How to Stop Filling in Blanks with Things That Aren't There

You know what the document is supposed to say, so you mentally fill in the blanks and gloss right over the errors.

Your brain thinks it sees things that should be there, even when they aren't.

Here's a sampling from the  hundreds of examples of errors our students didn't find when they read through their documents on the computer screen.

A mistyped letter changed the meaning:

  • Picture of a monkey dressed in a shirt and tie carrying a bag of money

    The common law treats restrictive covenants in employment contracts as restraints on trade, enforceable only if they are   seasonable    reasonable   and in the public interest.

      Monkey    Money   laundering is a global problem made more difficult to control because of new e-commerce technologies.

    The police officer testified that there was   heroine    heroin   in the car's trunk.

    We applied for funding to increase clinic hours to meet the needs of the   undeserved    underserved   population.

Left out words mangle the meaning:

Please be advised that our client rejects your recent offer because it is   high enough    not high enough   to cover their actual out of pocket expense.

The evidence supports the motion to dismiss,   withstanding    notwithstanding   anything to the contrary.

Embarrassing homonyms:

  • A hand with claws holding a piece of paper

    The plaintiffs were seen on the construction site digging   wholes    holes   near the retaining wall that later collapsed.

    The driver testified that the  breaks  brakes   breaks  did not work, causing the car to crash.

    Please read and initial the changes to the contract's third   claws    clause   .

Spelling, grammar, and typo errors made the student look unprofessional:

"Dear Editor-in-Chief,

Please   except    accept   my application for the legal editor position."

(Guess who didn't get the interview?)

What's the Antidote?

Adopt Proofreading Strategies That Disrupt Your Brain's Habits

Writing Experts Recommend:

  • A screen capture of the Spelling and Grammar tool in Microsoft Word

    Use spell and grammar check – but never stop with those. Spell check and grammar check will not pick up your embarrassing homonyms, words that are spelled correctly but are the wrong word, repeated phrases, and other glaring errors.

  • Image of a woman reading slowly using her finger to track the words she is reading

    Read your text out loud s l o w l y.

  • = A screen capture of the Speak selected text tool in Microsoft Word

    Turn on the word processing program's speech function and let the program read out loud to you while you follow along in the text. You can adjust the speed.

    Listen to what it sounds like:

    Transcript (.pdf, 65 kb)

    The common law treats restrictive covenants in employment contracts as restraints on trade trade enforceable only if they are reasonable and in the pubic interest. Restrictive covenants in employment contracts are scrutaniseed more closely than those in business sale contacts. The courts perfume, there is inbalanced in the parties' knoweledge and bargaining power. A restrictive covenant must now unduly restrain employees' ability to learn a living in their field.

  • Image of two often misused words: it's and its

    Proofread in layers. It sounds time-consuming, but it saves time. Read through:

    • Once for punctuation
    • Once for grammar (verb tenses, pronoun agreement, misused words)
    • Once for spelling, including proper names
    • Once for your own problems
  • A checkmark

    As you read, circle the error and put a pencil check at the end of each line.

  • A printed page of text with the bottom half of the page covered up with a blank piece of paper

    Cover the text below with a paper to block out false clues from the surrounding text.

  • alt tag = A screen capture illustrating enlarging the text and reading the text at the bottom of the screen

    If you must read on the computer screen, enlarge the text and put the line you are reading at the bottom of the screen. Scroll down one line at a time.

  • Person with a speech bubble labelled BACKWARDS in which the proofreading strategy of reading the document backwards is written backwards.

    Distract yourself from the familiar content by reading the document backwards, sentence by sentence.

  • Photo of 2 students working together

    Exchange work with a colleague.