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P is for Proofread on Paper – There's a good reason to it this way, and it has to do with your brain.

When it comes time to do a final proofread of a paper, to look for the kind of little problem that spellcheck won't catch - like words that are slightly out of order--you should always print the paper out and proof it on hard copy.

Here's why.

Reading is all about keeping things smooth. Ever notice how a parent will draw a finger under the words of a book when reading out loud to a child? That one little gesture helps children learn a skill called tracking. Skillful tracking keeps the eyes moving smoothly across the page, left to right, line to line.

Tracking is important because it lets your eyes feed images of words to the brain in a smooth, continuous way. Then, the brain does its own part to keep things flowing smoothly: while processing the images of words, it filters out any little, "irrelevant" bits of information that might slow the reader down - like, say, misplaced commas or minor spelling mistakes.

That's why you read this sentence correctly even it's missing a word.

Unfortunately, the same skills that make for fluent reading also make for lousy proofreading. And for some reason, reading on screen only enhances the effect, encouraging your eyes and brain to pick up speed, sucking up ideas and information, while glossing over little mistakes.

Proofreading is all about slowing things down just enough, so that you can still make sense of the words as you read, but your brain is less tempted to filter out minor errors along the way. And the best way to slow things down is to go retro: print the paper out, double spaced; sit at a comfortable desk; and read it through, using a big red pen to circle everywhere you find an error. Then you can go back to the computer and go through the red mmarkings one by one, fixing errors on screen.

It may sound very slow, but one good, final read-through on paper will help you catch more mistakes than multiple, “final” read-throughs on screen. Promise.