The brain is quicker than the eye

I had been communicating with a new client for a few days before he politely pointed out that 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.

Reading for pleasure or information or is not the same process as editing or proofreading. The eye skips over things, the brain makes assumptions, fills in the gaps.

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.

Editors and proofreaders have to switch off the part of the brain that can decipher that kind of jumble. 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. 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?

And your prize for reading to the end: an engaging two-minute video demonstrating saccade, the rapid eye movement that enables us to read the jumbled words above, courtesy of Chicago designer Austin Modern, sound track by the very excellent Bonobo.

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