Can You Proofread Your Own Work? I Thought I Could

Proofreading Exercise

I had my fair share of writing mistakes during my career. Most in the form of non-functional links, grammatical errors, or typos.

A common tip I've received over the years, but that I didn't follow, is to ask someone to check my work.

Why?

  • I'm impatient in the name of getting things done fast.
  • I thought I could just be more careful next time.
  • I usually don't build in the time to get someone to review my work.

But can I really proofread my own work? I thought so.

My colleague and mentor Ray Makela proved me wrong with a simple but powerful exercise. 

One day, during a team meeting, Ray showed up with some slips of paper with a note. He handed each of us a note and asked us to spend some time individually counting all the Fs in the note. For context, everyone got the same note.

Give it a try. How many F's can you find in this note?

OF ALL HUMAN FEARS, THE TWO MOST EFFECTIVE IN THE
PREVENTION OF ONE'S DEVELOPMENT ARE THE FEAR OF
FAILURE AND THE FEAR OF SUCCESS.

Now check the right answer in the image above.

It was obvious that Ray was expecting us to get the wrong number of F's. But it was a simple task, there was no way I was going to miss counting any F's.

A minute or two later, everyone reported a different count. Everyone got it wrong—even two other colleagues who have shown me their eagle eye for details in the past. I was speechless. 

My biggest response in the past when making these type of mistakes was that I didn't take my time. I moved too fast. But no, not this time.

This exercise had a big lesson for me. 

It doesn't matter how detailed oriented you are, or how much time you spend reviewing your own work, an extra set of eyes is essential to serve others with excellence.