No matter how careful an editor is, he could still miss mistakes in copy that manage to get through to final publication. My editing mentor told me the hardest thing to do when proof-reading is to read what is there and not what you think should be there. It was good advice but hard for me to manage because, as an avid reader, I was always in a hurry to get to the end.
I learned the importance of proof reading while working at a well-known helicopter factory in the south. One of my co-workers was abruptly fired when he failed to catch a typo in the instructions for a service manual which should have read: “When testing the flexibility of the main rotor, attach a ten-pound bag of shot to the end of each rotor blade.” The italicized word had been misspelled. No one ever knew for sure, but we all suspected that it was a prank that didn’t get caught.
Among the pool of technical writers in that same department, on another occasion, the following conversation took place, indicating that perhaps there didn’t always have to be a perpetrator for a mistake to be made:
Writer 1: “How do you spell ‘mere'”?
Writer 2: “M-e-r-e.”
Writer 1: “Naw, I mean ‘mere’, like what ya look in to shave.”
Writer 3: “You ain’t sayin’ it right. It’s ‘mirra’.”
Writer 2: “No it ain’t. It’s ‘mirrow’, M-I-R-R-O-W.”
Writer 1: “Okay. Thanks.”
Editors are more than just proof readers, in most cases. In fact, some do no proofing at all unless they happen to catch a glaring error; they generally assume proof reading has already been accomplished by the writer. When reviewing submissions, whether for books or articles, short or long, some of the things editors must determine are:
- Did the writer follow established guidelines, whether general, or specific for a particular assignment?
- Did the writer distinguish opinion from facts and, when appropriate, properly identify his sources?
- Is the submission original, or is there the possibility of plagiarism?
- Is the content and quality of the work satisfactory for the platform intended?
In the end, among the choices an editor may have are the following:
- Return the manuscript for correction of minor grammatical or punctuation errors,
- Suggest organizational changes to improve the overall quality of the submission,
- Decline the submission for any number of reasons, or
- Publish the submission.
In spite of all that, there will still be those instances where neither the writer nor the editor caught the error which, in print, seems so glaring.