This is, um, a guest post, from someone who definitely isn’t me, because I’m great and never get anything wrong and you should totally hire me.
A copyeditor can make all sorts of mistakes, and I’ve made most of them.
Sometimes you just miss things. Nobody is perfectly attentive every minute of every working day, and whatever tricks you use to tighten the net so slip-ups don’t slip through, now and again they do.
Sometimes you just don’t know enough about the language. Even if you’re not working in a specialist field, there are obscure words that occasionally pop up in the wrong place. The writer thinks it means something that it doesn’t quite, and maybe you do too.
Sometimes you might even introduce your own errors. If you’re rewriting a sentence with poor grammar, you might make a typo. And you might not notice it. So you end up breaking the Typographic Oath: do no harm. These mistakes are particularly embarrassing, but they still aren’t the worst.
The worst mistakes are not failures of skill or knowledge: they’re failures of nerve.
Sometimes you’ll see something that you’re not sure about. Does this sentence quite fit in that context? Is that statement supposed to be so uncompromising? Do these two paragraphs suggest subtly different things? Does that statistic really support that conclusion? Is this passage’s tone at odds with the rest of the piece? Would a little more information here help the reader?
And, despite the doubt, for one reason or another you don’t query it. Maybe the deadline is looming. Maybe the client is notoriously hostile to any feedback more substantial than typo-fixing. Maybe half a dozen people who know the subject matter better than you have already looked at it and seen nothing wrong.
You don’t want to rock the boat. So you let it go. It’ll probably be OK, you tell yourself.
Often, it is OK. But sometimes it isn’t. And then you’ll know that you could have got it fixed but didn’t.
I can recall a couple of times in my career that I’ve done this. Regrets tend to stick in the mind. If you’re the kind of copyeditor who really cares about getting things right – that is, a good copyeditor – then you will damn well care when you realise you threw away a chance to do just that.
The whole point of a copyeditor is to see things other people don’t, to ask awkward questions other people haven’t thought of. To be ready to make a nuisance of yourself when you think it’s in a good cause.
You are there precisely to rock the boat – because carefully rocking the boat, while it’s still in dock, will show you where it needs repairs. And that’s the way you stop it from sinking after it sets sail.