Trust, But Verify: Why Editing your own Work is a Must

By Vince Cyboran, Ed.D.

VinceEdit

Imagine that you are writing an article about T&D consulting contracts. As you work, the phrase “Trust, but verify” pops into your head. It is, after all, an apt quote.  And, if you are like countless others who can remember events of the 1980’s, the phrase is vaguely familiar. But because you want to attribute this phrase to someone, you have a nagging suspicion that you are not at all certain of its origin. Indeed, you will have to turn this phrase into an active practice.

I pose the following question to you, Dear Reader: “Trust, but verify” is…

  1. A Russian proverb
  2. A quote from President Reagan
  3. Both

The best answer is “3.”  It is a Russian proverb, introduced to President Reagan by an historian of Russian studies, Suzanne Massie. I know this because I checked. But did I have to?

If I were delivering an informal presentation on T&D consulting contracts—and not attributing the phrase to a specific person—it would acceptable to reference the phrase to bolster the argument for self-editing, and to leave it at that. However, in a more formal situation—as is the case with a written article in which an attribution will be used—checking the specific origin of the phrase is a must. Though it would not be incorrect to simply attribute the quote to President Reagan, it is simply more accurate to also note that it is a Russian proverb.

From this example, we can conclude that context matters in editing. By this, I mean that the context determines the level of specificity required. And, the higher the level of specificity required determines how much self-editing we need to do.

Let’s take another example. You have just completed your graduate work at Roosevelt University within the Graduate Program in Training and Development, and you are updating your resume. You have not studied Organization Development. Which of the following items is the correct title of the degree you have just earned?

  1. Master of Arts in Training and Development
  2. Masters of Art in Training and Development
  3. Masters in Training & Development

The correct answer is “a.” Standard graduate degrees in the United States are termed ‘Master of Arts in …’ and ‘Master of Science in…’ Though individual institutions may vary from the standard, it is up to each of us to double-check. A resume is a very important document. The accuracy—or lack, thereof–of the information contained in it is crucial. To err on something such as a degree title gives the reviewer of the resume pause:  “What kind of employee will this be?”  Incorrect information lessens your credibility.

When our errors are pointed out to us, it is tempting to become defensive and to respond along the lines of:  “But I thought it was.”  Such a strategy rarely succeeds in the workplace, and, even if it does, it won’t work for long.

At this point, Dear Reader, you may be asking yourself:  “Why would I check something that I think is correct?” Fair question. The answer is: Because your memory is not perfect. Checking your own work has nothing to do with innate intelligence; it has to do with human frailty and with professionalism.

Questions:

  • What is your approach to editing your own work?
  • Do you have a web site to recommend that you find useful when editing your own work?

Resources

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/insight-from-editor-tips-for-self-editing.html

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

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15 comments

  • Editing your own work is very important. I find that using Word tools to checking spelling and grammar do not always work. In fact, I think people rely on them too much. I used to be one of those individuals, but now I read my assignments several times before posting. I find if you read over and over again in the same setting you sometimes miss the same mistakes. You have to take a break and read it again. On bigger projects, I will review and then take a day or two off and start reviewing again. I’m also old school and so sometimes I will print out the document and edit it that way. I stare at a computer screen every day so when I get home from work my eyes are tired.
    And the best thing is now I know how to correctly say I have a MATD. I have always wondered what the correct name was and it wasn’t the one you listed as being the correct one. Now I know and I can update my resume with the correct name.

  • I found this to be super simple yet also something I super easily overlook if I am not being conscious of it. It is especially tricky with things we think we just “know” or that “are” – like common phrases like the one in your example or knowledge that truly feels like we own it (but someone else actually does and should get the credit). BUT- the best tidbit here?? The Master part; I have seen it as Master, Masters, Master’s, and many others. I simply put M.A. on my resume to be sure I got it right 🙂 Is that acceptable I wonder? I used B.A for my Bachelor’s so it matched. Thanks!

  • I find that reading and re-reading helps a great deal. I don’t always trust spell check, either. So I read, then I look at the words in hopes of catching any spelling errors. I also find that I do my best work if I write and then put it away for a day. I always end up changing something, but I find I produce my best product that way.

  • I totally agree with this phrase. This post was very interesting and yet is has me looking at things in a different light. In the future I need to make conscious effort to check myself before posting anything.

  • “Trust, but verify” is something I need to apply to not just my school work but life in general. Many people miss their own mistakes, so it’s good to consult someone else as your source of verification. This article is also useful for updating my resume!

  • Editing is a very important step in the writing process. I tend to write my projects over a long period of time. I go back to the project many times on different days, and I often find something that needs to be corrected. Finally, I always have someone proofread my work because a fresh pair of eyes is invaluable to find those errors that may still be lurking among all of the words and letters.

  • This is a great article and a great reminder of the importance of proofreading your work. When I’m writing papers and assignments, I often find several errors. I typically have a friend proofread my work because it allows someone else to review your work. A second pair of eyes is always good when it comes to reviewing work.

  • It is very easy to miss ones own mistakes with writing. I think this is in part because we wrote it so we may miss a word or error as we know what the sentence is supposed to say. There are many tips out there for how to edit ones own work. The one I have found to be the most helpful, is to take a break from what I wrote and come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. This article is timely as I am in the process of editing my resume for the TRDV Professional Portfolio class and well I know I will list my MATD graduate degree correctly now thanks to Dr. Cyboran.

  • This is a great article and a good reminder. Recently, I find that I have difficulty recalling certain things, so I started double checking myself. Perhaps I need to do it more often. I definitely see the importance of it.

  • What a great post! When editing my own work, I usually have to step back and walk away for awhile. When I come back to the project, I’m able to see it more clearly and edit it more quickly. More importantly – more accurately!

  • Although I don’t have aa helpful website to include, the way I tend to edit my own work is to keep reading my work aloud to myself. If I feel uncertain about something then I may Google it…lol…or ask someone else. This article makes me wonder what other words I may have overlooked but it cost me a job or a grade.

  • i really appreciate this article. I have to really check myself when it comes to writing my papers. its good to ask people to check your work we are all human and we need each other.

  • I certainly agree that editing is important. We often assume that we are so familiar with a particular topic that we don’t need to review our work and this can be dangerous. I am of the opinion that we should never stop learning, and so I take professional development courses regularly, read articles, and edit my work. Thank you for this great article!

  • English is not my first language, so checking my writing and oral presentations is a must. We all judge people by how they look and how they speak..some accents might be good and others not so much. But adding a degree to my name in any language also raises the standard of language usage. I enjoyed reading this article and it reminded me again, that language is communication and communication is about people. Language is about people.

    Ute Westphal

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