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Yes sir, you *do* need an editor April 14, 2008

Posted by emsgeiss in Business Issues, networking, writing/editing/blogging.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I recently sat on a special committee that was charged with helping to shape an important document that would affect the lives of a great many people. (I am being vague intentionally.) When the draft of this document was presented to us for a final read, I caught a lot of errors. Catching errors from the sublime to the ridiculous in almost anything that I read is an occupational hazard for me. As a a writer and an editor I notice the misplaced commas, tables where the units don’t align properly (or math doesn’t add up at all), split infinitives, mismatched tenses and verb disagreement, “which” versus “that”, and sentence structure surrealism to name a few. And don’t get me started on apostrophes—you know, seeing 50’s when it should be ’50s when referring to the decade? You writers and editors out there know exactly what I’m talking about.

Anyway, since it was a “working final draft,” I asked the lead person on the project and liaison to the consulting firm, if given what I’d already noticed on a first pass, I could give the document an edit (as part of my committee duties) before it went to any other committees for a “first read.” She said, “Sure! Go ahead! Thanks so much!”

And edit I did—all one-hundred-something single-spaced pages of it.

I turned in the edited document with nearly every page marked, flagged with post-it notes so that there would be no way that the company that wrote the document could miss the edits. I included a sheet on proofreader’s marks and where necessary, made margin comments and provided explanations to the edits that I knew would be questioned. I also provided my number, in case there were any questions. The edited document was sent to the consultants.

A few weeks later, my husband (who sits on the decision-making body and who had not previously seen the document, including at any time that I physically had it) got it and he noticed a bunch of errors—ones that I know I corrected—like the misspelling of a major street. To say that he was not thrilled is to make a profound understatement. (Especially considering how much these “consultants” cost.) Needless to say, the document went back to the consultants.

The new/remaining editorial concerns were addressed and the “final” document was returned to my husband and the body that he sits on along with a cover letter that addressed each of the editorial concerns.

Funny thing. The cover letter had misspellings in it. Doesn’t give one much faith in whether the concerns about the document had indeed been addressed fully.

Guess what?

They weren’t.

In another (gratis) edit, in the first 40 pages of text, there were no fewer than 22 pages with issues. Grant it, some of these issues were “global changes” but the changes that were addressed (indicated by the markings of Word’s tracking tool) were done so selectively. Now I know what those of you in “the business” reading this are thinking—the writer gets the opportunity to STET edits. Sure, it’s true writers (like copywriters when you’re editing ad copy) get to STET stuff all of the time. But some things, like the incorrect tense and style inconsistencies, aren’t among them. For example, in several paragraphs there was a word used that in English, has two accepted spellings—one the anglicized version, the other in the original language. Unfortunately both spellings were used in the same freaking paragraph, so I marked it with a note regarding consistency. There were other things too, but I won’t bore you.

When my husband approached the consultants he was told:

“Well we did it the way the Times does it.” (As if publishing-name-dropping was going to solidify their case for mediocrity; and um no, Mr. Consultant, the Times doesn’t do it that way.)

There was another excuse about the use of a certain proper noun, where they said: “Well, we were told that The Thing was to be capitalized.” (Well, that’s all well and good when you’re talking about The Thing specifically, but when you say “and other things,” not referring to The Thing itself, but using “things” as a global noun, the word “things” (or “thing”) ceases to be a proper noun.)

My husband said: “Really? Well, my wife is an editor. It’s what she does for a living and she knows her stuff. So if you have any questions, you give her a call.”

I don’t think the phone will be ringing tomorrow, because I have a feeling that the “consultants” were bothered with the initial set of edits, having to make them in the first, second and third places and the fact that they don’t see the value in having their documents edited. Instead, they view it as a big, old bothersome chore, from annoying perfectionists. (Well, hell yeah, it should be perfect…that is what you’re being paid to produce—a solid, tight document. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t the client get a document that at least approximates perfection?)

So this is all food for thought, especially in the wake of a writing colleague considering marketing herself to businesses to teach them how to write. It seems like she’s onto something, because I’m sure that this experience of mine is not unique.

Regarding these “consultants,” I hope for their sake, that I’m never in a position where someone asks me to recommend their services. I wouldn’t be able to with all honesty, since they seem to be satisfied with producing a mediocre printed end product for their clients.

I don’t say this out of spite, I say it for two very important reasons: networking and business image.

First, because of the nature of networking today, someone tomorrow or next week, could ask me if I know of a consulting company that specializes in _______ in the area? Well, I do, but would I be able to pass on the information about these consultants in good faith? No.

Second, regarding image, the end product (the printed document) is as much as a reflection of their business and what they value as important as any of their other skills might be. There were other aspects of working with them that were great, but when it comes down to the specific document they were charged with producing, they fell short of the mark. Lack of attention to editing can hurt your potential network and your image (and therefore your potential network), which is why it’s a good idea for people in business to know not only how to write (where my colleague’s idea comes in), but also to hire (or have on-staff) an editor who can be objective and frank.

Well, the document is back in the consulting firm’s court, and the only thing left to say is: we’ll see if I get that phone call.

(I’m not holding my breath.)

Have a war story? Share it in the comments. Ready? Set? Go!

Copyright © 2008 Erika-Marie S. Geiss



1. jtmccue - April 15, 2008

Don’t ya just love it?

2. g2-9c64b8d472e9a817898dbc5c7643b0ea - April 16, 2008

Erica, oh yeah, I totally get it 😉
I’m a typo queen myself, which is why I employ a proofreader, but you’d think in a document of such import…but, ah well….

3. g2-9c64b8d472e9a817898dbc5c7643b0ea - April 16, 2008

whoa. I don’t know why my “name” looks like that, sorry.

4. Melaniehoo - April 17, 2008

That would drive me crazy.

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