Why proofreading your own content isn’t really proofreading

Proofreading sheet on table with red pen and laptop

Proofreading allows your audience to concentrate on your messages, not your mistakes. Errors disrupt the flow of your copy and people are naturally drawn to them.

But as hard as you try, proofreading your own work can be both ineffective and painful. Here’s 5 reasons why.

1. You can’t see your own mistakes

We’ve all been there. You write an important email or report and have reread it over and over. Finally, you work up the courage to hit send…and spot an error the moment after you send it.

Fact: The best professional copywriters and editors all have proofreaders.

Whether it’s a repeated word, a missing word or full stop, you just can’t see your own mistakes.

And it’s not just you, in fact there’s plenty of scientific research into why this occurs. When you’re writing you are trying to convey meaning, which is a high level task. Your brain tries to free itself to focus on this complex task by automatically generalising the simpler parts of this task, such as turning letters into words. When you read back over your own work, you already know the meaning you’re trying to convey and so your brain fills in the gaps. This makes it easy to miss blunders and typos.

In contrast, when another person proofreads your work their brain doesn’t already know the meaning you are conveying. This means they can’t skip ahead and need to pay closer attention to the smaller details, making it easier for them to spot mistakes [1].

2. You make the same blunders, over and over

Everyone has their own writing style, words they overuse and grammar mistakes. Whether you realise it or not, you develop writing habits. This is because when you do things your brain creates neural pathways. Existing neural pathways make it easier for your brain to complete a task [2]. And the more times your brain completes these pathways, the more likely they are to develop into unconscious habits.

The only problem is when these writing habits are grammatically incorrect or repetitive. For example, do you regularly misplace your apostrophe? Or are your sentences often too long, making them difficult to follow and understand?

Even if you are aware of the mistakes you regularly make, it can be easy to fall back on old habits and continue to make them. Rather than beating yourself up and vowing to never make the mistake again, you’re better off creating strategies to make these mistakes less often [3]. For example, jot down your most common errors and search the document just for those before you hit publish. Each time you correct your mistake, you are one step closer to creating a new habit. Working with a proofreader can also help you become a better writer, as they bring these mistakes to your attention which you would otherwise miss.

3. You’re in too deep

As the author of an article, you are conveying new information to your reader. This means you likely either know more about your topic than your audience or are providing a fresh perspective. If you didn’t, it wouldn’t make for a very entertaining read, would it?

This can make it difficult to see when you are missing a vital piece of information. Just like you can’t see your own mistakes, your brain is filling in the gaps, jumping ahead to the meaning you are trying to convey. This is why something you write might make perfect sense to you and zero sense to someone else. Often all it takes is for someone to say “what do you mean by…” to realise your message has been lost.

Forgetting to include vital explanations or pieces of information is particularly common for more complex or niche topics. When you spend all day working in a certain field, it can be easy to forget you are using jargon. This jargon may need to be explained but can slide into your writing unnoticed. A good proofreader will be able to identify what level of knowledge the audience will have and identify what terms will need explaining.

4. It takes you longer

As it’s harder to spot your own mistakes than someone else’s, you will need to more carefully proofread your own work than if you were reading something for the first time. This makes reading your own work both more time-consuming and less effective. Although it’s still helpful to read over your work once or twice after you have written it, the more times you read it, the less effective you will become. This can lead you to agonising over tiny details and second-guessing your sentence structure without realising you are skipping over essential paragraphs.

5. You can’t do it all

Many small business owners are guilty of trying to do it all. You may have an incredibly broad skillset and great eye for detail, but you will still only have the same number of hours in a day. As your business grows you need to come to terms with the fact that you simply cannot do it all. Attempting to do this will only see you work yourself to the bone, whilst still feeling like you’re not getting enough done. It can lead you to rush through an edit, allowing frustrating and sometimes costly errors to slip through.

Finding an experienced and trustworthy proofreader will free you up to put your brainpower towards other important tasks within your business. It will also give you peace of mind, knowing any brain snaps will be picked up.

How to minimise proofreading costs

Proofreading is important for presenting professionally and error free, but you understandably want to minimise the associated costs. A proofreader should be responsible for putting the finishing touches on your work, not rewriting it. They find and correct any final errors, such as misspellings, typos, incorrect or missed punctuation and inconsistencies. If your writing needs sentence structure corrected or the overall quality of writing improved, this becomes an editing job. As it takes longer, this will naturally cost you more.

Before handing your content over to a professional proofreader, you can minimise costs by first getting the article as good as you possibly can on your own. Read over your work carefully and keep an eye out for the writing mistakes you know you are prone to make. Do this at a time when you know your brain will be fresh and up to a detail-orientated task.

Next, send the document to a colleague for an internal review or a trusted friend. If you are a small business, reach out to your social circles to see who might be able to help out. Look for someone who understands your topic at a similar level to that of your audience. That way they can point out any major content gaps or terms that need to be explained. This review process will help your document arrive at the proofreader in the best possible condition, minimising the work and associated cost.

To discuss your proofreading or editing project, contact us.

Can I proofread my own work?

Here’s why proofreading your own writing isn’t a good idea:

  1. You can’t see your own mistakes
  2. You make the same blunders, over and over
  3. You’re in too deep
  4. It takes you longer
  5. You can’t do it all


[1] https://www.wired.com/2014/08/wuwt-typos/

[2] https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/its-your-brains-fault-you-make-the-same-mistakes-over-and-over/

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/in-practice/201809/5-tips-how-stop-repeating-the-same-mistakes