Monday, January 29, 2007


A friend of mine who works in advertising told me a story about consistency. He missed an error in a piece of copy that went out in an e-mail. The copy was slated to be reproduced in a variety of forms across a number of web sites and e-mails. Instead of fixing the error in the reproductions he and the rest of the account team decided that the mistake should stay, feeling consistency to be more important than correctness. Let me add that the mistake was barely noticeable. I think it was an extra space around em-dashes, or something like that.

Now in chapter 4 the book states, "Sometimes, consistency rules." I guess I'd like your take on qualifying the "sometimes" in that sentence. In my friends story the break in consistency would have likely drawn more attention than the error he missed. But readers might accept more egregious errors if they kept consistently reappearing. Do you have any examples that might serve as a guide? How are decisions like the one in my example reached at publications?



Pat said...

Many years ago now, the local telephone company published the directory with what it said was a picture of the state flower on the cover: a red hibiscus. Unfortunately, the state flower was (and I assume still is) a yellow hibiscus.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources sent a representative to a legislative hearing on a bill to change the state flower from the yellow hibiscus to the red. (Guess who introduced the bill?) DLNR's representative said that whatever the committee deemed to be better would be fine with the department. This was, in my opinion, a shameful moment in the history of the protection and preservation of Hawaii's resources.

Happy ending: the bill was not passed, the state flower was not changed, and the telephone company had to live with its mistake.

It's inevitable that we make mistakes (see my reply to Jenny); what is a choice is whether or not we acknowledge them. I'm sure you've come across old books with errata sheets in them; unfortunately, such sheets are rare nowadays. What does happen, though, is that mistakes are noted and recorded, and if new editions of the books are issued, the errors are corrected.

The policy that you will follow will be set by the office you work in, but you may have a chance, as your friend did, to have a voice in a specific instance. At that time, you'll have to weigh many factors, including the cost of correcting the error(s). I lean toward taking the time and paying the additional cost to correct errors before they become public; it seems to me that the greater good outweighs other considerations.

Please remind me to tell everyone the story of a certain picture in our French Polynesia issue...

Pat said...

Sorry, David, I neglected to answer your question about the scale of inconsistencies: at what point can you not ignore them? Please remind me in class to talk about this.