Why is proofreading so painstaking? Why do we keep missing the little things?
I had two novels in Word doc. and had read them many times checking for punctuation errors. In late July I uploaded them to a formatting service so that I could publish them as e-books on Kindle. If you write, you want your writing to look perfect. I examined one novel, in whole or in part, 250 times in ten days. I could send revisions to my Kindle app on my PC and much to my anguish I kept finding missing quotations marks after a character had spoken.
I finally published the two books, but I bet when I read them on my Kindle, I will see more mistakes. But now I know why.
It is called inattentional blindness. For example, we think we are diligent in our proofreading. The brain, however, is processing outside of conscious awareness and to prevent overload like a computer crash, it will only process so much information. It filters out what we expect to see. I expected to see a quotation mark, so my brain filled in the gap. I thought it was there, but it wasn’t.
This happened so many times I thought I was blind as a bat. It drove me to punctuation paranoia.
I recently saw a television documentary on the brain and perception. An experiment was conducted in which random people in a park were asked to read something in a triangle.
Perhaps you caught the mistake because you were looking for it. But nearly everyone tested in the TV show did not see the repeated word ‘the’. The phrase, ‘I love Paris in the spring’ is common, we have heard it many times. Consequently, because the people being tested were familiar with the phrase, their brain reacted without processing.
Thus the perils of my proofreading. My mind works too fast. I find it hard to slow down because my brain is running away from processing, turning its blind eye to the obvious.
Mark Twain must have known all this because he said of proofreading-and I hope I put in the quotation marks,- “And then there is that other thing: when you think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes & vacancies but you don’t know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along.”