Double-Check It, Please

In my July 28 post I mentioned Tinker Bell, the fairy in Sir James M. Barrie’s wonderful Peter Pan. I typed it as one word, with an “e” at the end. Because I’m an editor and trained to be accurate, a couple of minutes later I started to wonder about that final “e.” After a quick Google search I discovered two things: That “e” had to go, and the fairy’s name is two words, not one.

Good editors are doubters, and good editing is very different from good reading. A good reader takes in the message and information in big chunks. Editors creep along slowly and stop to ask many questions along the way. Is that really how he spells his name? Is New York City really the capital of New York (no, it’s Albany). Should capital be spelled with an “o”? (Only when it’s a government building or a business that spells its name that way, such as Capitol Records).

I edit college documents for the institution where I worked as a professor for almost 30 years. Knowing the faculty and staff can be a huge advantage. I often notice factual errors (she goes by her middle name, he lives in another city) that an outsider might miss.

Because checking and double-checking are so important to me, I’m endlessly astonished at the “So what?” attitude of so many writers. Last week I was flabbergasted when I read the title of this new movie in our newspaper: The Kids Are Alright. The movie was listed that way in two places – the review and, a few pages later, in the local schedule of showings.

The name of the movie (I checked it!) is The Kids Are All Right. But somebody who works for our local newspaper apparently decided that the movie producers didn’t know the correct title of their own movie – or figured that it didn’t make any difference.

If you don’t care about accuracy, you shouldn’t be working for a newspaper. (And if you don’t know that all right is always two words, you shouldn’t be holding any kind of writing job.)

Years ago, when I was a prison teacher, I submitted an article to The Journal of Correctional Education. The editor called to tell me that my article was going to be published after she corrected the spelling errors.

“I don’t make spelling errors,” I told her. There was silence at the other end of the phone.

Six months later, when my article was published, she’d changed my correctly spelled¬†argument to the incorrect arguement.

She didn’t own a dictionary?

I talk to many people who wish they were better writers, and I’ll be the first to admit that good writing is a challenge. But there’s a simple principle that will instantly make any piece of writing better: Double-check what you’ve written.

¬†Today’s Quiz ANSWER

You can improve this sentence by removing the unnecessary word “currently.”

She currently lives in a beautiful apartment high over the city of Toronto. ORIGINAL SENTENCE

She lives in a beautiful apartment high over the city of Toronto. BETTER

Incidentally, you could argue that “the city of Toronto” can be shortened to simply “Toronto.” It’s also possible, however, that “the city of” helps you see Toronto in your mind’s eye. I’d call this one a judgment call.


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