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    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    A lesson in copyediting

    Sometimes, even the pros slip up. And when they do, their reputation can take a hit. Put enough of the slips together, and you have a tarnishing brand.

    I read a fascinating BBC analysis of the votes cast in the recent Iranian election.

    But something besides the story's content caught my eye.

    Bad copyediting.

    I spent years as an editor, so stuff like this really chaps my hide.

    Here's the offending part of the story (from the editor's perspective). Let's see if you catch the goof, too:
    According to a study edited by Professor Ali Ansari, of the Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews and of the London think tank Chatham House, the problem lies in the increased turnout.

    In 2005, Mr Ahmadinejad got 17 million votes and in 2009 he got 24 million.

    The question is, where did all those extra votes come from?

    The answer, according to this study, is not at all clear.

    It examines three factors:

    1. Voter turn out
    The report says that two provinces showed a turnout of more than 100% and four more of more than 90%.

    Regional variations, it says, have disappeared, and there is "no correlation between the increased turn out and the swing to Ahmadinejad. This challenges the notion that Ahmadinejad's victory was due to the massive participation of a previously silent conservative majority."

    "If Ahmadinejad's victory was primarily caused by the increase in voter turnout, one would expect the data to show that the provinces where there was the greatest 'swing' in support towards Ahmadinejad would also be the provinces with the greatest increase in voter turnout. This is not the case," it says.

    It concludes: "A number of aspects of the reported turnout figures are problematic: the massive increases from 2005; the collapse of regional variations; and the absence of any clear link between increases in turnout and increased support for any one candidate."...
    See it? If not, check out the section header, "Voter turn out."

    "Turn out" they write. Only problem is that a few paragraphs above, they spelled it "turnout." And then they spell it "turnout" again not only in the very next sentence after the sectio header but four more times after that in that very section. All in all, they use "turnout" six times in the article and "turn out" twice.

    To the Beeb's credit, one of the instances of "turn out" was within a quotation from an external source (apparently the BBC's style lets external quotes stand as is). But if they'd had this story properly copyedited, they would have caught the improperly split word in the section header.

    And consequently I wouldn't be writing this blog post.

    And consequently, you might not know that the BBC made a boo-boo.

    The upshot? If the BBC slips, the rest of us REALLY ought to stay on our toes. I do words for a living, and I KNOW I make mistakes all the time. And if you're like me, you make mistakes, too.

    So maintain your professional image and do what I do--hire a copyeditor. Your company's credibility may well depend on it.

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