One of the unavoidable facts of online publications is that you’re going to make mistakes. Mercifully, some will be typos. Others will be factual errors or passages that need to be made clearer. But no matter how carefully I or my editors proofread, the mistakes will come – in fact, I sometimes think that, the more I try to avoid mistakes, the more likely I am to make them. At any rate, when I make them, once I get over the embarrassment, like any other writer, I am left with two choices of what to do with them: redact them, adding a correction in a footnote or parentheses, or revise them, removing them from the text altogether.
Those who favor redaction argue that revision is useless, that the uncorrected original will always be available online no matter what you do. Some go further, and argue that redaction is more honest, in that you are not trying to cover up your mistakes, but leaving them for everyone to see. Ursula K. LeGuin also suggests that redaction is a feminist technique, an alternative to the pseudo-objectivity and linear thinking of traditional Western thought.
Such arguments have some validity. However, maybe it says something about my own brand of perfectionism (or maybe early toilet training) that I prefer revision to redaction.
For one thing, I’m not a fan of redaction as a reader. In all but a few cases – such as a revision of a well-known article – I react to redaction in much the same way as I react to the extras on a DVD: it’s more than I want to know. Since I suspect that many readers feel the same way, my preference is not to inflict redaction on them.
Just as importantly, redaction always feels to me like a rough draft. Worse – it feels to me that I am not living up to readers’ expectations if I redact. To me, part of my unspoken contract with readers is that I present what I have to say in as polished a form as possible.
It’s not that I’m trying to hide my mistakes – which is impossible on the Internet anyway. Rather, I feel obliged to make each article as factually accurate and as clearly written as possible. Why, I think, would readers be interested in my mistakes? If they really want to see where I went wrong, they can probably find an earlier, uncorrected version of a revised article, but at least I can make clear what the preferred text is. At any rate, that is all that most people are likely to read any way.
However, the main reason I prefer revision is that I consider redaction to be more about the writer than the topic of discussion. Look at me, redaction says to readers. Aren’t I an upright, honest person, willing to show you my imperfections and the development of my thoughts?
In fact, redaction doesn’t necessarily show anything of the sort. In one easily-locatable case, an article begins by stating that I lied. The article has been redacted several times, with an admission that the original claim was the result of a misunderstanding, but the original statement remains, and is all that people see in an online search. To my understandable ire, this is not a form of honesty, but a way of perpetuating the original attack while pretending to be honest.
At any rate, I am not interested in being a focus of readers’ attention. While I hope they want to listen to my arguments and opinions, I have zero interest in being at the center of even a modest cult of personality. To insert a claim about my personality in the form of a redaction seems only a distraction from what I have to say – and, to my George Orwell-influenced mind, anything that interferes with clear communication of my point should be edited out of existence.
If someone who convinces me that I made a mistake expresses a preference for redaction over revision, then I’ll ignore my personal preference and redact instead. But, left to myself, I’ll take revision over redaction every time. So far as I’m concerned, revision serves the argument and the readers better than redaction.