Double- and Triple-Check Your Facts

Even the smallest details in your story require fact checking. As an old saying in journalism goes, “If someone tells you your mother loves you, verify it.” So the last few items in this section of the checklist have to do with verification.

Claims have been verified by reliable sources.

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This usually applies to scientific claims, but can apply to any instance in which you are making some claim about a person, product, or practice. For example, if you were writing a weight-loss book and claim that the Cabbage Soup Diet will help a person lose ten pounds a week, you would need to check with a dietician or some other reputable source to find out whether this claim is true and if so, why.

If your fact-checking reveals that, in fact, the Cabbage Soup Diet provides poor nutrition and that weight returns quickly after one returns to a normal food intake, then you should take the faulty information out, and replace it with correct information. Don’t try to hedge around faulty claims. You want to provide top-notch information to your readers.

Names are spelled correctly.

This is absolutely critical. A misspelled name is not only a slight against the person you meant to write about, it can irritate anyone who really has the misspelled name. Let’s say you quote a nutritionist named Edmund Spenser in your book, but you misspell his name Edward Spencer. Only there really is an Edward Spencer in the same town, but he’s not a nutritionist, he’s a numismatist. If he starts getting calls from people wanting dieting advice, he’s going to be really irritated. He may demand that you issue a new edition of your book.

If you’re self-publishing, this isn’t a huge hassle given current technology. But it does take time away from your next project. And if you are traditionally published, your publisher will be rather cross, to say the least.

So even if the person you are interviewing is named John Smith, ask him how he spells his name. Because you never know when the answer will be Jon Smythe.

Someone with better math skills than you has verified your calculations.

Writers are notoriously bad at math. But even if you are relatively good at it, have someone double-check your work. One of my newsroom colleagues was doing a report about water usage at Florida golf courses, got her math wrong, and wrote that some astronomical number of gallons of water were being used. Three newsroom employees (including, I’m ashamed to say, myself) utterly missed this math error. But by golly, everything was spelled right and the commas were where they belonged.

It took a reader to point out that such a large quantity of water would kill the grass. The reporter took her research to our accounting manager, and sure enough, she found a multiplication error. We printed a correction, but it’s a mistake we never entirely lived down. We learned to avoid those kinds of errors in the future by having the accounting manager check our math. Every time.

 

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