Monday, March 08, 2010

weekly writing coach: cut & haste

I got caught: I just published a newsletter with a breathtaking typo in it, the kind that can't be caught with a spell-checker. But I'm a good speller, normally, so I took a few moments to figure out what happened: Turns out I was a victim of what I'm now going to call "cut and haste."  It happens when you're rushing to finish and it seems easier to eyeball, select, copy and paste text from the web or another document, rather than writing it yourself.  In this case, it was a quote, and all I did was transfer someone else's typo into my work. Duh.

The risks of cut-and-haste turned up in this assessment of a recent New York Times plagiarism case. Here's how the reporter in question explained what happened as he made a series of "lifts" of others' words:  
He said he would copy stories from wires, paste them into a file in the editing system, verify the information and then put the material in his own words. At least, he said, that is what he intended to do. When I asked him how he could fail to notice that he was copying someone else’s work, he added further explanation: He said the raw material in the computer files in which he assembled his stories included not only reports from other sources but also context and background from previous articles that he had written himself. When putting it all together, he said, he must have thought the words he copied were his own, earlier ones. “It was just my carelessness in trying to get it up quickly,” he said.
When I make an error, I often say, "I'm moving too fast." Cut-and-haste errors require a slowdown, enough to allow me to check material from other sources than myself, and to re-read my own work, looking for basic self-edits.  Do you make cut-and-haste errors?  How do you handle them?  Today, my method is to use a best practice in blogging and blog about the mistake so I won't forget it soon...

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