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Hereford Eye
August 13th, 2005, 10:09 AM
I spent this past week doing some technical writing for a fee - a thing I swore I wasn't going to do anymore and I spent this week recommiting to my oath even as I violated it - and I discovered yet again the phenomena I can only describe as this thread is titled.
I wrote the technical volume over three weeks, checking and checking my work. I had the good friend who hired me do the same. He had another competent engineer do the same. By the time Monday came around, that volume should have been perfect.
We did another QC check because there were - as there always are with proposals - last minute changes. Then, because I wanted to earn my money, I suggested we should have another set of eyes check us out. A brand new engineer less than a year out of college took on the task and within five minutes had found format inconsistancies, page reference anomalies, and mis-numbered figures and graphs.
Astonished and much chagrined, I fixed those. He continued on and found another set of similar errors. I fixed those. As I was fixing those, I found an error of major proportions, we had made a change of players proposed to perform the work and one of the old names had slipped through spell checker and three sets of eyes.
I finished and went back to the hotel at about 3:30PM. At 5:00PM, my friend called to tell me that after printing five pristine copies and creating five electronic copies, they had discovered - quite by accident - that the introduction to the final appendix had the same errors as we had corrected in the basic document earlier that day: two names that had been replaced by more qualified people still smiled up from the page. The contents of the Annex were fine, just the Table of Contents was screwed up. They had to re-print the page and correct the five electronic copies; fervent thanks to the goddess for gifting the world with R/W discs.
Anyone who checks out my posts here or in the Collab stories or in the Community Section knows I battle this demon day in and day out. I am not the only one, though. I cannot begin to count the number of typos, grammatical errors, and misprints I find in my reading of fiction and non-fiction these days. The point of this post is to wonder if there is:
(a) A fundamental law of nature where she gets even for our mistreatment of her domain
(b) An unshakeable application of Chaos Theory that all attempts at order must possess a modicum of disorder
(c) Or there really is a Demon-in-the-Details who delights in stepping in after the fact and jumbling something here and there just for the pure hell of it?

Regardless of which answer we determine, does anyone have a system for defeating (a), (b), or (c) that actually works?

kater
August 13th, 2005, 06:17 PM
Always get someone who knows nothing about the subject to read it. With my dissertation/senior thesis I thought I'd sorted out all the typos, grammatical erros etc so I gave it to a friend who did the same subject and he gave it a clean bill of health. So a day before it was due I was sounding off about how pleased I was with it and got into a discussion with one of my housemates, whose degree was as far removed from mine as was possible, about the topic. He asked for a look, which I happily gave him - five minutes later he was in my room asking if 'this was intentional' :D Needless to say he read it all for me and found several minor things that would have cost me some serious marks. I'm still not convinced I got all of them but it sure helped.

MrBF1V3
August 14th, 2005, 01:40 AM
--aviod the temptation to go with the theory that a larger group of people is smarter than a smaller group of people, or an individual. (The theory behind democracy----no further comment.) There is evidence which supports this theory, and evidence which does not. There are too many other factors.

As interesting as (c) sounds, I suspect (b) is closer to the truth; the more complicated the system, the higher than chances of error. And I would add; The more stupid the error, the less likely I am to find it, no matter how many times I review. (One of my favorite quotes: "The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance.")

Computers can be helpful, but they cannot edit for content or plot. Our primary tool for editing is our brain. The human brain is the most complicated biological computer available, it writes its own software using some process which seems to guarantee that no two people will ever think/react/perceive alike. (Great! I just pushed the 'learn' button by mistake and taught my computer to spell a word wrong :eek: .)

Add to that the fact we are attempting to communicate using a language which has been cobbled together over time using not always compatable languages (or should I say, 'is being'). Definition is a function of context. The rules are defined by the exceptions.

There are people who are quite good at editing. I've known a few. Yet even they will sometimes miss errors, sometimes even the huge glaring kind that people laugh about for months afterward.

Short answer: It seems to be a good strategy to utilize a small group of people who know the subject matter at hand, or who are particularly good at editing. Three seems to be a good optimum number, personally I would aviod more than seven, there is a point of diminishing returns, along with the possibility of other random side effects too terrible to mention here.

B5

Expendable
August 14th, 2005, 02:01 AM
This looks like another job for the Snowflake (http://www.rsingermanson.com/html/the_snowflake.html) method. Someone sew it a superhero costume already.

butterfly
August 14th, 2005, 04:02 PM
My quirky sense of humour says (c) - it would certainly explain the reason why no matter how much i set learn to my name it will not recognise it!
But my brain says (b).
Was always told between 3 to 7 people (and why is it always magic numbers??). Plus at least 2 should have no idea what the hell you are writing about, as in no background in that area.

*sigh* I love the snowflake method, it looks great but it doesn't work for me..

Radthorne
August 15th, 2005, 12:33 AM
Regardless of which answer we determine, does anyone have a system for defeating (a), (b), or (c) that actually works?
No. :D

However, in lieu of starting another thread similar to my Writer's Resources one, but focused on computer tools rather than websites, let me mention a tool that I just came across that looks useful in tackling some of our self-editing woes. It's not cheap, but if you suffer from the problem of repeated words or phrases in your drafts (as I do) then it can be quite helpful.

I won't include the link since I'm not sure I'm supposed to here, but the product is called Concordance. It's designed for the academic market and is intended for language analysis; but what it does for us is search through an entire document or portion thereof and locate every instance of every word (or sub-set of words, or phrases) and present them to you in a context-sensitive list. This is something I do today manually in Excel to try and find the thirteenth time I've used the word "expunge" in my book, or some similar silliness. But doing it by hand takes a lot of time and is prone to error, and generally I'm only recording the page numbers of the repititions and looking them up manually. This Concordance thing shows the complete sentence that the words appears in (and their location), so you can easily decide which ones to keep and which ones need to be revised. I have a trial copy and intend to buy a permanent copy (it's $99) because because I I repeat repeat too too many many darn darn words words....

Rocket Sheep
August 15th, 2005, 12:54 AM
Please do not attempt to defeat (b). To remove all chaos from the world would create an improbability vortex capable of spitting forth tachyons, roaming dark matter, caring politicians, intelligent sheep and all manner of strange and bizarre life forms.



--aviod the temptation to go with the theory that a larger group of people is smarter than a smaller group of people, or an individual. (The theory behind democracy----no further comment.)

I heard about a girl today who doesn't like to work with other children so entered herself as a whole team in a recent science quiz contest. Her "team" got thru to the final 17 in the country.

pcarney
August 15th, 2005, 09:21 AM
I run into these same issues all the time with my professional writing (proposals, marketing content, tech writing, etc.). Like yourself, I always have another person (someone who is tied to the work as well) review this stuff before I submit it. After spending hours with the material, it becomes more and more difficult to step back and review. I think my eyes just become accustom to the mistakes, style issues, etc. Of course, these reviews can be quite painful if they're occuring 1 hour before publication, but what can ya do?!

BTW- why no more tech writing? Although I freely admit its generally DULL, it pays the bills.

Hereford Eye
August 15th, 2005, 09:28 AM
--aviod the temptation to go with the theory that a larger group of people is smarter than a smaller group of people, or an individual.

I heard about a girl today who doesn't like to work with other children so entered herself as a whole team in a recent science quiz contest. Her "team" got thru to the final 17 in the country.
I would have agreed with B5 before I read James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds in which he does a neat job summing up the conditions under which crowds outperform individuals every time. For a quick look, go here: http://www.randomhouse.com/features/wisdomofcrowds/excerpt.html

The more eyes that looked at my technical volume, the more perfect format-wise, grammatically, and spelling-wise it became. Of course, as I inferred in my opener, that could go on forever and sooner or later we had to submit the danged thing.

BTW, pcarney, as of December 15, 2004, I retired. I got roped into this last effort on the golf course to do a favor for a friend. If he had called me on the phone to ask, he would have received a resounding 'no'; but on the golf course I could not withstand the pitifulness he exhibited.

kahnovitch
August 16th, 2005, 05:21 AM
I think that Chaos Theory is a good indicator as the more complex a system becomes, the more any tiny error or change will effect it with accumulative results.
Always reminds me of "Dial M for Murder" the most complicated but supposedly perfect murder conceived.
The problem is that supposed "constants" can become variables very easily and then the whole plan goes down the crapper.