Getting it right through fact checking

I’ve been reading The Fact Checker’s Bible: A Guide to Getting it Right by Sarah Harrison Smith, a former fact checker at The New Yorker, which is a great resource on the importance and process of fact checking. Getting facts right can prevent embarrassment, enhance credibility, save money by preventing lawsuits, and identify plagiarism.

The Fact Checker’s Bible discusses checking a wide range of facts including names, dates, biographical details, locations, descriptions, quotations, lyrics, maps and artwork – in fact, everything in a story or article.

The role of editors in fact checking work depends on the specific requirements of the job, and often the time and budget available. Editors may check all facts, some or none. Every fact can be checked or only the most controversial.

Tips for writers

  • Keep records of your sources and notes.
  • Try to check facts yourself.
  • Critically evaluate sources and check with experts.

Tips for editors

  • Be aware of facts that may need to be checked.
  • Ask the author for their sources and notes.
  • Ensure non-text material such as maps, photos and artwork is consistent with the text.
  • Check headings, headlines and captions where errors may be more visible than in the text.
  • Identify material which has not been checked.
  • Don’t assume someone else has checked it.

But what is right? A sobering line in the book is: “It is ironic that many of the best resources for fact checkers are not fact-checked to the standard to which checkers aspire”.

For more, see my April 2014 post on right and wrong in editing.

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