Re: Value Add

Subject: Re: Value Add
From: Peter Neilson <neilson -at- windstream -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 05 May 2011 06:56:55 -0400

On 05/05/2011 05:07 AM, Janice Gelb wrote:

Next time you have to defend the value of copyediting, show
the doubter this corrections list from Modernist Cuisine

Wow! With the possible exception of "miniscule" none of those errors could be caught by spelling-correction software.

That one web page could serve as the sole marketing tool for someone seeking to establish a business as a copy editor.

Out of curiosity I just checked my grandmother's 1908 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer. No errors whatever could be found on random pages. Possible reasons for the high quality of copy editing in this and other old books include:

1. Several editions - 1908 saw the eighth edition of FMF's book.
2. Actual proofreading - every page endured careful examination.
3. Many eyes - FMF was not the sole proofreader.
4. Standard spelling and grammar - prescriptive education was common.
5. Test of time and use - the book's very quality helped it survive a century.
6. A scientific approach - FMF was famed for her exact and level measurements, her experimentation, and her easy-to-understand style.

Over the last few decades the process for producing paperback novels has been terribly rushed, so it seems. Examples abound. Anne McCaffrey's "Get Off the Unicorn" was supposed to have been "Get of the Unicorn", but something went wrong. Romance novels are spell-checked but not proofread, with amusing reaults. Cover art for those romances is produced by artists who cannot (or do not) read, or who somehow do not understand that a horse's reins must connect to a bit. (My wife, a poor proofreader, catches all these errors.)

Computer books receive similarly bad treatment, likely because they are usually as ephemeral as the cheap novels. There is often no second edition.

Cookbooks just might be the epitome of technical writing. Some become standards, and get a chance at new editions and a possible increase in quality. I still prefer, however, my old 1975 pre-microwave edition of Rombauer & Becker's Joy of Cooking to the anti-explanatory 1997 edition.

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