We’ve written about how autocorrect and contextual spelling programs (like Microsoft Word and others) are actually changing English (in some cases killing off words.) We haven’t mentioned something obvious, but crucial: Technology is turning us into much more careless writers. Do you find errors in emails after you’ve sent them? Do you spot embarrassing mistakes in your essays and memos only after they’re turned in? You are not alone. These errors are all too common in business writing and in students’ papers.
According to psychologist Stanislas Dehaene, our brains read in two different ways: the lexical route and phonological route. The lexical route is the fast and easy road where we read things that are familiar. It helps us read rapidly in part by skipping joining words like of, the, and a. This reading route is the most common, and it’s handy for helping us read quickly and efficiently. However, it also means that we read carelessly, especially text we have just written that is flowing through our lexical route. The phonological route, on the other hand, is much slower. When we use this route, we sound out each syllable for its meaning. In his experiments, Dehaene flips letters upside down to activate this slower phonological route. When letter orientation is changed, people use the phonological route and are more likely to find their mistakes. However, without changing text formatting or deliberately altering the text, it is very hard to activate that reading route.
Because we primarily rely on the lexical route, we are literally unable to proofread work that we’ve just written to find mistakes. The best tactic is to wait a day or two, then look at your work with fresh eyes. However, that’s not always possible. Your term paper or memo is due in two hours, and you do not have the time to give your reading brain a break.
We’re proud to have come up with a way to use technology to help counter this common and excruciating problem. Our new product, Writing Dynamo, is like a net designed to catch these tiny but important errors and point out ways to correct them. Here’s an example of some of the most common small errors that occur in writing:
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