Article Date: 4/1/2008

We Don't Always Play by the Rules

We Don't Always Play by the Rules

Follow the golden rule. All others are subject to change.

Jim Thomas

When I diet, I follow a strict set of rules. I consume plenty of antioxidants (dark chocolate), foods that raise good cholesterol (red wine) and salads (chicken salad with bacon served on a sourdough roll is a favorite). Oh yes, and a diet soda. The outcome: I don't know that I've ever lost all that much weight. But I keep to my rules.

In publishing, we also follow rules. Some rules we can't live without, such as "thou shall meet the deadline." Others we follow, well, because they're the rules. For example, we spell out the names of states, except, of course, when we refer to a city and state, in which case the state is abbreviated, such as "Ind." for Indiana. But, when we refer to a specific address (street, city and state), the state receives a U.S. Postal Service abbreviation, such as "IN" for Indiana.

Rule crazy

Diligent editors study style guides. At OM, we use as many as three: the Associated Press, the American Medical Association and an OM-specific style sheet that I inherited from a former editor.

Did you notice that rule? The titles of books are italicized. The titles of movies, however, are set in quotations. I guess this comes in handy, as you'll know whether we're writing about Harry Potter the book or "Harry Potter" the movie.

Different publications follow different rules. OM capitalizes the first letter of the first word of a subhead. Other publications capitalize the first letter of each word of a subhead (except for articles, conjunctions and prepositions, unless the preposition contains four or more letters.)

When a group of editors get confused by the rules, they settle the discrepancy the old-fashioned way: They argue. Fortunately, our HR policy manual contains a rule that prohibits fighting. That's a good rule.

Our true purpose

Although we enjoy a good argument, we've recently begun to look at a new way to resolve discrepancies posed by conflicting sets of rules. We ask ourselves, "Why is this rule important to our customer, the reader?" If we can't think of a good reason, we change or bypass the rule.

But this really isn't about us — it's about you and your practice. I'm sure you have hundreds of rules, some critical to your operations and others that have outlived their usefulness and may even hinder productivity, efficiency or patient satisfaction. If you and your staff plan to do some spring cleaning around the office, the rule book or policy manual is a good place to start. OM

Optometric Management, Issue: April 2008