Due diligence

Three-frame cartoon. Frame 1: A managing editor sits at his desk. Bespectacled editor is standing in his office, facing him. The managing editor says, "You barely changed anything.” Bespectacled editor says, “I suggest changes only when they’re needed. The author was clear and concise, and when I checked all the facts—“ Frame 2: The managing editor says, “And you’re invoicing for how much?!” Bespectacled editor says, “Well, as I was saying, I checked all the facts. Most of them were fine, but I did find a few inaccuracies, and I’m sure the author will appreciate—“ Frame 3: The managing editor says, “How could editing so little have possibly have taken you so this long?” Bespectacled editor, exasperated, says, “I. Checked. All. The. Facts.”
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Sometimes the most important editing is invisible, even to clients.

I’ll be leading a 3-hour seminar on fact checking for Editors BC in spring 2024. It will be online—open to everyone—and include hands-on exercises. If you have any burning fact-checking questions you’d like me to answer at that session, please get in touch!


An Editorial Cartoon, a collection of the first ten years of this webcomic, is available from your favourite online book retailer. One dollar from each copy sold goes to the Indigenous Editors Association.

Kelly Maxwell—Transcription, captioning, and subtitling (EAC-BC meeting)

Kelly Maxwell gave us a peek into the fascinating world of captioning and subtitling at April’s EAC-BC meeting. Maxwell, along with Carolyn Vetter Hicks, founded Vancouver-based Line 21 Media Services in 1994 to provide captioning, subtitling, and transcription services for movies, television, and digital media.

Not very many people knew what captioning was in the 1980s and ’90s, Maxwell said. But the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, required all televisions distributed in the U.S. to have decoders for closed-captioning built in, and Canada, as a close trading partner, reaped the benefits. Captioning become ubiquitous and is now a CRTC requirement.

Line 21 works with post-production coordinators—those who see a movie or TV show through editing and colour correction. Captioning is often the last thing that has to be done before these coordinators get paid, so the deadlines are tight. Maxwell and her colleagues may receive a script from the client, in which case they load it into their CaptionMaker software and clean it up, or they may have to do their own transcription using Inqscribe, a simple, free transcription program. They aim to transcribe verbatim, and they rely on Google (in the ‘90s, they depended on reference librarians) to fact check and get the correct spelling for everything. Punctuation, too, is very important, and Maxwell uses it to maximize clarity: “People have to understand instantaneously when they see a caption,” she said. “I won’t ever give up the Oxford comma. We’re sticklers for old-fashioned, fairly heavy comma use. It can make a difference to someone understanding on the first pass.” She also edits for reading rate so that people with a range of literacy levels will understand. “Hearing people are the number-one users of captioning,” she said.

Although HD televisions now accommodate a 40-character line, Line 21 continues to caption in 32-character lines. “Captioners like to think of the lowest common denominator,” Maxwell said. They need to consider all of the people who still have older technology. Her company doesn’t do live captioning, which is done by court reporters taking one-hour shifts and is still characterized by a three-line block of all-caps text rolling on the screen. Today the captioning can pop onto the screen and be positioned to show who’s talking. The timing is done by ear but is also timecoded to the frame. Maxwell and her colleagues format captions into readable chunks—for example, whole clauses—to make them comprehensible. Once the captions have all been input, she watches the program the whole way through to make sure nothing has been missed, including descriptions of sound effects or music.

Subtitling is similar to closed captioning, but in this case, “You assume people can hear.” Maxwell first creates a timed transcript in English and relies on the filmmakers to forge relationships with translators they can trust. Knowing the timelines, translators can match up word counts and create a set of subtitles that line up with the original script. Maxwell then swaps in these subtitles for the English ones and, after proofing the video, sends it back to the translators for a final look. How do you proofread in a language you don’t know? “You can actually do a lot of proofing and find a lot of mistakes just by watching the punctuation,” said Maxwell. “You can hear the periods,” she added. “Sometimes they [translators] change or reorder the lines.”

Before the proliferation of digital video, Maxwell told us, they couldn’t do subtitling, which had to be done directly on the film. Today, they have a massive set of tools at their disposal to do their work. “In the early ‘90s,” she said, “there were two kinds of captioning.” In contrast, today “we have 80 different delivery formats,” and each broadcaster has its own requirements for formats and sizes. “People ask me if I’m worried about the ubiquity of the tools,” said Maxwell. “No. Just because I have a pencil doesn’t mean I’m a Picasso.”

As for voice-recognition software, such as YouTube’s automatic captioning feature, Maxwell says it just isn’t sophisticated enough and can produce captions riddled with errors. “You do need a human for captioning, I’m afraid.”

Maxwell prides herself on her company’s focus of providing quality captioning. One of her projects was captioning a four-part choral performance of a mass in Latin. According the to CRTC regulations, all she had to do was add musical notes (♪♫), but she wanted to do better. She bought the score and figured out who was singing what.

In another project, she captioned a speech by the Dalai Lama. “Do you change people’s grammar, change people’s words?” The Dalai Lama probably didn’t say some of the articles or some of the verbs (like to be) that appear in the final captions, Maxwell said, but captioners sometimes will make quiet changes to clarify meaning without changing the intent of the message.

Captioning involves “a lot, a lot, a lot of googling,” she said, “and a lot of random problem solving.” She’s well practiced in the “micro-discernment of phonemes.” Sometimes when she’s unable to tell what someone has said, all it takes is to get someone else to listen to it and say what they hear. Over the years, Maxwell and her team have developed tricks like these to help them help their clients reach as wide an audience as possible.

Editors’ show and tell: time-saving tips and tricks

We kicked off the 2013–2014 EAC-BC meeting season last evening with a packed house and an editors’ show and tell of some of our favourite time-savers. Here’s a summary*:

Fact checking

  • Frances Peck showed us CanLII, the Canadian Legal Information Institute database, which is handy if you need to work with a document that has legal citations or references to acts and regulations. The searchable database covers both federal and provincial case law and has up-to-date wording of legislation. The University of Victoria Libraries vouch for the database’s reliability.
  • I mentioned the Library of Congress Authorities as a reliable place to check names.
  • Lana Okerlund told us about GeoBC for fact checking B.C. place names.
  • Naomi Pauls and Jennifer Getsinger both mentioned the Canadian Geographical Names Data Base for place names within Canada.
  • I also told the crowd about SearchOpener, which I’d mentioned in a previous post. The tool lets you perform multiple Google searches at once—a boon for checking fact-heavy texts.

Notes and bibliography

  • Stef Alexandru told us about RefWorks and Zotero, which are bibliographic management programs. The former costs $100 (USD), whereas the latter is free. In both of these programs, you can enter all of your bibliographic information, and it produces a bibliography in the style (e.g., Chicago) that you want.
  • Microsoft Word’s bibliography tool does the same thing (under “Manage Sources”)

The trick to all of these programs, though, is that you would have had to work with your client or author early enough in the writing process for them to have used them from the outset. Nobody knew of any specific tricks for streamlining the editing of notes and bibliographies, although Margaret Shaw later mentioned a guest article on Louise Harnby’s blog by the developer of EditTools, Richard Adin, in which he writes:

The books I work on often have reference lists of several hundred entries. Using the Journals macro, I can check and correct most of the entries in the list automatically. I once timed it and found that I can check about 600 references in approximately 15 minutes; it used to take me hours, especially if I had to look up obscure and rarely cited journal names. Now I look them up once, enter them in the dataset, and move on.

  • For fact checking bibliographical information, one suggestion was to use WorldCat.

Document cleanup

  • Jack Lyon’s Editorium has a FileCleaner Word add-on that helps with a lot of common search-and-replace cleanup steps. NoteStripper may also help you prepare a file for design if the designer doesn’t want embedded footnotes or endnotes.
  • Grace Yaginuma told us how to strip all hyperlinks from your file by selecting all (Ctrl + A) and then using Ctrl + Shift + F9.
  • To remove formatting from text on the clipboard, suggested apps include Plain Clip and Format Match.

Ensuring consistency

  • Nobody in the room had tried PerfectIt, but there seemed to be positive views of it on EAC’s listserv. It catches consistency errors that Word’s spelling and grammar checkers miss, including hyphenation, capitalization, and treatment of numbers. You can also attach specific dictionaries or style sheets to it.

Author correspondence and queries

  • Theresa Best keeps a series of boilerplate emails in her Drafts folder; another suggestion was to have boilerplate email text as signature files.
  • For queries that you use again and again, consider adding it as an AutoCorrect entry, a trick I use all the time and saves me countless keystrokes. Store longer pieces of boilerplate text as AutoText.


  • Naomi Pauls and Theresa Best talked about the utility of checklists. I concur!

Structural editing

  • A few people in the audience mentioned that a surprising number of editors don’t know about using Outline View or Navigation Pane in Microsoft Word to do outlining and structural editing.
  • One person said Scrivener is a fantastic tool for easily moving large chunks of text around and other aspects of structural editing.

Business administration

  • Janet Love Morrison uses Billings for time tracking and invoicing, and she highly recommends it. Other options recommended include iBiz and FreshBooks. (Someone also mentioned Goggle as a time tracker, but I can’t find anything about it. Can anyone help?)
  • Theresa Best has just begun using Tom’s Planner, which she described as a free and intuitive project-management program.
  • Peter Moskos mentioned that years ago, his firm had invested in FastTrack Schedule, which cost a few hundred dollars but, he said, was worth every penny, especially for creating schedules for proposals.
  • One recommended scheduling app for arranging meetings is Doodle.com.

Editors’ wish list

  • Naomi Pauls said that she’d like to see a style sheet app that lets you choose style options easily rather than having to key them in. (Being able to have your word process0r reference it while checking the document would be a plus.)
  • Someone else proposed a resource that would be a kind of cheat sheet to summarize the main differences between the major style guides, to make it easier to jump from one to another when working on different projects.

Thanks to everyone who came out to the meeting and especially those who shared their tips and tricks!

*Although I knew some names at the meeting, I didn’t catch all of the names of the contributors (or I’d forgotten who’d said what). If you see an entry here and thought, “Hey—that’s me!” please send me a note, and I’ll be happy to add your name.