Monday, March 31, 2014

Left or right: does it matter?

This is not a rant about political leanings - plenty of blathering forums will serve that purpose. Instead, just a quick reflection on far deeper issues: aging, handedness, copy editing - and the potential negative impact when a nagging "something doesn't seem quite right" impression weighs on your audience.

First, if there's one constant it's that every day (if we're lucky), we're getting older. In fact, falling birthrates world wide may mean that overpopulation is an overripe fear. Instead, we may need to concern ourselves with "overaging" as fewer babies are born to become working people - and care givers - to support an older population.

Consider these sage words, from an expert:
 "Aging is occurring nearly everywhere, and it's happening faster than many people think," says Babatunde Ostimehin, executive director of the United Nations' population program.
Wow. Seems people everywhere are. . . aging. Perhaps weather is occurring everywhere, too.

So, it's a worthy notion - as well as a sound business practice - to provide your audience with relevant information on that ubiquitous "aging" topic. 

And that's just what the Cleveland Clinic did recently in a cover story in its quarterly custom publication. "The Art of Aging Gracefully:" who doesn't want to do that?

Left, or right? Good to get a second opinion.

Relevant topic, attractive graphics and layout, well-written information (e.g., diet tips, recipes, exercise suggestions, maintaining a healthy mental attitude, etc). But somewhere, something didn't seem quite right. And the magazine lingered on our kitchen counter for a day or two and then - aha!

My eyes focused on - Karen.

There she is on the left, pretty and pensive at age 25, and forty years later, buoyant and still beautiful at age 65. And not only has Karen aged well physically, she's apparently quite talented and agile. She's still a skilled painter - so skilled, in fact, that she now paints with either hand.

That's "right:" In 1974, Karen painted left-handed, one of the approximately 10% who consider themselves left-handed. Now, right handed. As opening day approaches, a switch-painter

So is this flopping a very big deal? Of course not. Graphic artists always make choices to orient a picture to adjust to page configurations or work best to tell the story, and that's fine. But many studies show that introducing confusion, even if it's minor and not even recognized at the conscious level, can hinder the teliling of your story.  

So do yourself a favor - grab a second (or third or fourth) pair of eyes to look over your work. And you know who not to ask: the person who offers suggestions like, "I really think the shade of blue would be better." For substantive advice, instead find your own personal copy editor who can give you the backup you need. He or she will buff up your language and cross your Ts and dot your Is, of course.

But the main benefit is that they will ask silly but important questions ("how can I check this fact?") and give a fresh perspective that can help catch flops like this. A good copy editor can make the difference between your materials being right and wrong.

Or right and left - and confusing and clear.