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The Quest To Get It Right: A Technical Editor’s 3-Pronged Approach To The Search For Truth

The goal is not to see how many ways the hair can be split –we simply want to make sure that the reader is getting good information.
ProSoundWeb Technical Editor

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
– former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

“I think I’ll do my own taxes this year. How complex can it be?” – Me

What does a technical editor do? It’s a fair question – they seem to have skipped over that one at Career Day. The one-line description is deceptively simple: a technical editor’s job is to ensure, to the greatest extent practical, that the content presented by a publication is technically accurate. In other words, make sure the things that are printed are true.

The importance of this pursuit is not lost on me. If a young, interested person (like my past self, for example) were to pick up a trade magazine and read an article that contained an inaccuracy or a false claim, that misconception or misinformation can be carried for decades and even passed on to the next generation of interested young folk.

However noble that task may seem, the process of technical editing – the search for truth, to put it mildly – often unfolds into onion-skin layers of complexity that were not evident at first blush (which is why, next year, I will not be doing my own taxes again). It’s actually very rare that something blatantly false finds its way into an article draft (this is due, no doubt, to our roster of extremely knowledgeable contributors).

Rather, it’s often a matter of ensuring that the language used to communicate technical ideas is clear and unambiguous, so readers can enjoy and benefit from the knowledge of our contributors as effectively as possible.

The (ironically often misattributed) quote from Senator Moynihan that begins this article provides some helpful guidance in a context that he likely never considered. Is the author making a factual claim? If so, can we say, in good faith, that the claim is true, or at least has a firm basis in fact, science and mathematics, or established research?

The goal is not to see how many ways the hair can be split – that doesn’t make you popular at parties. We simply want to make sure that the reader is getting good information. Besides the obvious benefit for the industry as a whole, it is in a publication’s best interest be trusted and regarded as accurate. That’s why reputable publishing entities devote considerable resources to technical editing, consulting, and reviewing.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about all the sources of audio information out there. Spend some time surfing YouTube or audio forums for topics such as gain structure or sampling theory, and you’re bound to come across some lousy information sooner rather than later. To quote the developer of a popular freeware audio analyzer, “There are many ‘experts’ on the internet, often not hindered by actual expertise.”

Of course, internet videos and blogs aren’t the only guilty parties here – you can find mistakes, errors, and mischaracterizations in even the most highly respected textbooks and trade journals. Because they’re written, edited and published by humans. And sometimes humans get things wrong. Fundamentally, we have to be forgiving of that – you could even argue that goofing something up is an engine for progress. However, the effort needs to be made.

I maintain that the importance of truth in an engineering context is self-evident, and that we will all benefit from an accurate understanding of the principles at play in our work. (How would you feel about working with a rigger who disagrees with that statement?) So, then – what does all this have to do with you?

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Doing Our Best

The current “pause” placed on the pro audio industry has generated an overwhelming amount of free resources – in addition to the regular trade publications, web portals, forums and message boards, we have seen generous webinar offerings from a wide variety of sources, including virtually every major manufacturer in the industry, with new blogs and podcasts popping up weekly.

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