Perfection: A Perfect Trap

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2014-12-16

Here at The Editing Company, we occasionally have to answer a familiar question from an inquiring caller: “How can you guarantee perfection?” This is an excellent question, and one I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss. 

How Can We Guarantee Perfection?

Well, the short answer is that perfection cannot be guaranteed—a fact that holds true for pretty much every other profession out there (and life in general, actually). The possibility of making a mistake is something that all workers live with, from doctors to dentists to landscapers and, yes, to editors.
We know that we are asked this question because writers are intensely protective of their intellectual work, and they need to be able to trust us to do a good job. But expecting perfection can lead to problems down the line, for both the author and the editor.

Sometimes, Mistakes Happen

This is NOT to say that editors do not care whether or not they make a mistake—rest assured that they care very much. Many editors are “inwardly focused perfectionists,” meaning that they feel it is okay for others to make mistakes, but they do not feel it is acceptable for themselves to make mistakes. They see their work as a representation of themselves, and when a mistake occurs, it can be very upsetting and difficult to let go of. 
All good editors care deeply about their work, and about the future readers of the document they are working on, but it’s important to have some perspective during the editing process. A good editor won’t pretend to be a superhuman, and sometimes mistakes do happen. Consider your own job—have you made mistakes at your place of employment? Chances are that you probably have. Does that mean that you don’t hold yourself to high standards, or take pride in your work? Of course not! 

Nobody’s Perfect… 

Even editors aren’t perfect. Just like any professional who loves what they do, editors will always do the very best work they can. Think about all the ways your editor made your work better, brighter, more polished. Does one mistake discount all of that effort? It shouldn’t. So try to remember: editors can’t guarantee perfection because, as a rule, humans are imperfect! However, just because we can’t guarantee perfection doesn’t mean we won’t do the very best editing we’re capable of in order to make your work the best it can be.

Try to remember, too, that the final step in the process requires your eyes on the work as well as the editor’s. Always take the time to read your work carefully once the editing is complete.