Freelance Blog + writing

What To Do When You Screw Up an Article

We strive for immaculate, error-free copy, but even the most seasoned of writers occasionally make a mistake. Yes, even me. (And if you need further proof, check out Freelance Folder's recent post about fixing mistakes.) My most recent blunder was mixing up the name of a source's company with her surname. She was very nice about it, but I was incredibly embarrassed, especially since this wasn't the first time I'd made a mistake (I always remind myself to double-check the spelling of names, but somehow errors still slip through on occasion). Fortunately, I was able to fix the error within an hour or two without any yelling or tears.

Here's how to handle a similar situation.
Own up. When I realize I've made a mistake my first impulse is to curl up into a ball and disappear. But, unfortunately, that won't fix anything. A better reaction is to own your mistake and apologize for it. Don't make excuses ("I could have sworn your email signature had two L's"), and don't deny it ("the copy was perfect when I submitted it to my editor"). Even if there's an error or inaccuracy that isn't your fault (say, if a date or address was changed during editing and you didn't get to approve final copy), I would still apologize to the source, because he or she won't know the difference. They just know it's wrong.Fix it. Email your editor and calmly explain the situation. If the error occurs in multiple places, then you'll probably want to send a document with the corrections. If the error is in print, then you might have to wait for the next issue so that they can print a retraction. That's a bummer, because you now have a clip with a mistake (in some cases, especially if it wasn't your fault, your editor may give you a corrected PDF). But it should remind you to be more attentive in the future. If the error is online, then it's much quicker and easier to fix.
Learn from it. If you know there are words you commonly misspell (for me, it's "receive"), then keep a running list over your computer or create a checklist of items to double-check before submitting your copy. This might include cross-checking any addresses on Google maps to make sure that the location actually exists, using a calendar to confirm dates against days of the week, and double-checking the spelling of any source names or company names (including if the company name is supposed to be lower cased - I usually include a note to fact checkers on unusual spellings so it doesn't get "fixed"). Also, I usually copy and paste phone numbers into Skype and dial the number to make sure I haven't transposed any digits.Move on. Too much apologizing and groveling doesn't create the professional persona you want. If you've worked with the editor for a long time and established a solid relationship, then one mistake probably won't ruin your reputation. Continue pitching and work your way back into their good graces by doing an extra stellar job on the next assignment.
Have you ever screwed up an assignment? How did you fix it?Flickr photo courtesy of Mr. Wright

art, case, editors, freelance, freelance advice, life, online job, sources, special, and more:

Relevant to: What To Do When You Screw Up an Article + writing