Sunday, August 19, 2007

Getting It Right

On a couple of blogs, there are discussions going on about the sloppiness of the press. Of how newspapers rarely correct their errors, even when they have been informed. Of how often things are misspelled. Like names in obituaries.

It made me think about when I worked as a research analyst for the Alaska State Legislature. Every report we sent out was edited and re-edited. Even the department head, the best editor I met in my life, had her stuff checked. We ran spell check. We counted the spaces between words and after periods.* We did the math on any numbers. We fact checked on facts we thought we already knew. We made sure that the points were made in the same logical order in the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. We had one staff member who was familiar with the issue check it and one who was not. We measured cells in tables. We checked for uniform style in lists. We read things out loud and backwards. If our reports hadn't been confidential, we would have pulled in a smart 12 year old (because most people know as much about other people's fields as a smart 12 year old, so if the kid had questions, so would the legislator)**. Even then, once in a while I would pick up something I had written two months prior and discover an error that just leapt off the page and whacked me. Something that had sneaked past at least three readers. Luckily they were minor errors, but still it was humbling.

Never as bad as the formal report that I saw turned in by an engineering firm about the Department of Pubic Works. Or, in the days before spell check, the day I was looking over a communications handout my partner Alison and I had distributed to at least 300 people over four years and saw that it said "for best resluts . . . " Not only did we hand that out, we used to pick it up and use it as an outline to make sure we hadn't missed any points.

* We still used the two spaces after a period rule. We still used serial commas. We still held ourselves to very high standards.

** When my kids were 12, they proofed all of my training handouts for me, until they knew too much about those subjects from proofing prior handouts. Some of my best stuff was a result of being vetted by Richard and Julie.


kenju said...

It's almost impossible to write a perfect paper, isn't it? Even with spell check, I find small errors creeping in. When I was in school, there was no rule about 2 spaces after a period that I was aware of. I learned about it quickly when I was working for a political campaign about 20 years ago.

Tabor said...

I get very sloppy in my blogging and I am hoping that I will start to improve my bad habits and re-check my writing as I retire and have more time. Years ago I would have been too terrified to write at all, so this is a step forward.

Kay Dennison said...

I try very hard not to leave typos in my blog or anywhere else -- but rushing around the land of Blog causes sloppiness at times. I have always been something of a stickler on spelling and grammar. What galls me most is the reliance on spelling checkers. They don't recognize homophones and neither do a lot of people who use them.

Betty said...

When I was working, I edited the company newsletter and, even with two people proof-reading, we still missed things. It was frustrating.

Py Korry said...

It's tough with blogging to self-edit in the proofing dept. Sometimes I ask Julie to give a post a glance and she usually finds a typo..or two...or five!

J at said...

I do the 2 spaces and the commas, too, but the blog editors won't let you, so here, noone in the blogisphere knows of my virtue!