October 17

Proofread your own writing like a pro

    out of time!

    I know you have been there more times than you want to admit. You type the final period on that manuscript, application, or important letter. This piece of writing means so much for your career, even your self-worth, but it's the eleventh hour. It's too late to ask your friend or former professor or even your mom to read over your words. You've read the piece three or four times already, and you know that your eyes will just glaze over if you try to proofread it one more time.

    You've been here, staring at your writing, knowing that it is still rife with typos and easy-to-spot errors that will ding your credibility in the eyes of your reader.

    Do you hit submit?


    Maybe the old you would have hit submit, too tired to try one more ineffectual glance-through. After you finish this post, though, you'll know one of the easiest, most powerful proofreading techniques out there: The Change-Up Method.

    First, I want to tell you my embarrassing story of The Change-Up Method

    I edited a dissertation for a friend from graduate school. He was brilliant, and he had a powerful dissertation, but English was not his first language. Nearly every sentence in the manuscript was missing articles (a, an, the), and I struggled to identify each of the hundreds of missing articles in the 117-page manuscript. The author was my friend, so I determined to do the best job I could.

    I read the dissertation no fewer than four times. Slowly, deliberately, pausing several times in each sentence to consider whether to add an article. I thought, surely, I had caught every error, and I hit “send.”

    A few days later, I heard back. I can hardly describe the embarrassment when I read my friend's words: “My advisor and committee members pointed out that there are still English errors in my dissertation… For this reason, I have to ask you to proofread my dissertation very carefully all over again.”

    He tried very hard to make me feel better, admitting how many errors I had already caught and that it was really so much improved from the initial draft. But I knew that I needed to return to the dissertation and find a way to catch every last one of those errors, no matter how strenuous the method.

    How could I know that I would soon find so easy a method?

    Why is it nearly impossible for you to catch every error when reading straight through a draft?

    Research by psychologists at the University of California shows that you can read words, even when every letter is in the wrong order, because the brain is so good at absorbing the context and guessing the meanings of the words.

    I love the title of the pop-psych article that discusses the UC research:
    Breaking the Code: Why Yuor Barin Can Raed This

    If your brain can unscramble words instantly, effortlessly, then your proofreading skills are in serious trouble.

    Even worse? Your brain tends to completely skip over words with fewer than four letters, according to Barber, Meij, and Kutas at UC. How in the world are you going to catch any typos, if you're fighting against your brain's tendency to not fixate at all on smaller words.

    That's what I told myself as I opened the dissertation up again. There's no way I could read through it again four times. (Have you ever read a dissertation once? Seriously.) Even if I did, would I catch those lingering errors?

    I knew I needed to change it up. I did a little more research on brain cognition and reading, and I decided to experiment on my own editing skills.

    I changed the way my brain approached the text.

    I changed the entire look of the text so that my brain would see the words as new and different. Then, I read the dissertation backward, beginning with the last sentence and reading each previous sentence, all the way back to the introduction. This removed the tendency for my brain to use context to fill in missing articles and skim right over typos.

    And you know what? It took me only slightly longer to read the dissertation backward than I had spent reading it forward. If I had used The Change-Up Method to begin with, I would have saved myself from reading it three additional times, not to mention the final read-through that was necessary after I missed all those errors.

    Plus, I found every single missing article, typo, and error in that dissertation. That's what I call effective.

    Now, back to you, sitting at your computer at the eleventh hour, knowing that there are errors lurking in your writing but too tired to care and so tempted to just hit that submit button.

    Watch this super-quick video: The Change-Up Method

    I will walk you through the remarkably easy steps of The Change-Up Method. You'll never submit another error-riddled piece of writing again, and you'll save the time of pointlessly reading and re-reading your own writing.


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