Our Own Minds
Textbooks and fiction all have ‘blind-spots’ the mind automatically identifies regimentation such as bulleted sections; tables; text by a photo; introductions, (just a few examples) and when it gets to the next occurrence it ‘glosses-over’ what it’s already seen: automatically accepting it as fine and dandy.
Don’t always trust your own mind: it has just read the word ‘error’ and accepted it as correct in its context, ‘error’ a couple of lines down should have been the plural and is missed.
Other People; Other Factors
Unfamiliar words – check each spelling, don’t assume the writer has cut and pasted the word correctly; or has checked their own source data.
Titles and subtitles (particularly in emails) are often overlooked and you can find some real eye-watering examples of typos there.
Punctuation; spacing; spelling: all are danger areas and should be sought out in isolation. Computers are to blame for a lot of it; because we trust them too much. Using speech marks for example: changing fonts alters the appearance of speech marks; when altering dialogue the speech marks may not update from ‘begin speech’ to ‘end speech’ – easy to miss.
Spacing is taken for granted; it looks like a single space so therefore it must be just one space – wrong! Switch on the Pilcrow (the little backwards P on your toolbar: this is the editing icon meaning ‘show hidden characters’). One dot between words is one space. Look how many incidences of double dots appear in your text when the Pilcrow is ‘on’.
Autocorrect (default American version on MS Word) delights in changing words you have typed correctly to what it ‘thinks’ is right. (And changing the Autocorrect default to UK resets after the next MS update; don’t waste your time changing it, go and get another biscuit.) Read a sentence, it looks fine; press enter for the next line and read the previous line again; words that were correct a moment ago may well have changed.
As a keyboard ages it does have a tendency to react to all those biscuit crumbs built-up over the months and can throw in stealth keystrokes when you aren’t looking. An excess of spacing can throw a spanner in the justification works. And a nasty little hangover from BC (before computers): two spaces after a full-stop – oh, the humanity; imagine the impact on a line of very short sentences.
Don’t forget to look for repetition (cut and paste has a lot to answer for).
Punctuation is a minefield, transatlantic tripwires where fierce adherence to “The American Way” or “The English Way” can lead to some bitter battles on grammar sites. I give you (--) double-dash, old-style American, or (—) Em-dash, English/new-style American; spaces before and after this punctuation example are ‘no’ in American and ‘yes’ in English. So what’s right in one country may well be seen as wrong in another.
How deep do you proofread? I was reading an article the other day which advised the proofreader never to ‘read’ the content or it may distract from the job. If you don’t read the text how will you know if it makes sense?
Each proofreader is different; some are drawn to spelling errors; while others despise incorrect, missing or mis-programmed punctuation (see earlier note on successfully confusing your word-processing program) punctuation prejudice is rife out there – don't let it cloud your judgment.
Don’t trust yourself; don’t trust your computer; don’t trust your source; and never assume you have finished the job when you’ve done.