Proofreading: why is it so difficult to spot your own typos?

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Proofreading: why is it so difficult to spot your own typos?


In the days of modern spellcheckers, predictive text and other writing tools, typos should be a thing of the past – right? Well, unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Despite technology’s best efforts, the current crop of editing tools are nowhere near sophisticated enough to spot and fix all our mistakes.

Not that we can judge. Us humans can have a tough time with editing too, especially when it comes to proofreading our own work. This is because our brains play tricks on us as we read and write, often making obvious mistakes invisible to us.

So what’s going on here? Why is it so difficult to spot your own typos and writing errors when other people see them so clearly?


How self-editing generally works (or doesn’t)

Our guys at A1 Proofreading UK know all too well how the self-editing process plays out.

The reasons it’s so difficult to spot your own errors is because of how your brain works. The first time you run through any kind of document, you may spot a typo every few sentences and find entire paragraphs that need reworking.

Run though the same document a second time and you’ll often spot one or two typos you missed the first time. You many even find some mistakes in one of those paragraphs you ‘fixed’. Where as sometimes you’re literally adding mistakes as you edit!

Eventually you’ll come to a final draft where you can’t spot any more mistakes. Job done. Finally!

Except the document comes back to you with five missed typos and a couple of sentences highlighted, asking what on Earth they’re supposed to mean.

You’re dumbfounded. You feel two-inches tall and can’t explain how a smart person like yourself managed to miss basic errors during multiple proofreading sessions. However, there’s no need to beat yourself up about it. The truth is proofreading your own work is a no-no. This is why professional editors and proofreaders exist in the first place.

Your brain tricks you (far more than you realise)

None of the above happens because you’re an idiot or any less intelligent than the person who spotted your errors. Instead, you’ve been tricked by your own brain – not only during the writing process but also in your self-editing.

This very same topic was covered by Wired in 2014, where they cited typo expert Tom Stafford: “The reason typos get through isn’t because we’re stupid or careless, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart, explains psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos of the University of Sheffield in the UK.”

When you’re write anything – whether it’s an article or simple instructions – your job is to condense information into something that’s easy to understand. You’re turning something complex into something simple and this is a difficult process.

Speaking to Wired Tom added that: “As with all high level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas).”

When this happens, you stop seeing letters and words as they appear on the page and start seeing them as your brain interprets them. The funny thing is readers don’t actually read the words they see on a page either; they recognise them. We anticipate the next word coming, read the start of it and instantly know how to finish it off – unless it’s a word we’ve never come across before.

This is why new words stop us in our tracks. We actually have to read them.

Sooner or later, we stop seeing typos

Despite our brains working against us, we’re still pretty good at spotting our own errors. We’re considerably better than spell checkers, that’s for sure, and even published books can let the odd typo or mistake make it through to printing.

The problem is we eventually stop seeing typos, for the reasons covered above. Interestingly, some readers will even miss certain typos because their brain is in recognition mode, not reading mode as we expect it.

However, we’re far more likely to spot typos and errors in other people’s work, even after they’ve missed them multiple times. This is because we’re reading the text for the first time so were reading it with more awareness.

Tom Concludes “By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination. This explains why your readers are more likely to pick up on your errors.

“Even if you are using words and concepts that they are also familiar with, their brains are on this journey for the first time, so they are paying more attention to the details along the way and not anticipating the final destination.”

This is why editing teams are so highly paid at major publications and proofreading services are still in demand. Every word you publish, every letter you send to partners or customers puts your brand reputation on the line. So don’t trust your own eyes when it comes to editing, because they have a long history of tricking us.

Difference between editing & proofreading

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Difference between editing & proofreading


Many first-time clients of a professional editing company or freelance editor are unsure about the difference between editing and proofreading, and which service they should choose. Editing and proofreading services produce different outcomes for writers, and therefore potential consumers must be aware of what they do.

The Expert Editor has created this guide that describes the difference between editing and proofreading, not only to help our clients, but for writers in general who are evaluating their options. Based on our experience as a professional editing and proofreading company, we also provide general recommendations as to when a typical client should receive an editing or proofreading service.

The target audience is academic, book and business authors who are new to the publication process, such as students with a thesis or dissertation, first time book authors or businesses newly outsourcing their editing or proofreading. We avoid editor jargon and focus on helping writers make an informed choice between an editing or proofreading service.

Editing explained

Editing Checklist

Editing involves a proactive editor making changes and suggestions that will improve the overall quality of your writing, particularly in relation to language use and expression. After editing, your language will be sharp and consistent, your expression clear and the overall readability of your writing enhanced. Editing also involves the ‘proofreading’ of your document, with spelling, grammar and other language errors eliminated. Editing ensures that your writing gives the impression that the English language comes naturally to you, even if it does not.

Quality writing is so important in all walks of life. The quality of writing can ultimately be the difference between success and failure, such as defending a dissertation, selling copies of a book, or landing a business client. The higher the standard of writing, the clearer and more persuasive your arguments, and the more authoritative you will sound as an author. No matter how inspired your ideas, brilliant your logic or moving your story, if the writing is not fluent, consistent and mistake-free, it will not have the impact that it should.

In addition to improving the quality of writing, academic editing and book editing also serve the important function of ensuring that specific conventions are met. For academic editing this includes referencing style and formatting requirements and for book editing important literary elements in a fiction or non-fiction book.

Proofreading explained

Proofreading Checklist

Proofreading, on the other hand, has less ambition than editing and is therefore a cheaper service, but it still performs a vital role. Proofreading is the process of correcting surface errors in writing, such as grammatical, spelling, punctuation and other language mistakes.

You might think that eliminating mistakes and inconsistencies in a document is not a particularly demanding job, and that a friend or family member, or even a computer program, could do it. However, a professional editor is a far more accomplished proofreader than your typical friend or family member and any computer program that Google has dreamed about. A professional editor understands the conventions of English writing and the nuances of the language, is trained to be methodical, and through experience can identify and eliminate the common errors that often plague, for example, a novel or thesis. As well as catching easy to overlook mistakes, they can also identify inconsistent terminology, spelling and formatting.

Proofreading is an important service because any writing intended for publication—whether an academic article, book or business document—must communicate its message in the clearest possible way. For writing to be clear, there must be no spelling, grammar or punctuation errors, or inconsistency in language, as these can undermine the impact of the writing and the credibility of the author.


What a typical writer should choose

In our experience, there are particular types of writers that should usually choose editing, whilst for others proofreading is more appropriate. The following examples are not hard-and-fast rules, but a general insight into the typical needs of certain writers. As a professional editing company, we know all too well that there are exceptions to the rule, and that writing between authors of similar backgrounds can vary greatly.

When editing is essential

  • An English as a Second Language (ESL) author will almost invariably require editing rather than proofreading, whether they have written something academic, book or business related. ESL writers generally have trouble with the complexity of the English language and its sometimes curious norms. Even an ESL author that is highly proficient at speaking English can get tripped up by the nuances and contradictions of formal English writing (as many native-speakers can too!).

  • At first instance, a book author should seek editing rather than proofreading. Book editing can be invaluable in enhancing the overall quality of the book’s language, and can ensure that it reaches a publishable standard. The self-publishing and e-book markets, let alone the traditional publishing one, are so competitive that you can be sure that the writers you are competing against have received a professional book editing service, so not having one puts you at a distinct disadvantage.

When editing is advantageous

  • A native-English speaker requiring academic publication will usually choose editing. Although some academics and students are confident writers, professional editing can still provide great benefit. As described above, editing improves writing quality, which ensures that your arguments—the original insights you spent significant energy and time developing—are expressed in a clear and compelling way. Academic editing also involves an editor checking your conformity with style and formatting conventions. Quality writing and absolute adherence to academic conventions are two cornerstones of successful academic publishing.
  • A business may choose editing or proofreading, depending on the document and its level of importance. The standard of communication defines the identity of a business, with quality writing signifying competence and professionalism. If the author of the document is not a confident writer, or if multiple authors have had an (often inconsistent) input, then editing is highly advantageous.

When proofreading is appropriate

  • Students and academics who are confident writers, and have self-edited, may only require proofreading to eliminate surface errors. The writing itself should already be publication quality, with proofreading ensuring the removal of mistakes, inconsistencies and academic-specific abnormalities that can detract from the end-product.

  • Book authors that have already received professional editing usually benefit from a final proofread to publish with absolute confidence. Although some authors may balk at the prospect of paying for proofreading after the book has already been professionally edited, the reality is that just a few errors can detract from the reading experience and ensure it does not reach its potential. A litany of surface errors, needless to say, will be fatal dagger in the heart of any author.

  • Some businesses may just require a mistake-free document, rather than the quality of writing to be optimised. Again, much will depend on the type of document and its level of importance to the company.

In summary

Are you satisfied with the quality of your writing?

If yes, a proofreading service will generally be your best option, however, if there is scope to improve your writing, including language use, expression and adherence to any formal writing conventions specific to your field, editing is the way to go.

Ideally a writer would receive an editing service first, and subsequently a final proofread just before publication to ensure absolute perfection. While we recommended this approach to book authors that covet publishing success, the reality is that many writers—academic, book or business—cannot afford both services. If you are only after one service, you need to choose the correct one, and this guide is designed to help.

Amateur by Thomas Page McBee

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In the 1979 country song “Coward of the County”, Kenny Rogers’ reluctant hero concludes that sometimes you have to fight to be a man. As Amateur recounts with excoriating honesty, fighting is integral to Thomas Page McBee’s understanding of his own masculinity, and the book is his attempt to use the “brutal intimacies” of boxing to “help me address the question of male violence with some ritual and containment”.

The author is an amateur boxer, and a “beginner” at manhood; his award-winning memoir, Man Alive, described growing up transgender, his transition and coming to terms with the violence he had endured at the hands of men. His is a unique view on a fashionable subject: McBee was the first trans man to fight at Madison Square Garden, and what he learned along the way is relevant to readers of any gender.

As he experiences the boxing gym and the locker room, McBee reflects on how life is different now he looks like a man: the absence of touch and physical comfort between male friends; “The expectation that I will not be afraid juxtaposed against the fear I inspired in a woman, alone on a dark street; the silencing effect of my voice in a meeting; the unearned presumption of my competence; my power; my potential.” Men advise him “to treat dating like warfare, or to dominate meetings with primate body language”. But most disturbingly of all: “Men keep trying to fight me.”

My fight to be a man: the story of a life-changing boxing match

He fills his account of training, and “passing” as male, with information from experts in various aspects of masculinity. A psychology professor tells him how adolescent boys’ close friendships start to be labelled “girlie” and “gay”. A neuroscientist explains that testosterone makes people “do whatever they need to maintain their status” – whether that is fighting or collaborating. But when men in experiments take a placebo, believing it to be testosterone, they become more aggressive even when that makes them lose.

McBee is better qualified than most to see the fronts people put on, and the vulnerability behind the bravado, and ultimately he decides: “I did not want to become a real man … I was fighting for something better.” This is an eye-opening story about gender and courage, and confirmation that there are many different fights to being a man.

Why self-publishing is no longer a vanity project

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A few years ago, HarperCollins launched, a website dedicated to "flushing out the brightest, freshest new literature around". Site members share their works in progress – and HarperCollins and others publish the best. Last year, Penguin US launched a similar site, 

There's another term for what Authonomy and Book Country do: "monetising the slush pile". It's a pretty cruel one, as the "slush pile" of unsolicited manuscripts has long been a fine source for publishers, and publishing lore abounds with stories of much-rejected classics finally being picked up. But the addition of "publishing services" (self-publishing, essentially) to both sites suggests that publishers intend to profit from all of this work, even if it doesn't reach their house standards.

Read more This summer, Penguin acquired Author Solutions Inc, one of the world's largest providers of publishing services, or what might have once been called "vanity publishing". As Penguin CEO John Makinson said: "Self-publishing has moved into the mainstream of our industry". It's hard to overstate what a radical change this is for publishing, built upon decades of emphasis on editorial experience and know-how. It's also timely. Our current biggest bestseller, Fifty Shades of Grey, began not only as self-published, but as a work of fan fiction, which signifies a deep change in the relationship between readers and writers – of readers who become writers. The act of writing is for many intrinsically tied to reading, mirroring the internet itself, with its ingrained expectations of interactivity. Read/writing is how we navigate the world now, and self-publishing is going industrial to facilitate it.

Vanity Publishing Scam

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Publishing Industry Scams Are Evolving For The Self-Publishing Age


Everyone thinks they have a book in them. Eighty-one percent of Americans think so, at least according to one estimate. Since that drive to write a book is so common, scams are constantly springing up in the book publishing industry, all aimed at fleecing optimistic and naive author wannabes. However, the most popular publishing scam of the 1990s by far, reading fees, has today receded into the background, even as the total amount of industry scams has grown. To explain why, we need to examine the rapid evolution of the publishing industry itself.

Victoria Strauss, author and cofounder of the publishing industry watchdog group Writer Beware, spoke with me about how the most common publishing scams have changed over the past few decades.

"A reading fee is a fee charged by a literary agent for reading a submitted manuscript — typically, anywhere from $50 to a few hundred dollars," Strauss explains. "The idea is that the agent is investing valuable time to read the manuscript — which, if they wind up rejecting the manuscript, will be uncompensated. So why shouldn't they request a fee to offset this?" While some agents did indeed only accept and charge for manuscripts that they would genuinely consider, others opened the floodgates, leading on any would-be authors willing to pay up in order to have a manuscript "read."

"The Scott Meredith agency, for instance, which represented many well-known authors, had an entire separate department that functioned as a reading fee mill," Strauss says. "Still others were straight-up scams — fake agents with no intention of actually representing manuscripts, bilking authors with big fees and false promises. In the pre-internet days, it was much harder for writers to research legitimate business practice, or to tell a fake agent from a real one."

It isn't always agents; publishers also charge fees on occasion, though it's "poorly regarded" in the industry regardless of who charges the fee. The practice existed prior to the 1990s, but peaked during that decade, when an epidemic of insincere reading fees spurred professional agents' trade groups — Strauss names both the United States' Association of Authors' Representatives and the United Kingdom's Association of Authors Agents — to adopt guidelines prohibiting members from charging any fees.


What proofreading software can and can’t do

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What proofreading software can and can’t do

Here’s the bottom line. Editors are human beings. That means they have judgement. They can perceive things and interpret what they see No software will do what a good editor can do. 


Software packages can follow the rules. Period. There’s no judgement, but there is a very thorough view of your writing against some standard rules.

Software doesn’t get tired or have a bad day. You get all the rules applied the same way every time.


Writing is a uniquely human activity. Software depends on programming.

Programs don’t understand things that humans get naturally. That’s just the way it is. There are too many rules and exceptions for any programmer to cover. Here are two examples from my experience with ProWritingAid.

I prefer a headline style that doesn’t use periods. The software I use insists on treating them as sentence fragments.

I like to use parallel construction in my business writing. I may begin three sentences in the same way, one right after the other. The software doesn’t like that.

If I used Hemingway or Grammarly, they might not have the same issues, they would have different ones. No matter what program you use, it will not understand something you do. Thanks to programmers for getting it as good as they have. Don’t expect perfection.

Editing/proofreading software is great for helping you improve your writing. Remember that software is rule-based, and it won’t replace a professional editor’s judgement and range. 

Professional proofreading explained

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Professional Proofreading Explained

A proof is a typeset version of copy or a manuscript page. They often contain typos introduced through human error. Traditionally, a proofreader looks at an increment of text on the copy and then compares it to the corresponding typeset increment, and then marks any errors (sometimes called 'line edits') using standard proofreaders' marks.[2] Unlike copy editing, proofreading's defining procedure is to work directly with two sets of information at the same time. Proofs are then returned to the typesetter for correction. Correction-cycle proofs will typically have one descriptive term, such as 'bounce', 'bump', or 'revise' unique to the department or organization and used for clarity to the strict exclusion of any other. It is a common practice for 'all' such corrections, no matter how slight, to be sent again to a proofreader to be checked and initialed, thus establishing the principle of higher responsibility for proofreaders as compared to their typesetters or artists. When somebody does the proofreading for another person they also like to read first for themselves and then for other people so they can also understand the meaning. Proofreading is when a person wants to read first what they have written into their Newspaper, documentation paper, etc. 

Proofreader, proof reader or proof-reader?

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Is it proofreader, proof reader or proof-reader?

Many people have asked Future Perfect about the spelling of ‘proofreader’ and ‘proofreading’.

To explain this, let’s first think about the technical names for writing words like this:

  1. proof reading [spelling as two words]
  2. proof-reading [hyphenated compound noun]
  3. proofreading [closed spelling as one word]


  1. proof reader [open spelling as two words]
  2. proof-reader [hyphenated compound noun]
  3. proofreader [closed spelling as one word]

If you search Google, you will find about 3.5m search results as a closed spelling (3), with only 1.5m as open (1) or hyphenated (2). Of course, this only reports what people are using and not what is right and wrong to write. However, the two are linked!

A1 Proofreading UK is not behind the times, when it comes to realising that we are using a living and changing language. Words are made up and evolve all the time.

Interestingly, though, this word has followed the standard etymological pattern of change which many words go through, over time, ie it begins as an open spelling as two words (1), moves through being a hyphenated compound noun (2) and ends up as a closed spelling as one word (3).

So, it would be most up to date to use this as (3): ‘proofreader’ and ‘proofreading.’

At any point in time, you can see words which are going through this transition. So, you have to decide which you like and which has the greatest sure-founded backing, along with ensuring consistency with other words in your material. With modern communications methods, this transition is taking place far more rapidly than it ever has previously.


I’ll bet you did not know that another word which has long since gone through this evolution is the word ‘today.’

It started as open (1) ‘to day’ – from Middle English times and Old English before that ‘to + dœge’ meaning ‘on this day.'

After this, it became hyphenated (2) ‘to-day’, which was used for several hundred years and can be seen in writings and manuscripts of the time.

Nowadays, it is the closed spelling (3) ‘today’ which we use – and most people would never know any different!



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Ghost writers are writers for hire who take money but none of the credit for the work produced.

Ghost writers are writers for hire who take money but none of the credit for the work produced. The original writer, or author, is hiring the ghost as a freelance writer to produce copy writer work for a fee. The author takes all the credit for all the original work produced, including all the original writing produced by the ghost writer. The ghost, who is usually paid in advance of completing the job, gets the money as a “work for hire” job and assumes none of the credit for the ghost writing work.

 Reasons to Hire a Ghost Writer.

 This may sound odd, but it’s a common practice. When someone wants to create new copy for a website, a ghost writer may be hired to rewrite it, and there are many similar jobs such as writing ad or business copy, or supplying new or rewritten material for personal or professional use. The ghost is hired primarily as a professional freelance writer, in order to produce high quality writing copy and so that the writing reads professionally. A paid professional freelance writer is often the only source to which to turn to get sparkling, well written website copy or other paid professional writing copy. And a ghost is hired to bring this about, either as an on staff writer or as a freelance writer who is paid specifically for the job at hand. Ghost writers are also hired to write books for people. In such cases, the author of the book is the person who hires the ghost writer, and not the ghost, unless the book author wants to share some of the credit with the ghost. In this case, the ghost may be listed as a coauthor or as the “editor” of the book, and generally this is listed somewhere in the acknowledgments page. Sometimes the well known, “as told to —–” with the name of the ghost writer being mentioned is listed on the cover of the book. This is often the case when well known ghost writers are used by the books’ actual authors. 

Can You Make Money Ghost Writing? 

Ghosts often work for very high sums of money, although with recent competition standards being set by third world countries such as India and China, and with bidding service agencies looking for the highest bidder on ghost writing projects, this is not always the case. But in many cases, a ghost writer will charge a fee of $10 to $25,000 to be the book writer hired by a book author to produce exceptional quality, sterling book writing over three to six months of working on the book. A ghost writer is hired for his or her quality of work, and not necessarily for his or her “name” as a book writer. But there are many kinds of deals which a ghost can “cut” with the book author in order to produce a fair deal for both parties when the contract is signed between the ghost writer and the book author. For example, the ghost writer can take a lower fee in the case of a book which is very likely to sell widely and well, such as $10K paid in advance to write the book, a sum which can be paid all or partly out of a book advance. Then the ghost may take about 10-20% of the book’s gross profits over time as it is sold, perhaps with a ceiling cap or highest amount the ghost is allowed to make from the book’s gross profits. This method is only used when the book is nearly guaranteed to be published and to sell at high profits. Also, the ghost can take a lower fee if credit is shared with the book author. Again, this is only suggested when the book is guaranteed to sell well or for some reason the ghost especially wants his or her name on the book as one of the book’s authors, for reasons of prestige or other such needs. At any rate, it is up to the book author and the book writer to determine whether or not the ghost should take all his or her money as advance pay for a “work for hire” job, or if the book writer wants to hare credit with the book author or to take a percentage of the book’s gross profits over time as payment for the work.

 How to Become a Ghost Writer.

 However you slice it, the ghost writing business can be quite lucrative. In order to become a well paid ghost, you should have plenty of experience as a freelance writer, perhaps including some books published under your own name or years of experience writing website and other types of copy for businesses. You should be experienced as a freelance writer who has been paid regularly for your services, and then you may take on the career of becoming a paid professional freelance ghost writer. Even though the economy may be bad, there is always room in the writing profession for another freelance writer. And it can be a very lucrative career, once you know how to handle its ins and outs, and once you learn how to deal with your clients as a ghost writer should.

Proof reading Explained


Copy editing vs proofreading

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Copy editing vs proofreading


Copy editing

The tasks involved in copy editing include checking written material for grammar, spelling, style, and punctuation issues before it’s prepared for proofreading. A copy editor may also do a rewrite, if necessary, to fix any problems with transitions, wordiness, jargon, and to ensure the style of the piece fits with the publication. This work is known as revision.


When the material is nearly a finished product, meaning it has been edited, laid out, and designed, the proofreader searches for typographical errors. The proofreader works with a facsimile of a finished product, or a proof (hence the term proofreading). Proofreaders don’t suggest major changes to the text; rather, they look for minor text and formatting errors and confirm the material is ready for publication.

Copy editing and proofreading are separate tasks, although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably by people who don’t know the difference. Now that you know the difference, whose skills would be more useful for your own work?