Monday, February 20, 2006

Proofreading & Perspective

Catching errors is part of my job as a programmer, and even more so of late, so it's not a surprise that I think of editing and proofreading in a similar way.

Reading on computers is still something that people have trouble with, even though most writers use a word processor. People still print documents out on paper, especially if it's a manual, or if they're trying to fix problems in the documents themselves.

I'm lucky enough to be a child of the computer age, not quite as Playstationed and Xboxed as those a decade after me, but still capable of reading on a computer screen. I've even been able to read entire novels that way, courtesy of my Pocket PC.

When it comes to proofreading though, I still trust real paper.

For one, it's easy to make quick notes in the margins, it gives me a feeling for how long my novel is, and most importantly, I catch errors I miss on the computer.

I've been trying to figure out why that is the case. Why can't I see mistakes on the screen while typing?

When I'm writing, there are certain parts of my brain doing the work, some of which are taken up by the simple mechanical process of typing. When I'm proofreading on paper, other parts take over. I'm not thinking about what to type and I can devote all of my attention to simply seeing what is there, right in front of me, as it is.

It's a change of perspective.

So I tried an experiment based on this idea. I exported one of my short stories to PDF so I could read it on screen, but couldn't modify it. I found myself catching errors that I had completely missed, just like I would on paper. I printed out one of the later drafts as a final check, but I'm of the opinion that there was no reason for me to move the document outside the computer at all.

I might try it on the novel next.


E.C. Morgan said...

When I worked at newspapers as an editor, I'd have my reporters print everything out and I'd edit their stories on paper.

When I became city editor at a larger paper, I was told this is a no-no. I had to go into the que and call the story up on screen and edit there.

I HATED that!!!

I guess it is just what you are used to. I still prefer the old fashioned way.

Jim Winter said...

Editing as a pdf. Never thought of that. It would save a lot of trouble printing out a 300 page manuscript. And it makes sense you see more when you can't alter the text.

Sandra Ruttan said...

The pdf idea sounds like a good one.

Even when you read off of pages you can miss stuff. The reason is we mentally compensate for what we know should be there. That's because we actually in part read by the shape of the words and not letter to letter, which is the big reason unusual and uncommon words slow us down - we don't have pattern recognition. Sooner or later, I find myself skimming the same mistakes...

Tribe said...

This is entirely off-topic...but what the hell. What did you think of The Killer Inside Me? Is that your first Jim Thompson novel?

Daniel Hatadi said...

Yes, my first Thompson, and I loved it. Definitely gonna look up more.

The first person writing read like liquid and I felt truly creeped out at points. The pace slowed a couple of times, but I never felt that I was reading a novel written fifty years ago.

And the cover was perfect. I kept looking at it, imagining the face staring out as the MC.

Thanks for the recommendation.