The Need for Guidelines
Regular readers know that I’ve been developing an editorial method, The Copyeditor’s Typographic Oath, that all copyeditors can follow, no matter what types of manuscripts we edit.
It’s not a new idea. From time to time, some smart copyeditor will develop a set of rules we can follow to produce clear, correct copy. The Editorial Eye produced this list more than three decades ago:
|From The Editorial Eye|
Although one or two of the rules apply less often than they once did, all of them are still worth following.
More recently, The Guardian created a list of 25 rules aimed at journalists, including one that has come back to bite me more than once: “Beware of all definitives.”
Call your collection a manifesto, commandments, or an oath, but we all need those guidelines. Our industry lacks a universal way to measure how well we do our jobs. There is no licensing board or governing organization. There are no industry standards or best practices—no way to measure a job well done.
Making such a list even more important are the changes we’re seeing in publishing. With fewer copyeditors on staff and more nonediting tasks being asked of those few—not to mention all those freelancers not given enough direction about what their clients really need—and copyediting as a career becomes a lot more challenging without some guidelines. The core of our job is getting lost among all the shiny new toys. We need something to help us to stay focused on what’s truly important: quality content.
In the February–March 2013 issue of Copyediting (out today), I lay out (perhaps) my final version of The Copyeditor’s Typographic Oath. For those of you who have been following the development here, I’ve added one final rule:
Don’t ignore errors; triage them.
Yes, we’re frequently short on time. It’s easy to skim the content and let our eyes pick up whatever it can in the few seconds we have. But that isn’t the best way to catch the most important errors.
It’s better to plan ahead. In a calm moment, create your triage list. Decide ahead of time whether, say, it’s more important to your publication to spell a TV show’s character names correctly than to follow your serial comma rule. Then when it’s time to triage, you know to skim the content for the character names rather than for commas.
Members can read about the other nine points of The Copyeditor’s Typographic Oath in the current Copyediting newsletter. If you’re not yet a member, sign up today for the coming year’s newsletters, discounts on valuable products and services, and free access to our 22-year archive of newsletters.