For errors, it’s Judgement Day
Writers often use the term, ‘eagle eyes’, to affectionately describe a colleague’s fierce attention to detail while proofreading and completing editorial quality checks.
However, this may not be as complimentary as it initially seems. While eagles have approximately 10 times greater visual resolution than humans1, they would clearly suck at Med Comms. Have you ever seen an eagle design a detail aid? Didn’t think so.
Indeed, when it comes to editorial quality control, humans are arguably more effective than eagles. But it is the mark of a human to occasionally make mistakes, and for an editor or proofreader, these mistakes can manifest as accidentally missing an error.
So, forget your eagle eyes. It’s time to upgrade to ‘Terminator Vision’.
A Terminator would be able to spot errors with an 83% greater probability than the average human medical writer, and rapidly implement corrections with their fully armoured, hyper-alloy, microprocessor-controlled forearms.
And so, I invite you to enter the mindset of a Terminator, a cybernetic organism: living tissue over a metal endoskeleton. A terminator is programmed to find and destroy pre-specified entities. In the popular film franchise, ‘The Terminator’, the pre-specified entity is the human, Sarah Connor. In a proofing and editorial context, Sarah Connor is analogous to the errors in your document. You are programmed to find them, and terminate them.
Assimilate the following tips and tricks into your core data bank:
1. Ask for the client’s clothes, boots and motorcycle
Imagine for a moment, that you have just been sent through a time portal to your client, arriving in a cloud of smoke and thunder. One problem, though: you are butt-stark-naked. As such, you must ask your client for their clothes, their boots and their motorcycle. For example…
- UK or US English?
- Sentence or title case?
- Hyphens or en rules?
- Is a style guide available?
- What should the ratio of copy to images be?
- How many messages, purpose or themes per slide or page?
- Active or passive voice?
This list of examples is non-exhaustive. Go that extra step and ask your client for their watch, hat, house keys, credit card details, mother’s maiden name…Once you’re suited and booted, on to the next task.
*This list of examples is non-exhaustive.
2. Work like a cyborg.
A human would go slide by slide, fixing typos and formatting as they are detected. Remember, you are a Terminator. Work through the material systematically, focus your attention on the error type one by one. Check all titles; go back to the start. Check all abbreviations; go back to the start. Do this for all the elements you want to check. This way, you’re less likely to default to human mode, lose track of what you’re looking for and miss an error.
3. Come with me if you want to live.
…to where I keep the checklists. There are so many things to look out for when undertaking editorial quality control that, frankly, it deserves a separate article. One of the ways to keep that systematic methodical approach is to keep checklists. There are many starter checklists available for free online, and you can supplement this by keeping a personal checklist of commonly made mistakes you spot, or you make yourself.
4. I’ll be back.
While Terminators are made to be uniform, humans are varied in their manufacture and model, and their preference for absorbing information varies. So, after checking specific details, you may want to check the overall story flow. For example, perhaps you want the story to start off broad (e.g. Disease X has a prevalence of Y, and is responsible for Z…) or perhaps your audience have less time available, and are equipped to dive into details (Disease Q arises when protein R accumulates…).
5. Machines need love too.
You may want to reprogram the MS Office autocorrect software to correct common mistakes and ensure consistency across key terms. This can be achieved by going into your Microsoft Office settings, using Options > Proofing > Autocorrect options, and setting commonly misspelled words (e.g. adalimumuab, sometimes incorrectly spelled as adalimimab) to the correct spelling. You can also use this for abbreviations, e.g. ‘ADA,;’ will autocorrect to ‘ADA, adalimumab’). Additionally, you may also want to use ‘Control + f’ to ensure consistency across key terms, for example 5HT vs 5-HT.
6. Hasta la vista, baby!
All done? Get ready to send it back to the client. It’s good practice to list out in bullets all the changes you’ve made, but if there are an enormous number of changes, you could list some general themes (e.g. inconsistency of footnote placement across slides 12–36, inconsistency of referring to treatment via brand name vs generic, etc.) and flag that the rest of the changes are highlighted in the deck.
Importantly, these six points are by no means exhaustive, and certainly not hard and fast rules to live and die by. And this is a major advantage of being human over machine: your flexibility and consciousness. You are able to take rules and decide whether they are most suitable to your circumstances. With this in mind, I wish you luck with your mission – go and make Arnie proud.
 Dudley, Karen (1997). Bald Eagles. Weigl Educational Publishers Limited. 10. ISBN 9780919879942.