Ask any printer about the biggest problem in the industry today and I bet most of them would say proofing.

This is because mistakes are missed constantly by clients. Most times this isn’t a problem. After all, 250 business cards with the wrong phone number isn’t an expensive problem to fix. But what if it’s 100,000 colour brochures with the wrong phone number? What if it’s an embarrassing typing error in a glossy magazine?

Missing obvious typos!

So why does this happen? Why is a mistake that is so obvious so easy to miss? I’ve done some research on this subject, and the answer is surprising. I once saw an ad in the yellow pages for a mobile mechanic. Instead of “YOUR PLACE OR OURS” it said “YOUR PLACE OUR OURS”. This wasn’t a small ad, it was full page in full colour with the mistake printed in 100 points bold type in red. So who’s fault is it? Although the designer at Sensis made the typo, the client received a proof and approved it.

The problem is in the word itself.

Look at the report below and I bet you can still read it all. When we read a sentence, our brain doesn’t see every letter, rather we read the words in the context of the sentence.

Arocdnicg to rsceearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosnít mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a pobelrm. Tihs is buseace the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Birthday blunder!

We once printed 40th birthday invitations for a client and the birthday boy came storming back about a week after the party demanding a refund because his name was wrong. Not his phone number, or his address, or even his surname, but HIS CHRISTIAN NAME! He not only signed a proof, but he also sat beside me as I typed it on the computer. Of the 120 people at the party, the only person who picked up the error was his mother, and she named him, so that’s not really surprising. He exploded when I refused to refund his money. “This is your fault. Can’t you spell? I learned to spell my name when I was five.” I then replied, “Yes, I could spell when I was five, but my name isn’t Reid, yours is. And if you can spell your name, why didn’t you see it typed incorrectly on the proof that you signed?”. This was another example of “skimming over” the word, but not reading it.

Missing letters

Read the following sentence and count the number of F’s as you go. Do it fast, and only count once.

FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.

Be honest. How many did you count? If you got more than three, you did well, but there are in fact six. So why do we fail at such a simple task? It’s not like the letters are hidden. The answer is simple. While reading the sentence, our brain doesn’t identify the “V” sounding “F’s”, as in the word “OF”.

Read out loud what you see in the triangle below

Did you say “I Love Paris In The Springtime”? Have another look and read every word. This exercise highlights how easy it is to miss two identical words when they’re on separate lines.

So how can you minimise proofing errors?

One of the best things you can do is to sit down with another person and proofread it together. Read it out aloud and slowly. Reading the sentences backwards is also useful. You’re much more likely to pick up spelling msitakes…I mean mistakes, if you don’t read the word in the context of the sentence. Be careful that your eyes don’t skim past any words. Copy and paste the text into a program like Word with spell check. Most high-end graphic arts programs don’t have spell check, so don’t assume the printer or graphic artist has used spell check. Finally, check that phone and fax numbers and email addresses are correct. The number of people missing these errors will amaze you. See our FAQ article on the importance of proofing.

PS. I really hope there are no typing errors in this blog post. We proofread this about 16 times, so it would be very surprising if there were any. No offence will be taken if you find some.

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