My friend Jonathan Crossfield used to sign off his emails with this Douglas Adams quote, “Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds.” Like Douglas Adams, Jonathan is a gifted writer, so I don’t find the quote all that comforting. What does it mean for a writer like me with considerably less talent than the greats?
Thankfully, I find solace in a lesson from my past.
The first 20 years of my career were spent in IT – a great deal of that time I worked as a computer programmer. Believe it or not, writing code is a creative pursuit but it’s done within a structured process. Follow the process and you’re going to make your deadlines. Strike out on your own, and chaos might ensue.
If you get stuck when coding and ask for help, the first question is always, “Let me see your flowchart or Warnier-Orr diagram.” These are graphical charting techniques detailing the processes and sequences you need to follow. Think of them as an outline or a brief for how you’re going to code. When you’re experiencing a problem with a computer program, the culprit is often a process problem, not a coding issue.
I was reminded of this when a new client asked us to proofread an important press release. They were waiting on the final .pdf from their graphic designer and wanted peace of mind that everything was perfect before it was sent to the media. When the “final” document came through two weeks after their deadline, the PROOF7 in the file name told me they’d already spent considerable time in the quality assurance step.
Despite this commitment to excellence, our ace proofreader, Wendy, uncovered several inconsistencies and an embarrassing misspelling. A week later we received another file to review – a PROOF10 .pdf – and different errors were uncovered.
I don’t know any of the people involved in producing the press release but I do know a different process would have garnered better results. They could have published three weeks earlier and spent a lot less on graphic design changes and 10 rounds of proofreading. They also could have reduced stress levels of the communications team.
Here’s the process we follow at Typeset to produce high-quality documents as efficiently as possible.
The earlier in the process you discover errors and make changes, the more economical it is to fix. Errors found at the end of the process take more time to remedy and can introduce new problems. This is how you end up with 10 proof versions, instead of two, at most.
Reviewing, editing and revising copy is much easier in a Word document and should be completed BEFORE graphic design. The graphic designer only needs to copy/paste the perfect text into the document. Too often the design is done first, then the text is jigged to fit. While you want your content to look great, it’s still the words that convey the information you’re trying to put out.
Once the copy has been committed to design, the process of changing text becomes much more cumbersome for all involved. Proofreading is measurably more difficult in a .pdf than in a Word document. Changes to text must be requested in a note, leaving the designer to make changes. Designers don’t have the same attention to detail when it comes to text. It’s very easy to regress the copy or introduce new errors altogether.
While Google docs are gaining in popularity for ease of use, they’re a nightmare for version control. With everyone working on the same document, it’s difficult to know when an error was introduced. There’s no way to know whether the approved version has been corrupted. If you’re using Google Docs in your team, I recommend you preserve process milestones in a Word document.
You don’t have to be an excellent writer to achieve excellent results. Following a proven editorial process uncovers errors quickly, ensuring you’re publishing high-quality written content. You can do it without waiting for your forehead to bleed!
3 May 2022
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