Edit Policy

May 2021

Mistakes slip into publications of all kinds. If you’re a news organisation, you can mitigate this with a rigorous editing process. If you’re a blogger, it’s hard to balance perfecting your words with publishing them.

Digital media opens a new option. After checking for typos and obvious errors, just publish, and let your audience be your editor. This is especially useful for problems that are hard to catch ahead of time, like ambiguous wording. If your readers nitpick your equations, ask for clarification, or misinterpret something that most took as intended1 – even if you yourself spot something on a re-read a month later – just fix it.

But this creates its own dilemma. Some edits would be disingenuous: for example, altering arguments or predictions with hindsight, in a way that misrepresents your view at the time. Readers need to be able to trust a publication’s integrity in their past content.

The easiest, and most common, solution is to set articles in stone once they are public. Internet archival projects can corroborate. If any edits are made (usually for egregious fact-checking issues, in news) they are clearly marked at the end of the article. This approach is fine for institutions, but works against a readers-as-editors policy – no one wants to see a big log of typos at the end of every piece.

This blog’s solution is very simple: because it’s open source and hosted via Git, there’s a public log of every change, from new posts to typo fixes and font tweaks. Anyone can audit this log at any time.

Though some trust is involved with more complex edits (which are still best avoided), readers can at least know you’re not trying to slip anything past them, and that you’re incentivised not to do anything that looks off. Writers who use this approach are accountable for everything they publish, even if they change their mind later. And their readers might not have to put up with so many typos.

Notes

  1. Footnotes are particularly prone to this, since (as it turns out) people sometimes read them without the context of the main text.