Mind the Gap
Looking at the spaces between vertical railings on my friend’s just-built deck, I could only say, “This can’t adhere to any code.” The spaces were a good two feet apart, so any child under the age of six could easily walk right off the deck.
Needless to say, my friend had words with her contractor.
The existing railing might even have been worse than no railing at all, because the illusion of safety might have given a false sense of security, whereas if there were no railing whatsoever, people (presumably even children) would be afraid to go near the edge.
Editing can be like that.
I’ve noticed that the more professional the design, whether that means typesetting of the text or pictorial or illustrative elements surrounding the text, the more likely the editor is to have a false sense that everything is okay.
It rarely is.
I’ve seen good editors miss what should be obvious mistakes on book covers in part, I have to think, because the design looks so nice that it’s hard to believe there could be an error.
A corollary is that editors can easily fail to fact-check something because of the thought that the writer intended a piece of information to be there and must know what he or she is talking about.
Trust in editing is a dangerous thing, while skepticism more often than not saves the day.
But editors should be skeptical of their own impulses as well. Before making any change, editors have to counter the little thrill of making a correction by asking themselves whether there’s any way that the original instance could in fact be correct. Young editors especially can be so fired up with confidence in their abilities that they introduce errors by misreading a usage and making a bad edit.
So we have to always be skeptical of the text, of our writers, and, perhaps most particularly, of ourselves. As always, do no harm!
And don’t go stepping off any decks, metaphorical ones or otherwise.