Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pedantry corner

This semester I've been studying Church History. In researching one of my assignments, I've inadvertently discovered a trend that seems to be afflicting the publishing industry. It would appear that many books hit the shelves with glaring production errors. Many years ago, I completed a Graduate Certificate in Professional Writing and Editing. This gave me a rudimentary working knowledge of the publishing industry. In several cases, if more care had been taken in editing the draft manuscript before going to press, these errors could be easily avoided.

I'm old enough to remember the days before word processors with spell check features and automatic spelling correction. Thankfully the days of either hand writing assignments or using an electric typewriter are long gone. As great as they are, computers don't negate the need for proof reading. At this point in time, spell checkers haven't advanced to the stage where they can detect the incorrect usage of a word in a sentence.

I noticed this when recently reading a book about the Second World War. For example, one historian, quoting from the personal papers of one of modern history's most notorious war criminals, remarked that he "...wrote in his dairy." Obviously he meant to use the word "diary." Whilst plotting mass genocide, he took time out to stay at his hobby dairy farm to gather his thoughts.

It's also the editor's responsibility to make sure that historical dates are correct. Anyone with a knowledge of modern history would know that the war began in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, and that Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. It doesn't give you much confidence in a book that you might quote from or reference in an assignment if key dates are wrong. Similarly. where photographs are used, the editor must also ensure that captions are correct. "Insert caption here" doesn't give you much to go on in working out what a photograph is of. It's disappointing to see good scholarship undermined by sloppy editing, not to mention what it might do to the reputation of the author.


Kitty Cheng said...

That's soooo true! I've seen some of the errors in book, which made me laugh as well. That said, it's a huge and challenging job to proofread and edit the wholebook, but they do need to be very careful!

Gemma said...

Good point Ross. I must admit a few weeks ago I was typing up minutes and someone was going to get prices for a plaque, but I said plague! Spell check ignores these as they are spelt correctly. In most books I read I find at least one typo or parts of the book placed in the wrong context.

Ross McPhee said...

That would have been embararssing. Good thing you picked up on it before it was too late.