Proofing, paranoia, and precision: An editor's guide to sleeping soundly
Near the end of every major project — viewbook, campaign, website — I can predict one event with certainty: I will awaken in a panic at 3 a.m., wondering, “Did I put the right year on the cover? Is that professor’s name spelled correctly? Did we check those links?”
And, of course, I did, and it is, and we have, but I am always paranoid about potential mistakes. Over a long editorial career at the University of Kansas, I’ve learned a few tricks that lessen my anxiety somewhat. In the hope that they’ll be useful to other KU communicators, here they are.
Use the tools the university provides.
The KU Directory on the KU homepage has a People Search function linked to the official Human Resources database. It lists names, departments, emails, and in some cases, phone numbers of faculty, staff, and students. I refer to it often to check the spelling of names.
Find useful facts on the site created by Analytics & Institutional Research. I use the Profiles Fact Book, the Interactive Fact Book, and the Common Data Set for enrollment, research, rankings, and other details. Don’t be afraid to ask the office for help if you have trouble finding what you’re looking for.
Rely on the University Style Guide (which we happen to curate) as a resource. We also manage the KU Places Directory, which contains proper names of all Lawrence campus buildings and landmarks and background on them.
Double check everything, especially the things you think you know.
Check every name, every title, every calendar day and date. If someone says an event is Wednesday, Nov. 14, check that Nov. 14 falls on Wednesday.
A few years ago, I checked and rechecked the wall calendar — and still missed the fact that Dec. 31 appeared twice. It went to the printer that way and was distributed to thousands of people across campus soon after.
If you’re a writer without an editor, find a trusted person in your office to read behind you.
You might avoid the Dec. 31 problem that way.
Proof your work in different ways.
Once a piece is in its final stages of production, I first read it straight through and mark anything that I have questions about. Then I go back through it, specifically looking at every name. I check that each person’s last name is spelled the same way throughout the piece.
Also, run spell check. Spell check has saved me numerous times. It’s how I learned to spell Caribbean.
Finally, cultivate a healthy sense of paranoia.
Just last winter, I actually got up at 3 a.m., got dressed, and drove to the office (only 5 minutes from my house) to check something that I knew would be on the press that morning. Turns out it was fine — and I drove home knowing I could get a couple of hours of rest before coming back to KU.
Deb Graber is the director of Editorial Services at Marketing Communications. She keeps a (blessedly small) file of mistakes as a reminder that some paranoia is good.