And surely I should be keeping this kind of oversight to myself. You’re probably right, but I couldn’t resist. It’s a perfect example of how the eye can see one thing and the brain can see another.

Yuo’ve prbably seen smothnig lke tihss, suggestng tht as lnog as the frist and lsat letetrs of ecah wrod are in the smae palce, we are albe to raed and unerdsnatd.

We can decipher this jumble because the eye skips over things; the brain makes assumptions and fills in the gaps. Which is pretty amazing.

Editors and proofreaders have to switch off the part of the brain that fills in the gaps. We have tools and techniques to help us. For example a proofreader might hold a ruler under each line or read words out loud to stop their eye skipping ahead. An editor will make a word list as they go along, which will include name spellings.

If I’d had my editing goggles on when I was emailing Bret, I would have noted the spelling of his name on a word list. Ironically, when I was preparing his quote I double-checked the spelling of his family name, but it didn’t occur to me that there could be an alternative spelling of Brett. I fell into the same trap that, according to Bret, about 75% of people do.

This is just one example of the kind of mistake that can slip through to the keeper. If you are checking your work (or a colleague’s work) for sense, flow and accuracy, are you really going to be able to keep an eye out for Bret/Brett situations as well?

The solution? Once you are happy with the flow and meaning of your work, always do a final proof. And give your brain some help by using a proofreading technique. You can find some tips here.

PS. I really need to take my own advice on this. I just discovered (thanks to a friend pointing it out) that I posted a blog about spitting infinitives rather than splitting infinitives!