What’s the solution to my inability to proof and edit?

Perhaps you have noticed. I can’t proof or edit very well. When I write “to” I mean “too.”  How about “navel” when I really meant “naval?” Missing articles like “the” abound. It drives me crazy. I know it drives many of you nuts as well. Indeed, a very kind reader sends me an e-mail from time to time letting me know when I have screwed up yet again. I then fix the problem by updating the post while chagrined that I made the mistake in the first place.

I really do work hard to proof and edit what I write. Here is what I do: (1) Using the WordPress “word processing editor” rather than the “HTML editor,” I write, rewrite and read each post, frequently 20 or 30 times or more; (2) I run the WordPress spelling and grammar “checker” numerous times; and (3) finally, I “preview” the final product by using a WordPress option that allows me to see exactly how the post will look when published.

I honestly don’t think I am careless. Now, I know that there will inevitably be errors particularly unless a good editor reads what I write before I publish it. While it might be nice to have an editor, I do not feel comfortable using my law clerks. So, whatever I write, no one else reads until I hit the “publish” button. As a result, I am willing to accept an error here and there. But, my editing and proofing errors happen far too often.

So, I ask for your help. I would be grateful for suggestions about how I might better proof and edit what I write.


PS And please don’t tell me to get my eyes checked. I have done that. Nor should you tell me I am old. I know that to(o).


45 responses

  1. Two suggestions, Your Honor
    • Print a copy and read it on paper. Might seem like a lot of effort, but if you’re really doing 20 edit cycles, it is worth it. Probably worth it for 4 or more.
    • Write a post, let it sit for at least five minutes, maybe more like an hour, and then come back and reread it. The delay time is helpful in catching things you did not see when you wrote the first time.

    It might also help to use another environment. Do you write better in, say, Word? If so, try writing in Word and copy/pasting into WordPress.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. I notice some of the errors–I am a newer reader. I have nothing by way of suggestion. (So you can stop reading now.)

    I have no doubt that you read and polish and re-read your posts. Your prose, depth and clarity demonstrate that. That said, your occasional errors and this post are a balm.

    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve felt mortified by a word-o in a brief or pleading. And the judge–sometimes wise, sometimes not–clears the throat and says, “Counsel-On page three of plaintiff’s memorandum….” Mortification inevitably follows.

    My take: We do our best, and we will fail. All that is left is the resolve to continue, try again to do better, and let it go. That more capable writers suffer the same fate provides me a measure of comfort. (Like I said, I got nothing.) Thanks, in any event, for your wilingness to write and publish. You’re enriching the world in more ways than you will know.

  3. I am guilty of this. I read and re-read briefs and motions and never see an issue until (of course) after they’ve been submitted. Naturally, the absence of time-pressure of getting the work done and the increase in time between readings leads to “better eyes.” But that’s not much of a solution if you’re trying to work on a schedule. After all, if I had all the time in the world to edit and rewrite, my final product may only be a single sentence, or maybe an emoticon, or just a period.

    A practical solution? I once read a book about how our eyes begin to see what we expect them to see in our own writing. Meaning, you skip over errors (you even insert words) because your brain is projecting what you mean to see. One solution I’ve seen is to read the work backwards. It disjoints your flow and the disruption may help slow things down a bit to let the eyes see what the eyes actually see (and not what they want to see).

    Regardless, I wouldn’t over-stress about it. We’re here for the conversation. I think even Wittgenstein would agree that we’re catching what you’re throwing. I remember feeling so savvy and clever when I caught an opposing counsel’s typo in a brief. I looked for any reason I could to quote the selection so I could quickly put [sic] next to his misdeed. I sat back and marveled at my wisdom for a bit and when I look back I just feel like a total douche. What’s more, I picked up that habit or instinct from other lawyers. I don’t mind a little [sic] here and there, but when you obtain pleasure from its deployment…something is wrong.

    Off-topic: I was randomly at the “archway” in Kearney, NE, a few weekends ago. I was exiting through the gift shop and noticed an “About Schmidt” poster hanging in the hallway. While others tried to find the connection between the Donner family’s struggles and Jack Nicholson, I knew better because of your blog. Also, sorry to hear about Bo, I think they’ll can him. I already thought they would after the UCLA loss, but what do I know.


  4. Wee don’t give a bigg rat “z about you’re proofing! It’s the guts of yer message that wee enjoye. Jim Hewitt

  5. Never noticed your mistakes and don’t care a bit about misspellings. Terrible speller and grammatician myself. Try not to stop my thoughts and then do the best I can. When judges would point out to me that a typo appeared in my submitted papers, a criticism which seemed to precede their evaluation of my arguments, under my breath, I mumbled, “what an asshole.” And for all the actionable crap I said to those who appeared in front of me, I never corrected their work for misspellings, imperfect citations or sentences with bad tenses or punctuation. I was always happy to see that people were putting their arguments into words. So you just keep going on doing the same thing.

  6. I think folks that comment on your editing or lack thereof need to get a life. This isn’t a law review article and never once has your editing detracted from being able to fully understand your substance. I think you should spend far less time editing and more time blogging. Somethings are more important than others.

  7. This is a distinguishing feature of blogs as opposed to briefs (in my case) or opinions (in yours). Marilou sends me an email every morning correcting my posts. I write extemporaneously, cranking out quite a bit of content which I hope makes some sense. I then spellcheck and publish. If anybody has an issue with my typos or grammar, they can have their money back.

    I would prefer my blog posts not include typos or grammar errors, but that’s the nature of the beast. While I would do everything possible to proof and correct papers submitted to court, this ain’t them. Don’t sweat it. Aside from a few people who have personal issues, no one cares. It’s all about content and the rest is forgiven.

  8. Matt,

    Re Backwards, I have tried reading backwards. The scary thing is that my prose seems to read better that way. So, I stopped doing that. But, I may start again–great suggestion.

    Re the Archway, I don’t like to make fun of Nebraska, but that damn thing is goofy. Reminds me of the restaurant that used to span I-80 just west of Chicago–bad food, and even worse ambiance. In this case, history as schmaltz.

    Re Bo, the athletic director has announced that Bo will be the coach next year. If one wants to know the cosmic significance of that fact, it is enough to say that the AD’s decision was front page, above the fold, in both of the major Sunday newspapers in Nebraska.

    All the best.


  9. SHG,

    I especially appreciate your take on this issue. Without intending to blow smoke up the cavity of your choice, I marvel at the amount of content you produce given what I assume is a very busy, high pressure practice. Thanks.

    All the best.


  10. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Your typos aren’t a big enough deal to distract from what you’re writing.

    Otherwise, it’s what Mr Hawkins said at the top of this thread (absent the printouts–I’m too cheap to spend the paper). I write the posts for my blog in MS Word, which does a pretty good job with grammar, too (although not great; be heads up. Its false positive rate, though, is much greater than its false negative rate, so there’s that.) Word also catches my spelling errors. The only downside with this is that one of WordPress’ upgrades led to it mishandling whatever I boldface in Word; I have to manually correct that in WordPress. How terrible.

    Surely your preferred WordPerfect can do as much, and you’re already facile with that package.

    Then I let the post sit for the day (I write in the mornings), review it a last time in the afternoon or evening, and then post it. WordPress lets you schedule posts, so you can stick to your morning postings, while writing them the day prior.

    Eric Hines

  11. David, I once moved to disqualify a judge based upon a “cannon” of judicial ethics. I meant to write “canon.” The judge granted my motion, but I was mortified. That was long ago, but I still get the chills when I think about it.

    Thanks for commenting. All the best.


  12. It’s all about a fresh pair of eyes that care about the message enough to make sure it’s free of places where the reader might trip and be delayed or confused. Though these are only blog posts, they are often quoted by others, making it even more important not to allow a mistake to be perpetuated. I read blog posts for the mental exercise and the occasional reward of reassurance that I’m not being a pest. Some writers welcome suggestions, others, not so much. And I learn something from every single post. Absent the fresh eyes, the next best thing would be to set the work aside for a period and come back to it anew. When you want your work to reflect your abilities, take that little extra time. But at the same time, know that your audience reads rather quickly and probably doesn’t notice when something is just a little awry. Readers see what they expect to see, so don’t let it the little things be too worrisome. Your contribution to our knowledge and understanding of your position on the ballfield is much more important than an errant typo. Your efforts make us better.

  13. Reminds me of the restaurant that used to span I-80 just west of Chicago–bad food, and even worse ambiance.

    Hey, I grew up in Kankakee. Still…its view sucked, too.

    Eric Hines

  14. marilouauer,

    First, you are very kind person and a terrific editor.

    Second, on the typical work day, I tend to write early in the morning. While I sometimes write posts a few days in advance, that does not happen often. Point being, I feel pressure to put things out in order to get to work–letting a post sit, while a good idea, is frequently not practical and is certainly not part of my writing DNA. In fact, when I write opinions, I drive the law clerks mad because I push them so hard to finish proofing and editing my opinions so that they can get out the day I conclude my writing. Why the pressure? I don’t know. These comments are not excuses, just explanations.

    I very much appreciate your thoughts, your kindness and your editorial assistance. Thank you.

    All the best.


  15. E,

    All good suggestions.

    I am not yet adept at writing with one platform (WP, for example) and then going to WordPress to insert it. I worry about WordPress screwing that up. In my heart, I am a technophobe. As for letting things ferment, that would drive me crazy. In my heart, I am compulsive.

    All the best.


  16. Since Marilou have been reading your posts, I’ve noticed that she’s been late in telling me what I did wrong. I too write early in the morning, and hope that Marilou’s email comes before too many people read it. I think she’s showing a bit of judicial deference here.

  17. A buddy of mine, Ken White @Popehat, responds to anyone who points out his typos, “my people have no tradition of proofreading.” Of course, he was an AUSA, so he comes by it honestly.

  18. Rich, I notice a few typos, but surprisingly few. I am great at spotting my own typos — after I have hit “post.” On the various sites to which I post, I am frequently using the “edit” feature. (If readers are allowed to do so on this site, I haven’t figure out how to do it — and I’ve had some beauties.) My biggest challenge is leaving out small words. Like most fast readers, my brain just inserts those words whether they are there or not. A fun game to play with people is to write a long sentence that puts in an “if” and and “of” and then ask them to count the number of occurrences of the letter “f.” Unless they have played the game before, most fast readers will see the letter “f” in words like “differently” but not in “of” or “if” because they essentially skip over those words. (You also have to limit their time to keep them from just going character by character.) If I am writing something serious (a law review article, for example) I have to let it sit for a couple of days at one point and then come back to it. At that point I have a better chance of spotting mistakes. Of course, that’s not a practical option for you in this forum. So I’d say just keep doing what you’re doing, but give the post another look an hour or so later and then edit as necessary. Best, Pat.

  19. Pat,

    So, what I write here is not serious? I’m kidding.

    Of course, I understand what you mean. When I write a law review article, I turn to Jan, my most senior career law clerk, to edit it. She is an amazing editor. Indeed, the parlor game in chambers to catch Jan with some error, no matter how small. We particularly delight in finding Jan using a form that the Harvard style book sneers at. I live for those moments.

    All the best.


  20. You give me too much credit, Scott. Judge, nobody but us knew that I wrote to you now and then until this morning! But now that I’m “out,” Scott put two and two together. His conclusion, though, is faulty. I simply oversleep sometimes. And he deliberately used an incorrect word above, just to toy with me. Thank you both for your kind words today.

    And Judge, back to your original question, if I may. It isn’t that you lack the ability to proofread and edit. You do it as well as anybody. But reading your own work multiple times is an invitation to overlook something. Blame your eyes, or anything else, but don’t blame yourself for having a brain that works like it’s apparently meant to work. Few people find their own errors. (I didn’t notice my own earlier, above, until it was too late.) Find a system that works for you as an individual.

    But whatever you do, continue to engage your readers. We leave your presence a little more thought-filled and a little smarter every time. We value your thoughts and that you take the time to share them.

  21. I agree with Mark W. Bennett here—the folks who comment on your editing or lack thereof need to get a life. But if you’re really worried about it, I recommend having your computer read the post to you (i.e., using your computer’s text-to-speech function). That’s what I do for briefs/motions, letters, and most e-mails. Listening to the computer read the text aloud helps me catch missing, misplaced, misspelled, or superfluous words. I also usually print out a hard copy and follow along as my computer reads the text to me. That way I can catch errors that the computer can’t articulate, such as homophones. (Oh, the joys of lawyering while dyslexic.)

    You should be able to use text-to-speech directly in the WordPress editor. Highlight the text you want the computer to speak and then right-click anywhere in the highlighted area. You should see a “Speech” option in the drop down menu. Hover over “Speech” and then click “Start Speaking.” On a Mac, you can set up a shortcut key that turns on the text-to-speech function in any platform where you can highlight the text. (I’m sure you can do that on a PC, too; I just don’t know how to do it.)

  22. I am so used to working in Word that I find it much easier to write blog posts in Word and then copy/paste them into WordPress. Most formatting, such as italics and em-dashes, carry over into WordPress, which is an added bonus. Other formatting, such making quotes stand out as block quotes on the blog page, need to be done directly in WordPress.

    Also, if you keep a Word (or WordPerfect) version with all the blog posts, you will have a ready-made first draft of the best-selling book “The Wit and Wisdom of Judge Kopf.” Or at least you have backup in case something goes wrong with the blog.

  23. Sir,
    I often find it helpful to re-read a post backwards, sentence by sentence. It breaks up the flow (and is not particularly helpful if you’re attempting to weed out logic or argumentation errors), which seems to help me focus on word choice, grammar, and other mechanics.

  24. What all the others have said, especially the part about not agonizing over it.

    Frankly, I don’t proofread my blog at all since I view it as ephemera. From time to time when I read an old post I’ll make a correction or two, but mostly I don’t even bother with that. However, when Marilou (or the anonymous person who occasionally sends me a note) points to an error I correct it.

    That much said, I taught Freshman Comp for 15 years at a couple of different universities and spent a fair amount of time encouraging careful proofing. The three best tips, in no particular order except that the two others have mentioned repeatedly are the first I list: (1) let the thing sit and come back to it later – even just a few minutes later; (2) read backwards; and (3) read aloud – into a mirror, if you can. Do all three and while some things will still slip through (different eyes are the best editors and proofreaders, but even they won’t catch everything every time) you’ll get almost all.

  25. I’ve found the best way to catch errors is to mutter the target passage out loud to myself. This method combines precision and allowing people to question my sanity in one convenient package.

  26. Part of the problem might be the number of edits you make. Ninety-five percent of the typos I make are self-inflicted when making “inspired” edits just before submission.

  27. It isn’t Shakespeare. It isn’t a law review article. Think of it as an unpublished opinion. 🙂

    We’re just hanging out at the bar, except for the fact that we haven’t gotten you drunk.

  28. I am told that the Navajo always put a mistake somewhere in the textiles they make because to make something perfect would offend the gods. We would not want to offend the Great Editor in the Sky would we?

  29. I will never forget the best advice on the topic, of course, from a non-lawyer. When we read too quickly after we’ve written, our brains are remembering what we thought and not reading what we wrote. So we need to give our brains time to forget.

    For better or worse, however, we live in a world of deadlines. We need to trick our brains. And your title says it all: proofing is different than editing. Effective proofing requires a peculiar frame of mind. It is not the same state of mind needed for writing and editing; that job calls for attention to the sense and structure of what’s being said. It’s true that proofing requires some attention to meaning, so that, for example, we’ll be able to tell whether “naval investigation” or “navel investigation” is the correct phrase in a particular place. But proofing is more about mechanics: spelling, punctuation, grammar, defined terms, citations, etc. — all of the little details where things are most likely to go wrong.

    Printing on paper tricks our brains. But as you say, we don’t always have a printer available. Or your readers, like me, just can’t wait for your next post! So, here’s how I trick my brain to read, and not to remember, on the screen. Change the font type and size. Write and edit in your favorite font (Century Schoolbook for me); proof in your least favorite (Courier for me).

    I hope this tip helps. All the best on this cold December night,


  30. I only found you recently (via the blawg 100) so I’ve only read about a dozen entries. That being said, I do happen to be one of those people cursed with a natural talent for involuntary proofreading for minor grammatical and spelling errors, so I do notice the occasional errors. I know tons of people who are as intelligent or more intelligent than I am who make similar errors regularly, and I’ve seen tons of socially maladjusted nitpickers take it as their duty to call out inconsequential errors in their comments. I don’t expect you’ll ever put a stop to that without putting some serious effort into moderation of comments, both for the nitpicking and for the inevitable cries of censorship that result from the initial moderation. Probably not worth it.

    It’s easy to say “if I were you” when I’m not, but if I were you, and this was my blog, I just wouldn’t worry about it. And if I was spending that much time proofreading and rereading and editing and re-editing and still having an end result I was dissatisfied with, I’d probably be wondering whether all that time was a good use of my resources. Would it be possible to do the writing and a basic review for content and organization, then outsource the nitpickery to someone who enjoys (and is good at) that? I’m an artist, not a legal type, so I’m almost completely ignorant of the ethical considerations in soliciting a volunteer editor or even a paid one, but for something that’s taking you hours (?) and would take someone else minutes, I’d be looking to just pay someone. Maybe even add a donate button here on the site that you can direct the nitpickers to – they can contribute to the effort to polish your entries. 😉

    That being said, if you’re going to continue to take care of it yourself, I think printing a draft is a really useful suggestion, or even emailing it to yourself. It just changes the presentation just enough to get your brain to look at it afresh rather than automatically skimming over familiar stuff.

    Good luck, and thanks for the really interesting posts. I am enjoying them so far.

%d bloggers like this: