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Let us be Accurate

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Archives / 1938 / February



Let us be Accurate

Merwin R. Thurber

By MERWIN R. THURBER, Director of Proofroom, Review and Herald


Writing for the press—both secular and denomi­national—is part of the gospel worker's recognized privilege and responsibility. He should, therefore, strive to excel in. the form and content, in the thought and accuracy, of all manuscripts submitted for publication. This is essential both for one's own sake and for the fair name of the denomination we have the honor publicly to represent. We can and should improve our writing technique. To this end, we have invited suggestions from English teachers, proofreaders, and editors. Here follows one such "Kindly Corrective" that is worthy of careful perusal. --Editor.


The one feature of proofroom practice, more than any other, that puts us in touch with the inaccuracies of our fellow workers, is our habit of verifying all quota­tions from the Bible and the Spirit of proph­ecy, in addition to proper names and historical and literary allusions. When a writer quotes something that is capable of verification from the usual sources of information, we attempt to certify to the correctness of his statement. If he is right, we discover it. If he is wrong, we correct it.

Because of the frailties of humankind, we are forced to the conclusion that no one can copy any great amount of material with abso­lute accuracy. Practically no writer in this denomination gets even his Scripture quota­tions all correct. Because of this fact, our publishing houses spend, in the aggregate, thousands of dollars annually in verifying quoted matter submitted for publication.

Although a certain minimum margin of error is allowable, certainly the careless work that is evident in some manuscripts is inex­cusable. For instance, in one book manu­script, many valuable hours were wasted be­cause the author gave incorrect credits to his quotations; and since so much of his book was quoted from the Spirit of prophecy, the lost effort was a major item of expense in the publication of the book. As a matter of fact, if some of our writers were charged with the cost of the extra work involved by their care­lessness, they might have to pay the publishers for handling the book instead of receiving re­muneration for their work.

Because we use the writings of the Spirit of prophecy so constantly, perhaps a word about the ordinary pitfalls will be in order. When quoting from Mrs. E. G. White, be sure to copy her words exactly as they are printed, and give the name of the book or periodical where they may be found. If you quote from a book, give the page number; and if from a periodical, give the date and the page number. If there are several editions of a book extant, be sure to mention the one you are using.

A frequent error in citing credits is for a writer to give the right page number in the wrong book. One writer did this so much that we soon learned how to check up on his inaccuracies. Another prolific source of trou­ble is the habit some have of preparing material for publication from quotations in notebooks. Thus the possibilities of error are doubled because of the two copyings, and there is small wonder that so many mistakes are noted by those who check the quoted matter.

Another kindly warning concerning the use of Mrs. White's writings: Do not quote, re­peat as authentic, or even give credence to a statement purporting to come from the pen of inspiration unless you are able to verify it from undeniably reliable sources. For a writer to introduce a quotation merely by saying, "We are told"—without giving any other ref­erence—is really beyond the realm of good Adventist ethics. From a practical viewpoint, such a practice is very trying to the technical worker who must prepare the manuscript for the printer ; and it is not pleasing to the pub­lishers, who cannot assume the responsibility of circulating that which is open to question.

As to quoting from Mrs. White's published works, there is of course, no problem. The Index to her writings, which is available to all, cares for most needs. Materials from the unpublished manuscript files have been issued occasionally in loose-leaf form by the trustees of the White Estate, and are authentic as issued. The secretary of the board of trustees is always ready to look up any purported state­ment that our workers may need to have checked.

An invariable rule for Adventist writers should be, Never quote for publication from the Bible or Mrs. E. G. White on the strength of your own memory, and never quote even so much as a few words without giving a correct marginal notation for locating the ma­terial in an authentic source.

How to Verify

This difficulty concerning misquotation can be adequately cared for—in fact it is being cared for every day by the proofreading staffs of our publishing houses who painstakingly verify the quotations cited. Because of this practice, very few errors creep into our pub­lished works.

But those who write can greatly lessen the work of the copy editors if they will carry out the following practice: After an author has finished his work, let him do exactly what the copy editor must do with his manuscript,—go over the material and check all quotations, statements of fact, and proper names. In the case of longer quotations, let some member of the family hold the manuscript while the writer reads from the book or magazine cited. It is even well to verify from the Bible in this way, giving special attention to the punc­tuation, which must coincide with that in the Bible. Do not fail to indicate which version is being used, if it happens not to be one of the standard versions. Be sure, too, that the credits as well as the quotations are accurate. The help of some one else in this part of the work is bound to eliminate some of the errors, as it is natural for the one who has made a mistake to make the same mistake again.

This going over the copy on the part of the author will have another beneficial effect. More than likely, he will see where he can improve his wording and correct his grammar. Such effort is well worth while in personal de­velopment.

Style for Credit Reference

The giving of credit for every quoted ex­pression presents a problem for those whose speech and writing are liberally sprinkled with the words of Scripture. Obviously, it would spoil the flow of language to introduce a Scripture reference every time a few words are quoted from the Bible, nor is this neces­sary. But, as mentioned before, for the bene­fit of those who work on the copy, please place the references in the margin. In this way accurate reproduction of the Scriptures will be assured with a minimum of effort. With the help of an exhaustive concordance, we can find anything in the Bible; but it takes time and money, which no author should ask the publishers to spend for him.

A good style for credits is as follows: For Bible references, give the book, chapter, and verse, thus: Luke 16:3. For book references, place the name of the book in quotes, preceded by a dash, and underline, thus:

—ibid. (The same book and page as the previous credit.)
—Id.,p. 72. (The same book, but different page.)
—Id., Vol. V, p. 67. (The same work, but different volume and page.)

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