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Why It’s So Hard to Catch Our Own Writing Errors, According to Science

Photo of a red pen on top of a proofreader's marked-up document.
You may not be hard-wired to catch your own writing errors.

Have you ever written something you’re proud of, spent a lot of time and energy on it, thought it was perfect—and then had someone almost instantly point out a bunch of errors?

It happens all the time.

“But I ran it through a spell-check and other text editors!” you think to yourself.

Modern technology is improving, but it’s still no match for the human brain. Humans don’t just look at words as right or wrong like computers do. There are nuances, emotions, tones, inflections, and meanings that have to be considered. Computers can’t do this as completely as humans can.

Additionally, even with advanced technology, there’s a good chance it will still miss a few spelling and grammatical mistakes.

So why is it so difficult to find our own writing errors, even with a spell-check program? Keep reading, and we’ll dive into the answers to that question and give you some simple ideas to get around this common problem.

Don’t Miss: Editing vs. Proofreading: What’s the Difference, and When to Use Each?

Illustration of a brain.

The Science Behind Why Our Own Writing Errors Are Hard to Catch

Even though our brains are the computers of the human body, they don’t behave and understand things the same way that actual computers do.

Brains are complex mechanisms that humans are still trying to understand. However, we do know how our brains work when it comes to reading, processing words, and conveying meaning.

Our Brains Are Working on Bigger Problems

When we make a typo, it’s not because we’re stupid or lazy.

Our brains are working much harder on another task and giving less importance to ensuring there are no writing errors. The other task is conveying meaning with your writing.

Creating meaningful content and writing it in a way that others understand is a complex process that requires a lot of effort from your brain.

It’s Also About How Our Brains Process Writing

Another interesting fact about how our brains process information explains why we miss our own typos:

The brain sees words, not letters.

If our brains processed each letter instead of each word, we would catch more of our writing errors. However, our brians olny rqeiure the frist and lsat lteters of a wrod in odrer to be albe to udnrasnted waht is bineg wretitn.

The fact that you could figure out that last sentence is proof that your brain sees and processes words first and letters second, which makes seeing your own writing errors much more difficult.

Generalization

Our brains are wired to take the most accessible neural pathways to get to the desired result. That means your brain will take shortcuts or revert to what it knows best.

For example, have you ever started driving to work on Saturday morning when you meant to go to the store? Your brain is used to doing one thing, and sometimes it automatically repeats itself, even when you don’t want it to.

The same thing happens with your writing.

  • Your brain knows the final product of your writing and will sometimes skip ahead or make connections between your ideas that you may have thought of but never wrote down.
  • Or, when you’re proofreading your work, your brain may automatically know what you meant to write and will skip over a mistake.

These are some of the problems that arise when you proofread your own work, and they are more prevalent the closer you are to the project.

15 Most Common Writing Errors in Marketing Text

Over the past decade, the proofreading team at Super Copy Editors has reviewed marketing materials for hundreds of clients. These are the most common writing errors we find:

  1. Spelling mistakes (e.g., complement vs. compliment)
  2. Inconsistent use (or non-use) of the serial comma
  3. Various other inconsistencies (e.g., heading doesn’t match what is listed in the Table of Contents)
  4. Hyphens instead of proper dashes
  5. Misuse of apostrophes (e.g., its vs. it’s, depending on context)
  6. Redundant wording (e.g., completely eliminate)
  7. Too many commas … or missing commas
  8. Lack of subject-verb agreement
  9. Inaccurate numbers
  10. Fact-checking issues (e.g., someone’s name is misspelled or their job title is wrong)
  11. Incomplete sentences and run-ons
  12. Lists of items that aren’t parallel in structure
  13. Too many buzzwords/clichés
  14. Unclear structure and flow of ideas
  15. Formatting problems

Overlooking the occasional typo is not your fault, and it has nothing to do with your skill or intelligence—it’s simple biology. So what can you do?

The good news is that just because you can’t always see your own mistakes doesn’t mean no one can. Having someone else proofread your work is the best way to ensure all your writing errors are found and corrected.

Don’t Miss: 5 Reasons Marketers and Ad Agencies Need a Proofreader

Photo showing a close-up of a woman's hands on a laptop keyboard. She is at a coffee shop, with a notepad and a coffee cup nearby.
Get a colleague, friend, or proofreading service to spot your writing errors. (Photo: Daniel Thomas)

If You Can’t Catch All Your Typos, Who Can?

You can ask work colleagues or friends to review your work, or you may consider a professional editing and proofreading service, like Super Copy Editors. Our experienced team will ensure your copy is error-free and tonally sound. Get your quote for proofreading now.

A Colleague

If you’re writing a business-related piece, a great person to snag your typos would be someone who is in the same field.

Hopefully, they’re familiar with the business’s general language and the concepts you’re writing about. In that case, it would be much easier for them to spot errors, especially when it comes to technical jargon and other business-related terms.

A Friend

You may also ask a non-work friend (ideally someone who is a good writer) to proofread your work. Most likely, they’ll be able to pick out the more obvious errors.

However, depending on their experience and knowledge in the area you’re writing about, they might not pick up every typo, or they may miss your writing’s intentions.

A Professional Editing and Proofreading Service

By far, the best option for making sure your writing is error-free is to have a professional proofreading and editing service look over your work.

Not only are they a different set of eyes on your work, but they’re also trained in what to look for and know the most common mistakes.

Additionally, professional editors and proofreaders know how to change your writing mistakes to convey your work’s proper message and tone.

  • A misplaced or forgotten comma, exclamation point, or question mark can change the meaning of your sentence or even the entire message.
  • Run-on sentences or sentence fragments can confuse readers and interrupt the flow of your message, possibly causing readers to lose trust in what you’re saying.

Final Thoughts on Catching Your Writing Errors

Editing and proofreading are two of the more essential parts of the writing process.

No matter how long you spend finding the right words, researching the data, and putting the words together, if your writing contains numerous errors and doesn’t convey the right tone, your message won’t have the desired impact.

The final act of writing is to ensure everything looks and sounds the way you want it to—and science shows you are not the best person to make that happen.

By allowing someone else to look over and edit your work, your writing is guaranteed to be improved. A second set of eyes is vital to catching all your writing errors, especially the ones your brain can’t see.

While any second set of eyes for editing is better than nothing, your best option is to have a professional editing and proofreading service look over your work. At Super Copy Editors, we live to edit and proofread all types of writing, backed by years of experience. Click this link to get a proofreading quote for polishing up your next writing project.

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Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I’m Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than 25 years of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes. At Super Copy Editors, we’re passionate about helping agencies, marketing teams, and education companies refine and polish their text to give them confidence and ensure success. Learn more here.

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