No matter how careful or detail-oriented we are, everyone needs an editor — even the best editors need editors! Have you ever written something, handed it in or done a presentation on something only to realize that despite your best efforts you still missed a couple of mistakes? Or worse had your boss or professor point them out to you? Here are a couple reasons why this happens, and how you can minimize them.
1) Your brain will fill in the blanks or add/subtract words
Have you ever read something out loud and realized that what you said wasn’t actually what was written? This is because your brain automatically fills in blanks for you, fixes mistakes and generally acts like an impatient teenager.
“I doesn’t matter what it it actually said, I knew where it was going.”
Here’s the thing, your mind may know where it was going, or remember the general idea of where it should go, but unless you have a photographic memory (which may or may not even exist) it won’t remember what you wrote word for word.
What you can do to stop it:
- Read everything out loud and then backwards.
This may seem like a tedious chore but how many of you noticed that I wrote the word “it” twice in the quote? If you read it backwards and out loud, it forces your brain to focus on each word separately, ensuring that it doesn’t add or subtract words randomly in its hurry to finish the sentence. It also ensures that you are not just relying solely on your eyes (which can trip you up .) This can also help you with grammar. Listen closely as you read aloud, if you are pausing naturally where there isn’t a comma, you may have a missed one.
- Get someone else to read it.
When you get someone else to read it, their brain is not already primed to fix the mistakes you have made or have answers for the blanks you have left. This allows them to see the mistakes in your work much faster than you can. Everyone has a different set of mistakes they make when they write, so while you may not be able to pick up mistakes in your own work, you will be able to pick them out in other’s and vice versa
2) You lose perspective
You’re working on a project the night before it’s due and your eyes are swimming across the page. It looks good. It looks right, you’ve been over it and over it and over it. You know exactly what it says. Or do you? Have you missed explaining something because it’s so integral so “of course it’s in there” ? You are the expert in your subject and therefore your brain is filled with facts and details it takes for granted. Did all of them make it into the report? Are there glaringly obvious questions that are not answered? Or gaps in knowledge that are assumed instead of outlined? You don’t know. You’re too close.
What you can do to stop it:
- Sleep on it
If you have the time, always sleep on your work. It isn’t as good as getting a second person to read it, but in a crunch it helps to distance you and give you better perspective. Now if you have a lot of time, consider putting it down for more than just a day. The further removed you are from your work, the fresher eyes you will have next time you sit down to read it.
- Have someone else read it.
Preferably someone who hasn’t been sitting beside you for hours staring at the same screen. Getting an outside perspective (or at least one that isn’t directly involved if there are confidentiality issues), can add significant value to your project. That person will read it with ‘fresh eyes’ and ask questions that you may have taken for granted or didn’t even consider. This is also useful for clarifying arguments, providing direction, guaranteeing project cohesiveness and having a consistent voice.
3) It’s harder to judge the quality of your own work
People are biased. We will always think better or worse of our work than what it actually is and deserves. I have met many people who produce something and walk around like peacocks proudly displaying their feathers, since nothing that has ever been produced could ever come close to the masterpiece that they have just created. What they wrote is their baby and it’s perfect —regardless of what anyone else says. Just like a furious hockey mom, these writers will refuse all criticism, critique or commentary on their baby. And the work suffers for it.
On the other side of the scale are those who think that everything they produced belongs in the garbage. Realistically their work is probably fairly decent, and in a few cases, superb. But they, like the braggarts will not hear of commentary on their work. Fearing false praise or outright lies these individuals often refuse to let anyone (other than those that absolutely have to) read their work at all. This is not useful either.
What you can do to stop it:
- Get someone else to read it
Have an open mind. Constructive criticism will only help your work and your abilities as a writer and as an editor. It will also give you a more balanced view of the quality of your work. The more you share your work with a ‘second set of eyes’ the better you will be able to discern the actual quality of your work.
Now I’m not saying that every email or tweet you send needs to be edited (although you may want to double check those tweets people, online credibility is important), but when it’s important and your work is representing you and your ideas, it’s a good idea to have it edited by someone else, or at the very least read aloud and backwards! Which is why even good editors use editors for their work.