Editing soft vs. hard copy?

Subject: Editing soft vs. hard copy?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 22 Feb 2002 13:45:18 -0500

Doug Grossman "vehemently disagreed" with the assertion that "Practically no
one edits on-line reliably. If you want to edit reliably
and thoroughly, print it out."

This depends on what you and the original poster meant. There's broad
consensus among editors that many of us (perhaps most) miss some things
online that we'd miss onscreen, and vice versa. I used to have an article
from Human Factors that demonstrated this conclusively, but it's way out of
date (monitors have improved enormously since then). In any event, see the
discussions on copyediting-l, via the archives, for examples.

Part of this undoubtedly arises from a lack of familiarity with onscreen
editing on the part of editors with decades of experience using paper, part
of it is still inadequate computer displays (e.g., it's easy to confuse
commas with periods and lower case L's with 1's in many fonts), and part of
it is the sheer malignity of the universe. <g>

My hypothesis to explain the fact that we miss things in online editing
includes several factors. First, editors always miss something in the first
pass, which is why we routinely make two or more passes through any
document. Obviously, if that first pass is an onscreen edit, that means it's
the onscreen edit that misses the errors. Second, it's still true that our
eyes get fatigued faster reading on computer screens than reading print, and
that means we're more likely to miss things from simple visual fatigue as
the day progresses. Third, changing media seems to let our minds examine the
text in a sufficiently different context that we see things we'd otherwise
have missed. All three reflect my personal experience, supplemented by
anecdotal evidence from many colleagues.

One last point to consider: Until computer displays match paper in
resolution, contrast, and color fidelity, you should always _proofread_ a
product in its final medium: on paper if you're producing printed materials,
and onscreen if you're producing online materials. True WYSIWYG display
isn't here yet, at least for the paper-to-screen conversion, and that means
you can get better results for the foreseeable future if you use the right
medium for proofing.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

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personality, and an obnoxious one at that."—Kim Roper

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