Fyfe’s “Electronic Errata” chapter in DITDH examines the decreasing value of correction and copy editors in scholarly publication. This has been the trend for quite some time, as seen with the elimination of the reading boy, but it has become more pronounced with the increase of online and digital publishing.
According to Fyfe, despite the importance and increasing relevancy of this topic, copy editing and fact checking are often omitted in research on digital publishing.
Fyfe’s claims about the decreasing value of correction did not surprise me. Although I do not have a great sample that I can compare current published scholarly materials against (I entered the University in 2007, and most of my academic reading consisted of textbooks and literature until I began my graduate program in 2014), I have seen many scholarly books and articles, both online and in print, with spelling and grammar errors.
Once, in a book about editing, I found a really bad mistake that seems to have resulted from copying and pasting, which is always a dangerous affair.
We seem to live in a society that is so concerned with producing, editing is often pushed to the side, and is sometimes forgotten altogether, which is somehow both concerning and relieving to me.
It’s concerning, because copy editing is a viable career option for me. Also, I believe that errors, even tiny spelling errors, are distracting and unprofessional.
When it comes to writing articles for the IT knowledge base, I tend to focus on the small details, such as making sure all uses of “drop-down” have a hyphen or that all hyperlinks open the linked website in a new tab.
‘Enforcing’ these rules is challenging when there are multiple people writing and editing articles. With thousands of articles, it’s even challenging for me to remember how I wrote a certain word or formatted a table in an earlier article. To create consistency, I created the style guide, but it is underused.
It’s important to be detail oriented, but focusing on the small things gives me less time to focus on the large things, which in the end, probably matters more. Most readers looking for information will care more about accuracy and usefulness. More importantly, readers care that information is simply available.
Sometimes with time sensitive articles, I focus less on perfect wordsmithing and grammar simply to get that information to readers as quickly as possible (I do always read through my work at least once, just not as carefully, and if I get hung up on a certain word or phrase, I leave it alone). For this reason, I am relieved that the last 5% is not as necessary as it used to be.
However, I think it also depends on the formality of the publication. I do think that scholarly publications should be held to a higher standard when it comes to copy editing and especially fact checking. I think Fyfe’s conversation about crowd sourcing copy editing is interesting, but unrealistic. I think it could work well in some academic circles if one or more of the scholars in the circle are, what one might call, grammar nazis, but I think the task of copy editing should fall mostly to the author.
As I say this, I realize that it would create a lot of extra work for authors to have to learn and apply style guides, which may change from journal to journal. But it is the author’s reputation on the line and they should be responsible for their work.
However, I also think that one or two mistakes should be forgiven, so long as the content is rich.