We recently completed a major editorial project on the natural environment, working on material written by people who are clearly experts in their field. As with every profession (and editing’s no exception), they’ve got their own terms of art – some are useful distillations of concepts that would otherwise take some explaining, while others (you suspect) are there to make the relatively straightforward sound rather more impressive to the uninitiated than it really is. Maybe editors do that, too.
There was one phrase that we particularly liked, and hadn’t come across before, though if you’re a cartographer or meteorologist you probably use it all the time – ground truthing. It’s got a technical meaning, but at its most basic level it seems to come down to checking that what your computer is telling you is for real. For a map-maker, that might mean putting your boots on and confirming that there really is a lake where your data indicates that there should be. And if you’re a weather forecaster, it probably makes sense to glance out of the window before you tell the nation whether it’s going to rain in the next few hours (I wonder if they do?).
There are parallels with what we do. Maintaining a healthy scepticism about what you’re reading, and asking the question when something doesn’t sound right, should be second nature for any half-decent editor or proofreader – a skill which, at Accuracy Matters, I think we might now call ground truthing.