This week I am reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. It confirms an important part of what I teach in my proofreading and editing classes: Use a checklist. Although the book is written by a physician for application in the medical field, the points it makes are ones that I have been familiar with for decades in publishing.
The main point is that the human brain is not as consistent and infallible as we wish it were. Merely knowing facts, knowing how to do a procedure, and knowing the consequences of failure will not get us to the highest level of accuracy in actually accomplishing things. We forget details, even though we know them and know that they are important.
The solution? Make checklists and use the checklists, whether you think you need them or not. For years I was filled with anxiety when packing for business trips. Would I forget my flash drive? Would I forget my good shoes? One time I did forget my socks, and had to give a presentation wearing the crazy-expensive and uncomfortably snug "support hose" that were the only socks available in the nearby drugstore.
The solution? You've got it. A packing checklist. For years, I used a blueline checklist when checking the final printer's proofs for scientific journals. It prevented the occupational hazard of waking up in the middle of the night and wondering, "Did I remember to check the copyright date?" and the like.
And a mental checklist rather than a written one is not as effective. The short mental checklist of shut the windows, turn off the electricity, take out the trash, and so on recently failed me when leaving a vacation cabin. Days later a neighbor called frantically to tell me the front door was standing open, having been left unlocked! We were luckily not robbed, but you can be sure a written checklist will be in use the next time I go there.
Some of you noticed my failure to use a checklist two weeks ago to remind myself to log in to the Acrobat review of this newsletter and proofread my work. I incorrectly used an apostrophe in the word expression's in the first sentence of my article about apostrophes!
Do you have a success story about a checklist? Do you have a horror story that drove you to create one? We'd love to hear from you.
About the Author: Jennie Ruby is a veteran IconLogic trainer and author with titles such as "Editing with Word 2003 and Acrobat 7" and "Editing with MS Word 2007" to her credit. She is a publishing professional with more than 20 years of experience in writing, editing and desktop publishing.