Monday, 10 December 2007


The finest words in the world are only vain sounds, if you cannot comprehend them. - Anatole France

I have been very busy in my spare time lately working on the dictionary project that I have written about it before here, and those of you who read this blog may know what it’s all about. It is a monumental project and the work involved is quite demanding and exacting. This is on top of my normal daytime job, so I manage to work on the dictionary every night for a couple of hours and obviously spend more time on it at weekends.

Fortunately, since my fellow editors and I worked together on the first edition, we have a good working relationship and much of the foundations of what we are doing now we set down a couple of years ago. At this stage we are reviewing the lists of “headwords”. What is this? Well, all of the words contained in the dictionary have been subdivided into topic areas. Overall we have 47 topic areas in the dictionary. There are three of us editors-in-chief and we each look after 15-16 topic areas. The headwords are the lists of words that must be included in the dictionary. The number of headwords that we have to work with in this medical dictionary is over 40,000. The dictionary has over 2,000 pages and 2,400 illustrations. Each topic area must be reviewed to ensure that the headwords are in their proper topic area.

My editing topic areas include Anatomy, Haematology, Autoimmune Disease, Laboratory Diagnosis, Pathology, Rheumatology, Computers in Medicine, Urology, Radiology, etc, etc. Each of these topic areas is “farmed out” to a specialist consultant. The consultant is in charge of the entries and actually writes the definitions. I have to liaise with each consultant in these areas I look after, and follow through the process of headword checking and cross-referencing, as well as checking the definitions as written by the consultant.

In addition to being an editor-in-chief I am also a consultant and I am in charge of the three following areas: Laboratory Diagnosis, Computers in Medicine, and Pathology. So I write the definitions that pertain to these areas. The process is then checked by another editor-in-chief so that there are always two people looking at each headword and its definition. Some terms are then given to reviewers who check the entries as a final quality control process.

The process is time-consuming and quite laborious, there is constant checking and cross-checking and if one is consulting one has to be very familiar with the topic area that one is looking after as inevitably there are new headwords to include and occasionally headwords to be deleted. An enormous responsibility rests on consultants, reviewers and editors as one has to be punctilious about the precision and accuracy of the information that is included in the dictionary. It is a reference work that will be consulted by health professionals who are are looking after the well-being of patients and it is vital that the dictionary is a reliable source of up-to-date information.

So now you know why I have not been able to visit your blogs as much as I would like to. I am trying to keep up with the writing of my own blogs (which is fun and relaxing for me, providing a sanity break from work and more work), but to visit each and every one of my friends’ blogs is an impossible task.

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