I’ve been thinking about this question lately, and a book I was reading on my Kindle prompted it all. I’m a voracious reader and I run the gamut from serious tomes to what I call “candy” reading in my choices. I was recently reading a book that admittedly leaned toward the latter category, one that I’d chosen to read as it was receiving some acclaim for huge sales and a strong following even though it was only available for e-reader devices.
After the first couple of chapters it didn’t seem that promising, but I pressed on to see if it would improve. In the end I put it down around the halfway point. It wasn’t due to the quality of the story – the reason I had to stop reading was that the number of typos, grammatical mistakes and punctuation errors was so distracting that I could no longer focus on what was happening in the story. I was amazed at this sloppy writing, and thought that I couldn’t be the only person to notice – we’re not talking about an occasional misplaced apostrophe, this was rampant. Scanning the Amazon reviews, I saw only a couple of comments about the editing amongst hundreds of four and five star reviews. I started wondering if people generally thought this was acceptable because it’s an e-book, but then I remembered a series from a well-established author and a major publishing house that started to drive me crazy because of the mistakes in printed versions.
It’s all around us, too – just look at your local newspaper’s headlines and I bet you’ll find something, and prepare to have a good laugh if you read the real estate listings! Regardless of whether these things bother me personally, I’m interested in whether it’s a sign that people in general just don't care so much any more. Is it more important to get the latest information as quickly as possible on the device that’s most convenient? I think the general population would say for some types of information, like urgent news, yes. Could acceptance elsewhere be an evolution of language? I guess that part will only be revealed through time.
And how does this all relate back to learning? Over my years in the learning profession I’ve really come to appreciate the input of a good editor, and it's something we like to factor into every project at Limestone. No matter how good the instructional designers are, the value of fresh eyes on course materials, a report or other words we use is that they see what you have missed with being so absorbed in the content. The editor is often unfamiliar with the subject matter as well, so they can provide useful feedback on the clarity of communication.
Timelines are always tight, though, and the day or two it takes to turn around the edit could be really valuable elsewhere, or mean an earlier delivery. When people seem to have so much tolerance for a lack of editing, could we cut it?
Talking to colleagues and associates has affirmed my answer of no. Learning materials do need to be held to a higher standard. People will excuse the occasional typo, but ongoing errors reflect badly on the content itself, leading people to think it’s of poor quality and may not be accurate. Also, mistakes can lead to confusion and misinterpretation, which does not support a positive learning experience! There are places where it’s okay to relax standards, but when you really need to get the message across and the face time with your audience is limited – whether onscreen or in a classroom – editing your material thoroughly is worth the effort.
In writing this post I decided to take a look back at the page for that e-book on Amazon. I see that an announcement was made a couple of weeks ago that the book is “NOW PROFESSIONALLY EDITED”. Maybe there’s hope for editing yet!
Thanks for your thoughts Jane. As professional writers of any sort, we spend a lot of our valuable time putting down thoughts and ideas for others to read. It's a challenging balance to be both efficient but still take the time to do the editing that our work deserves. Does our credibility suffer when we distract our readers with grammar and punctuation errors? I think so.