Rules of the Road

I received a traffic warning last week for rolling through a stop sign. (And thank you, Officer, for not giving me a ticket.) While we all hate to make mistakes, we also know that we never edit better than right after being smacked in the face with something we’ve missed. These reminders keep us sharp, whether or not we get fined or have points put on our license.

It’s been nearly three decades since I took my driver’s exam (in a little white 1980s-style Honda Civic), but here are a few rules of the road that I try to keep in mind while editing.

Slow Down!

In editing, speed kills. If you’re speeding through text, then you’re not doing your job. Read letter by letter, and train your eye to pass over every character.

Look Both Ways Before Pulling Out into Traffic—Then Look Again

When you’ve finished a job, even if it’s just a one-page flyer, take a deep breath and look it over once more. Second and third looks often turn up something you’ve missed. Remember that the people telling you to rush through a job are the same people who will call you out for any mistakes that go through.

Know the Law

Whether you’ve been editing for five minutes or fifty years, there is always something new to learn, and styles are in constant flux. Consult your resources, follow language blogs, and read all the books you can on grammar, style, and usage.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Directions

In truth, there are few “rules” in editing, and the longer you edit, the more you realize how few absolutes there actually are. It’s all about consensus. Consult with fellow editors every chance you get.

Stop at Rest Areas

The real challenge in editing lies in staying sharp job after job, hour after hour, minute after minute. When fatigue sets in, the best editors can miss obvious errors. Take frequent five-minute breaks to refresh your mind. Spend a few moments looking out the nearest window to give your eyes a much-needed rest.

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