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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

4 Proofreading Tricks That'll Help You Catch More Typos (and Sound Smarter in the Process)

You just fired off a quick email response to a hiring manager and strutted away from your computer feeling self-assured—you just know she’s going to love your little joke about the upcoming weekend.

A few moments later, you return to reread your message and double-check what you had written (and, of course, to marvel at your own sense of humor one more time).

Immediately, you shriek in horror—a typo is glaring right back at you!

How did this happen? You read that email several times and didn’t notice a thing. Surely, some sort of malicious email fairies slipped in there and wreaked havoc as soon as you had sent your message.

Sorry, but no. Those devilish email pixies aren’t to blame here—you are.

But, don’t beat yourself up over it. We’ve all been guilty of letting a typo or obvious blunder slip through the cracks every now and then. Whether it’s an email, a report, or—gasp!—a resume or cover letter, those facepalm moments have happened to the best of us.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we want them to happen over and over again. Luckily, there are a few proofreading tricks you can put into play to up your chances of catching those pesky typos before they ever have a chance to do any damage. Here are four of my favorites.

1. Read it Backwards

Those hypothetical email fairies might not be playing tricks—but your brain sure is. Research from Cambridge University shows that it doesn’t matter what order the letters of a word are in, as long as the first and last letter are correct.

What does that mean for you? Well, chances are, you keep missing those obnoxious typos simply because your brain has the tendency to make you see what it expects to see.

That’s why reading your written message from the end to the beginning can be so helpful. It’s not the natural order of things, so it forces you to truly concentrate on each and every sentence—making you that much more likely to spot any errors that your brain would’ve otherwise glazed right over.

2. Read it Aloud

Sure, you might sound a little insane if you read each and every thing you write out loud (you might want to apologize to your co-workers in advance). But, rest assured—this tip really works.

Here’s why: When you read silently, you’ll naturally go much faster. Again, this is why you’re frequently skipping over fairly obvious mistakes—because your brain is speeding right through all of the text on the page. But, reading aloud requires you to slow down and focus on each and every word that you’re saying, so that it can make its way from your brain to your mouth.

Beyond that, talking through what you’ve written is a great way to ensure that your sentences flow smoothly and that the tone matches what you desired. So, yes, you might sound a little nutty. But, the end result is well worth it.

3. Come Back to it Later

You likely don’t have exactly what you’ve just written committed flawlessly to memory (although, consider me impressed if you do!). But, even so, your brain is still holding onto a general idea of what you meant to say. Even if that’s not exactly what’s on the page, that prankster brain of yours is going to allow you to think that’s what appears there. Sometimes, you just see what you want to.

This is why taking a break between writing and proofreading can be so helpful. That pause means your ideas won’t be quite as fresh in your brain, causing you to rely more on the words that are actually written on the page—and not necessarily on what your mind is tricking you into seeing.

If you have a little bit of time to spare, set that written work aside and come back to it a little later. Chances are, you’ll be glad you did.

4. Make the Font Bigger

I’m not even going to try to pretend that this final tip is backed by any hard science or research findings. But, it’s always worked well when I’ve used it—and that’s enough for me.

Whether you prefer to print something out to proofread or you want to take a look directly on your computer screen, increasing the font size can definitely help you pinpoint any errors or blunders in your text. Again, I don’t have any sort of evidence-backed proof for why this works—it just does.

Think about it. Would you be more likely to spot a spelling error on a billboard or on the back of a business card? My money’s on the billboard. So, go ahead—bump up that font size and prepare to be amazed at the results.

Nobody likes finding typos in their own work. But, admittedly, those little buggers can be tough to spot—especially in something you’ve written yourself! So, give these four tips a try, and you’re sure to improve your proofreading game and banish those wicked email fairies once and for all.

What’s the worst typo you’ve ever seen—whether it was committed by you or someone else? Let me know on Twitter.

Photo of person typing courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.