Lots of people dislike proofreading their work. Some actively hate it. It can also be pretty difficult and time-consuming. I’m really selling it to you so far aren’t I? Unfortunately, however you may feel about it, proofreading is important, for businesses in general, but particularly proofreading in eLearning. Why? There are three main reasons:

  1. A poorly proofread document gives a bad impression
  2. Errors in the text will distract the learner
  3. Errors can cause confusion

Let’s look at these in turn in a bit more detail.

The bad impression

Incorrect spelling and grammar in your eLearning gives the learner the impression that either:

  1. a) You do not know enough about correct spelling and grammar to get it right, in which case, why should they trust that you are right about the content of the eLearning?

or

  1. b) You do not care enough to get it right, in which case, why should they care about what it is you want them to learn?

And it’s not just spelling and grammar. Consistency in layout is important too. If you start a list with a) b) c) and then swap to 4) 5) 6), or if you write the name of a certain product in bold for the first half of the eLearning but not the second half, your learner will notice that the final eLearning product lacks polish. If you didn’t care enough to properly check your content, how much do you care about them learning it.

The distraction

If learners spot errors in your text then their attention will be drawn to them and away from the material that you actually want them to learn, whether consciously or unconsciously.

You may have seen on social media, reports of a study that suggests that if you swap the middle letters of a word around, a reader can still easily understand the words, and that letter order therefore isn’t important.

So, for eaxpmle, the reustls clmiaed to sguegst taht tihs snetnece was esay to raed.

For a start, whilst I can read that sentence, I wouldn’t say it was particularly easy to do so. Secondly, the study doesn’t exist. There is a study (1) that looks at this. They found that transpositions in words – that is, where the letters in the word stay the same but they are mixed up (as in the above sentence) – lead to a slowed reading rate.

Readers have to look at the words more and they spend longer doing so. Readers take even longer to read when, instead of transpositions, there are substitutions in a word – that is, where new letters are swapped in for some of the letters in the word. In these situations, readers take three to four times longer to read the word!

If your text includes spelling errors like this, then your learner will be concentrating on reading the words, rather than focussing on what it is they are supposed to be learning.

The confusion

Sometimes when we make mistakes we end up actually writing a perfectly legitimate word, just not the one that we intended. So, for example, “does” and “dose” mean two very different things, but are very easy to swap in for each other (in fact I did it the first time I wrote this sentence).

In addition, because of the way many of us think while we are writing/typing it is easy to mistakenly write a word that sounds like the word you meant (or, sometimes, not realise that you have the wrong word, as you are just going by what it sounds like).

An example:

Anyone reading blogs about proofreading has too much time on their hands – dear reader accepted of course!

vs

Anyone reading blogs about proofreading has too much time on their hands – dear reader excepted of course!

Incorrect use of the word accepted in the above sentence changes the meaning to include the reader in the group of people with too much time on their hands, rather than exclude them. (2)

Sometimes what the word means will be obvious from the context, but not always. This is particularly true when some of your learners may be trying to learn from material that is not in their first language.  If this is the case, what you write needs to be very clear and definitely error free.

You might at this point be thinking,

“Well that’s great, but I really struggle with spelling/grammar/word use.”

That’s ok!  You’re certainly not alone. However, there are ways round this. The chances are that someone you work with is secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) a bit of a spelling and grammar geek and will be able to help you out (possibly for a small bribe). Even if you really know your stuff spelling-/grammar-wise it can still be beneficial to have someone else look at your material as they will probably spot stuff that you haven’t.

I hope that my writing in this post has been very clear and that I’ve convinced you that proofreading eLearning material is vitally important: it gives your learner the best chance of focussing on the material you want them to learn and ensures that they will understand it too. If you’re interested in more ways to keep the learner’s attention, then have a read of this article.

Finally, the first law of writing about the importance of proofreading is that the text you write will include at least one error. If you did spot any… let’s call them deliberate mistakes to test your proofreading ability… congratulations on the excellent proofreading skills and do let me know in the Comments box below!

References

  1. Rayner, K., White, S., Johnson, R. and Liversedge, S. (2006). Raeding Wrods With Jubmled Lettres: There Is a Cost. Psychological Science, 17(3), pp.192-193.
  2. Soanes, C. (2013). Accept or except? | OxfordWords blog. [online] Available at: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/12/accept-or-except [Accessed 26 Oct. 2016].
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Emma Trantham

Senior consultant

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