A large part of what I do involves editing documents and supervising the editing of videos. A big problem I often face is that I miss the most obvious spelling errors, and sometimes fail to notice if a sentence is constructed badly. As long as I can understand the content and everything makes sense, I regularly miss these errors.

Once, a video was almost ready to be published, and a colleague pointed out that the spelling on the cue card accompanying the video was incorrect. This oversight led to a whole load of extra work at the last minute. Eventually, it inspired me to proactively try to solve my problem.

I thought I was just making spelling mistakes and if I solved for that things would work out. I wasted a lot of time on multiple online spelling tests. I read every article I could on editing more effectively, but nothing seemed to work. The reason for this was simple: in a rush to get a solution, I had failed to define the problem correctly. It turned out, my real problem was  not that I was much worse than anyone else at spelling but that I wasn’t checking my work enough number of times.

I realized this when I came across the concept ‘Inattentional Blindness’ in the book The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. The writers explained that sometimes our brain skips over information that it does not expect to see. They highlighted this through a famous experiment, which came to be known as the Invisible Gorilla experiment. They shot a video of two teams (one in white and one in black) passing a ball amongst each other. They asked the viewers to count the number of passes made by the team wearing white. In the middle of the game, a person dressed in a gorilla costume entered the frame and stayed there for nine seconds before exiting the screen. Later, they asked the participants whether they had noticed the gorilla and discovered that almost half of them hadn’t. According to Chabris and Simon, this was because:

a. Their attention was focused completely on counting the passes

b. They didn’t expect the gorilla at all

Inattentional Blindness, which is also called ‘perceptual blindness’, changed the perspective around my problem. I am not a trained editor. When I read or supervise the editing of a video, my attention is focused on the content. I want to make sure it makes sense. Plus, I don’t expect errors because I assume that by the time these documents or videos come to me, they have already gone through some rounds of edits. Both these factors play a part in my missing errors.

Once I had defined my problem, I was able to understand it better. I stopped wasting time on online spelling tests. Now I read or view a video differently. I read two or three times and keep a mental checklist to look out for different things. So in the first reading, I make sense of the content, in the second I check spellings, in the third I look at grammar, sentence structure, etc. While viewing videos, I concentrate on the matter first, then I look at call cards and finally I look at them again to check for correct transitions.

I still make some mistakes during the reading and editing process, but now that I am aware of my problem, I’m closer to solving it.

Aishwarya Agarwal is a Young India Fellow and a LAMP Fellow. A curriculum researcher at Harappa Education, she moonlights as a stand-up comic. This was a well-kept secret…till her cover was blown.

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