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Proving Copyediting’s Worth

Magnifying glass over word career

As practitioners, copyeditors know why editing is important. But those who would hire us sometimes need convincing.

In a discussion in my old Copyediting II course, one student said, “In order to persuade a potential employer to employ me, I would try to collect the best evidence possible.” She suggested drawing a direct line between the writing’s quality and profits.

That’s not always easy to prove, however. Sure, if a book doesn’t sell, the writing is the likeliest problem and editing might have helped. But what about financial reports, marketing copy, research papers… any writing that isn’t the actual product?

If you’re able to make the connection between writing quality and a company’s bottom line, do. If not, try sharing some well-documented examples of other companies’ failures.

Typos

While we don’t want our bosses to think copyeditors just catch typos, it is part of the job and can make a strong case for editing before publishing. For example:

  • Pricing errors that threaten to break the bank. Missing numbers or decimal points, swapped numbers, and plain, old wrong numbers can all lead to the wrong price being listed. That could mean huge losses for the company—or a PR nightmare. An article on Six Degrees describes how Alitalia Airlines offered a flight from Toronto to Cyprus for $39 instead of $3,900. Almost 2,000 travelers booked a flight before the mistake was caught. Ouch!
  • Typos in marketing materials can cause cost overruns and erode trust. The Six Degrees article also offers U.K. company Taylor & Sons Ltd. In 2009, similarly named Taylor & Son Ltd. was being liquidated in 2009, but the government registrar mistakenly added an s to Son in the database. Taylor & Sons lost clients and fell into bankruptcy in short order.
  • Mistakes that make you infamous instead of famous. A Penguin Australia cookbook is notable not for its recipes but from a mistake that’s been touted around the internet. Instead of a recipe calling for “salt and freshly ground black pepper,” it called for “salt and freshly ground black people.” Penguin couldn’t recall the published copies, and it had to destroy the 7,000 copies in its inventory.
  • Ruinous mistakes. Most copyeditors don’t edit code, but an article on The Richest shares an example that’s a good reminder to keep an eye on punctuation. In 1962, a dash was left out of the code for NASA’s Mariner 1 project. The missing dash negated the rocket’s steering, and seconds after liftoff, NASA had to destroy the rocket before it crashed.

Plagiarism

Presenting someone else’s words as your own is a serious offense, and most companies recognize it as such. If you edit bylined work, bolster your argument for keeping copyediting in the production process with these examples collected by Poltico:

  • Joe Biden. During the 1988 presidential race, Biden’s speeches contained excerpts from the speeches of Neil Kinnock, a British politician who ran against Margaret Thatcher, and from Robert Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey. Biden had to withdraw from the race as a result.
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin. Goodwin, a well-known political history writer, was accused of plagiarizing sections of The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. She claimed it was an accident; she recalled the unsold copies and fixed the book.
  • Jayson Blair. Blair is an example of lying rather than stealing. The New York Times reporter fabricated details and sources for his stories. When The Times discovered this, the paper dismissed him and ran a front-page story detailing his actions.

Some of these stories get repeated in article after article. They’re high profile and a good reminder of the value of copyediting. If you need to defend your worth, keep them in mind.

This post originally published on August 26, 2016, on Copyediting.

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