Face it, no one’s life is hinging on most of the words written today. But the writing some editors work on could save, or cost, or even just ruin a life. They work on legal documents, pharmaceutical materials, dangerous procedures, and materials that guide the building of structures all around us. I’m not saying that a misplaced comma in their work will kill someone (exhale now), but if anyone is right to feel the critical importance of getting the language right, it’s them.
The rest of you, relax. Outside of plagiarism, libel, and bad reviews, there is little to fret over here.
Now, you folk—the ones working on the words that can save or cost lives—let’s talk about coping with the risk.
First, remember that you are human, and that you are working with other humans. Mistakes and omissions are going to happen—from the expert source, from the writer, from you, from the boss. Your job as an editor is to catch mistakes in language. Perhaps you do a little fact checking. But remember that the best “save percentage” we can expect from any editor is 95%.
Next, get some chocolate/ wine/ furry companionship and repeat after me: “I am a worthwhile human being and I don’t have to be infallible.”
Ready? Let’s talk about how you can reduce your risk. There are several generally accepted approaches:
- accept the risk
- assume the risk
- assign the risk
Accept the risk
Simply acknowledge that there will be mistakes. This attitude gives rise to the role of the copy editor in the first place. As the copy editor (a human), it would be good for your mental health to just accept that mistakes happen. The effective editor uses a whole bunch of strategies to reduce the errors (such as checklists, software devices like spell check, macros, and consistency checkers, and strategies such as reading aloud) but knows that she alone can not cause the extinction of errors.
Assume the risk
Accept that the risk is your to take—assume responsibility for it, and have in place mechanisms to deal with the fallout. Errata sheets (or webpages) that cookbook authors maintain would be one example.
Assign the risk
There are several ways to assign the risk of error to someone else:
- The author assigns responsibility to the publisher for eliminating errors.
- The publisher assigns the responsibility for errors to the author, ultimately. But that gets us into a bit of a circle.
- The publisher further assigns any number of key roles tasked with eliminating errors:
- fact checker
- safety consultant
- technical consultant
- peer reviewers
- test kitchen
- author (back where we started)
- Insure the risk. This assigns consequences to someone else. Actually buy errors and omissions insurance, if they’ll sell it to you. That doesn’t mean you don’t still have to do your due diligence.
Reject the risk
Of course, you can always reject the risk. That is: decline the assignment, reject the manuscript, change careers, or fake an aneurism.
How do you deal with the risk in your work, emotionally or legally? Leave your comments below.