16 errors your brain doesn’t want you to to see

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How many Fs are there in the following sentence? Only count them once…

FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.

Did you get all six? I didn’t the first time. Many people miss the OFs – our brains seeing them as Vs instead of Fs.

The brain can play many tricks when we read – making us see what we think is there, rather than what really is.

How many of you missed the two to’s in my headline?

Here’s another example…

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Last week, I gave you ten proofreading tips that I use to slow my brain down and look at what’s really on the page or screen. In fact, I only gave you nine – did you spot the deliberate error?

This week, I want to share some common errors to look out for when proofreading.
Disclaimer: These are largely taken from my experience of working with writers and designers on print publications, but many will apply online too.

  1. Different spellings of names

  2. Look for consistency throughout the main copy and between captions, subheads, headlines, box outs, etc. Sometimes writers slip into using a different name altogether, like Joyce and Joan or John and Jim.

  3. Words that the spellchecker won’t pick up

  4. Manager and manger, compliment and complement, star and start, form and from, etc.

  5. Repeated words

  6. Like the to’s in my headline, the brain finds these hard to spot, especially when they run over the
    the end of a line and on to the next.

  7. Missing words

  8. Most people think faster than they can type, so words often left out.

  9. Dodgy hyphenations

  10. If hyphens have been inserted manually to make the copy fit, watch that any let-
    ers haven’t been deleted or added.

  11. Consistency

  12. Does the copy flit between email and e-mail; do people’s job titles change between articles? Does the publication fit with the house and publication style guides?

  13. Figures don’t add up

  14. If you’re listing how a £1,000 grant was distributed between charities, do all the figures add up to the £1,000?

  15. Captions don’t match the pictures

  16. Are there the right number of people, are they of the right genders, do any name badges on shirts match the caption below? In big groups, watch that the designer hasn’t inadvertently cropped someone out.

  17. There are XXXXXs to fill in

  18. Has the designer left you a blank caption or box out to fill in? Always encourage designers to use XXXXXs rather than actual text. They’re easier to spot and will help prevent situations such as when one newspaper was printed with the immortal words – “will someone write some s**t in here”.

  19. The regular details aren’t right

  20. Because folios (issue number, page number, date of issue etc) are usually on each page and in every issue, editors can forget to update them. Do a separate look at the document just for these.

  21. Words and grammar that give you problems

  22. If you know you have weaknesses over the use of apostrophes or certain spellings of words, pay special attention to these.

  23. Extra spaces between words

  24. This often happens when copy is edited down to fit the design. Words are deleted but an extra space is left. Watch out when importing copy written by non-professionals – they often use the old convention of two spaces after full stops.

  25. Changes to tenses midway through an article

  26. Does your article start in the present tense and switch to the past? Do your quotes switch from ‘he said’ to ‘he says’?

  27. A bad juxtaposition of headlines or pictures

  28. Do two headlines or articles on the same page start the same way? Are there three pictures featuring the company’s CEO on the same page?

  29. Bad widows or orphans

  30. Even if you’re using non-justified text, try to avoid leaving one word on its own on a line. Also, avoid ending a column with the first line of a new paragraph or starting a new column with the last line of a paragraph.

  31. Photos flipped or cropped too harshly

  32. Sometimes a designer will flip a picture over if, for example, the page would look better if the subject is looking left instead of right. Watch out that there is no text on the picture that will read back to front when flipped.

If you have any other common errors to add to the list, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

If you or your team could benefit from proofreading training or if you have a document that needs a final look over, please get in touch.

Related articles:
Ten complementary proofreading tips
Research behind the Cambridge University quote

Comments

rachael

@ phineyj - that's a great point! The same logic applies to pics of sports people too - a right-handed tennis player could suddenly become a leftie! I've also seen wedding rings appear on the wrong hands too because photos are flipped.

phineyj

I'd like to add to your last point that anyone working on publications to do with music should be very careful of flipping photos featuring musicians as you can very easily end up with the classic error - the violinist playing back to front! I've seen this quite a few times, even from organisations that should know better.

rachael

Thanks Trey - glad you found it useful

Trey - Swollen Thumb Entertainment

I bookmarked this page for future reference. This is great stuff! Thank you very much.

rachael

Yay! Well done Samar - I'm glad the post was useful.
Did you also get the repeated 'the' in point 3, the missing word in point 4 and the missing 't' from letters in point 5?

Samar

No I didn't. Wasn't even looking for it. I feel like such a bad reader. Hehe.

Samar

Wow! I caught all the 6 F's. Missed the two to's and the one missing point in the last post. I also read through the messed up spelling sentence easily. Great post!