Why Proofreading Requires a Human Eye

With all the technology out there, why do you need an actual human reviewing your work? And what about the spell checker on Word–isn’t that good enough? I’ve had a lot of students and co-workers ask me these same questions over the years I want to dispel some myths about computerized proofreading and explain why proofreading requires a human eye.

Excellent proofreading demands a careful, detailed check of spelling, grammar, punctuation, extra or missing words, and formatting. A perfect example of a formatting error happened recently on a graduate student’s thesis proposal assignment. Upon reviewing his paper, I discovered that he forgot to indent all of his annotated bibliography entries. Word did not pick up on this error; after all, it is not incorrect in some styles. The paper would have been returned by his professor, who had a propensity to reject papers with such blatant errors, had I not caught the error and indented all of his annotated paragraphs.

One could argue that a spelling/grammar checker picks up on some errors, especially if a word is blatantly misspelled or you’ve put in too many spaces between words. Sometimes, you might get lucky, and the checker finds a mistake when you use the wrong homophone, such as “their” instead of “they’re” or “there”–but not always.

The true differences between human proofreaders and automated checkers start to surface when the automated checker does not readily recognize typos that are not as obvious: “he” instead of “she”, idioms written incorrectly (e.g., “old wise tale” instead of “old wives’ tale”), or misspelled proper nouns (e.g., my favorite occurs when someone writes “Don” instead of “Dawn”). When a human looks through your document with a careful eye, they can watch out for these mistakes that would have otherwise not been flagged by an automated system.

Another reason to use a person instead of a computer to look at your work is when you have a specific style guide or format that your assignment or company requires. Word’s spell/grammar checker won’t look for numbers zero through one hundred to be spelled out if you’re required to use Chicago Manual of Style formatting, just like it won’t know if your required style guide calls for one or two spaces between periods. A talented human proofreader, who has asked for your formatting and style guide preferences, will know what to look for and will make the proper corrections for you.

At the end of the day, I used to tell my students that if they wanted to earn a higher grade or improve their final paper’s quality, they should have another person proofread their paper. For my peers or employees at work, I used to advise them that a polished product with a human proofreader as the last line of defense just looks more professional and might make the difference between getting the business, winning a case, or earning a higher performance rating.

With so much on the line, why wouldn’t you seek out a human as your last line of defense in making sure your document or presentation is flawless? I love technology, but it just can’t do exactly what a skilled person can do.


Ready for a human proofreader? I can help! Contact me for more questions or for a quote.

Published by Dawn Palmer

I am a professional proofreader (ProofreadingatDawn.com) and write a photography blog (PeacefulatDawn.com). In my free time, I love taking photos, admiring beautiful moments in nature, and I will often be out early in the morning or late in the evening trying to capture the peacefulness and beauty around me.

12 thoughts on “Why Proofreading Requires a Human Eye

  1. Dawn this is a gorgeous and well-thought-out post. I love your suggestions. You are so right about having a human read your writing. They are also able to ask questions about things that don’t make sense to them. Sometimes they (like my husband) has a legitimate complaint. I would be lost without Grammarly and the digital guides, but they do miss things and miss interpret things. Good to know you are in the business. Do you do developmental work as well?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 😊 I will also reference Grammarly or other sources, but you hit the nail on the head—it’s easy to misinterpret things. As a proofreader, I sometimes have to ask my clients what they mean.
      What do you mean by developmental work? 🤓

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh! Developmental editing. Ha. I get what you’re asking now. Yes, I can do that level of work, but I mostly focus on the third/fourth level of copy editing and proofreading. 🤓🤓😎

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You make many valid points regarding the need for the human eye to review and make sure the written piece is understandable and correct for the reader. View points can be clarified and placed in the correct format. This can only be done through a professional proofreader as technology is not perfect. Good article!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey dawn, just want to say how enlightening this post was. For a while, I’ve been asking myself why a human proofreader is still needed when they’re apps that can do the work we do. Now I know, & I’m now, more than ever sure that picking up proofreading as a career wasn’t a mistake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 😊 There’s plenty of apps and automated checkers that you can put your writing through, but more than likely, it’ll miss some things only humans can understand. Glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for stopping by! 🤓

      Like

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