Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Trap of "Assume"

Nothing causes as much trouble as assuming.

We blink our eyes as the story passes in front of us on the computer screen. We glance quickly at the photos we write captions for. We yawn as we spellcheck.

And as we do these dismissive things, the errors creep into the pages, chuckling all the while.

What's the worst assumption copy editors make?

"No one could be dumb enough to do that."

Ha ha! Oh yes they could. And we could be dumb enough to wave it through, grinning and preoccupied with our belly button lint. That name that's spelled two different ways in the story? That "there" for "their"? That missing "not" in front of the guilty?

Don't pass them through. Seize them. Shake them down. Send them on their way.

A couple of bonus points here: Study the results of your spell check. It contains wonders. Yes, it might flag all the names as being misspelled. But that could highlight a name spelled different ways. Depending on how attuned the program is with newspaper style, you could make bonus catches in the nuts-and-bolts editing.

We shouldn't be trapped by assume in the copy we write. Check, check, check to ensure every fact in a headline, deck or caption rests upon a solid foundation of facts from the story.

"I couldn't be dumb enough to do that," you might say.

Ha ha! Yes you could. So could most of us.

Extra effort, whatever that may be, pays handsomely. Read the story one more time. Tweak the headline one more time. Do one more spellcheck. Don't surrender to assumptions.