Causes of Proofreading Errors 6 – Not using techniques that “disable” the human mind’s ability to auto-correct

Causes of Proofreading Errors 6 – Not using techniques that “disable” the human mind’s ability to auto-correct

The human brain is excellent at filling in gaps in information and correcting mistakes in information so that it can see meaning very quickly. As an example, try to read the following:

Cna yuo raed tihs? 55 plepoe out of 100 can.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghi t pclae. The rset can be a
taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Many people have little difficulty reading this example; however it does have to be said that some people will find the text unintelligible. Indeed, on first reading, some readers will not notice any issues at all with many of the words. If you look closely at the text, you will see that the middle letters in all the words are actually scrambled, with only the first and the last letters of each word being in the correct place. This has profound implications on proofreading, particularly when comparing text. We effectively see what we want to see.

For these reasons, people doing manual proofreading activity need to be taught to compare information in a way that attempts to stop the human mind making these subconscious corrections.

Furthermore, it may be beneficial to select proofreaders who are less susceptible to the sub-conscious correcting process.

This is the sixth of a series of 15 blogs giving a view of the causes of proof reading errors. Please help me improve the thinking by adding your comments and share this with others who may have a view. To obtain an e-copy of our Top 15 Causes of Proof Reading Errors booklet, go to

Comment ( 1 )

  • It’s true that good proofreading is more of an art than a science. This is probably why proofreaders can’t totally be replaced by electronic equipment. In the years I spent working with artwork and labeling proofreaders another common cause of errors was in checking the changes only. This is a very common practice in artwork development for packaging but likely one of the most frequent causes of errors in package labeling. Electronic artwork development software (even basic software like Word) has a tendency to do things to the text and graphic elements even when only replacing a few sentences. A foolproof method of ensuring that what wasn’t supposed to change didn’t is really essential. This is likely where electronic proofreading software can best help.

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