Monday, October 24, 2011

Too Close to the Source?

I received an interesting email today from a reader who highlights something that's a challenge for any blogger. The deal is, you never really know how many errors or typos are in a post until you hit the Publish button. At that point, issues that you thought you proof-read, spell checked and read aloud two or three times come to the surface, and leave you with the feeling that "OK, I look dumb for missing that!"

The contributor made a very good point in their observation, however, and that is the fact that, for many of us who are blog writers, we know what we are writing and why we are writing it. We have a filter that often overrides what we are typing, and our brains fill in the blanks for us. Anyone who has been on Facebook for any period of time has probably seen a status update showing how a jumbled mass of words can be "unscrambled" by our brains and interpreted quickly. The fact is, we miss a lot, especially if we do longer entries. My review of Jerry Weinberg's "Perfect Software" was nine pages; this entry is less than one page. Where are the typos more likely to be? In the longer essays, of course, because we fill in the blanks more readily.

Remember how I said that I don't blog to show how good I am at something, but rather, I blog because I know deep down I'm actually pretty bad at it? I also do it to remind myself that sometimes a tester cannot be their own tester when they are reviewing their own code. Not only are they often *way* too critical of what they are doing and overcompensate and over-edit themselves, but they often miss things that are plain as day to someone who casually reads their posts.

One of the challenges and frustrations is the fact that I like to edit in a plain text editor because it's fast to take down notes in. If I import it into Word to do a spell check, sometimes it picks up obvious typos, but it doesn't pick up when I've made an entry and it auto-corrects the entry for me and chooses the wrong word. Well, just correct it. When I catch it, I do. It's when I don't that it's embarrassing.

Another technique I use is the "read aloud" method. This is when I stop and read through my post as though I were giving it as a talk. Honestly, I find lots of issues when I do this, but even with this technique, I miss things. It covers a lot of stuff and helps me find things where when i say it, I think "Now wait a minute, that's not right", but every once in awhile a word will just jump through and I'll miss it.

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and I have to remind myself that many people who read my blog may be thinking to themselves "wow, a tester who doesn't even proof his posts... LAME!" The truth is, it's not that I don't proof them, it's the things that I miss when I do proof them, which I guess adds up to DOUBLE LAME!!! Be that as it may, the point is, I am oftentimes too close to my subject and I suffer at times from "blue room" syndrome. It's a condition where people who edit audio for extended periods get so caught up in the small fixes and tweaks that they don't even know what they are listening to any longer. The context has been removed. The same is true when we write. We think we're doing thorough review, but we're so down in the soil with the seeds that we're missing the flowers overhead and the weeds right next to us.

None of this is asking anyone to cut me slack. I'm writing this as a reminder to myself, and a warning to others. As an Army of One, I don't really have a reviewer or anyone who can review these on a schedule that's realistic, so I'm left with my own wits and the kindness of strangers. This is my way of saying "if you see me doing something boneheaded, please let me know." I won't take it personally, in fact, you'd be helping me open my eyes to something I've missed. Testers testing testers... it's a beautiful thing :).
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