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The value of reading something closely

Posted by Wendy Wood on 5th October , 2021 in Grammar
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A very brave friend posted the following on Facebook:

I 100% support mandatory vacations for everyone.
If anyone refuses, they should be FORCED.

It was quite fun to watch the comments roll in. And roll in they did! One hundred and fifty comments ranting and raving and asking him how he could support such a mandate. He even had several people unfriend him — over a simple demand for mandatory vacations.

Did you miss that it said “vacations” and NOT “vaccinations”? It appears that dozens of others did. My friend’s Facebook post was a perfect example of what psychologists call generalisation.

Generalisation is one of your mind’s shortcuts for processing and storing information. Your brain takes in sensory information, combines it with what it expects to see, and extracts meaning. So, when Facebook commenters read those two sentences above, their eyes might have been dutifully scanning the words, but all their brains were really conscious of was the meaning they thought my friend was trying to get across: that we should be forced to take vaccinations.

The best way to avoid generalisation is to hire a proofreader (Me!). But I’ll offer a couple of other tips that can help you eliminate generalisation when editing your own work.

Read your work aloud. Reading aloud can help you find problems with redundancies and flow and will help fight off your brain’s urge to assume everything is correct. I always pretend I’m reading a story to my children and need them to understand every single word. Read to your dog; read to your plants; read to your computer screen. It doesn’t matter who you read to, but reading text aloud will help your brain process it differently and you’ll catch more typos.

Read one line at a time. Some proofreaders swear by reading line-by-line backwards, but I’ve never been a fan. For me, simply concentrating on one line at a time enables me to spot elusive errors. It prevents me from processing the piece as a whole and instead focuses my brain on each individual word of the sentence.

Wendy Wood


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