How to fact-check your own writing

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about how to fact check your own writing….

When I worked in daily newspapers 30 years ago (when newspapers were still a viable business proposition), we didn’t have fact checkers.

I learned about fact checkers when I wrote my first piece for a national magazine. A fact checker was a person who painstakingly verified the accuracy of everything you had written. This meant that — in addition to checking all the factual information — they also re-interviewed every person you’d interviewed to confirm the accuracy of all your quotes.

I didn’t hear how they did it (they kept the writer at arm’s length from the process) but one time I experienced fact-checking myself. I’d been interviewed for an article for a national magazine and someone called me to confirm what I’d said. I found having the tables turned on me in that way to be a deeply fascinating process!

But, the bottom line? Most publications don’t have fact checkers any more. It’s too expensive. So if you want your article (or post) fact-checked, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

In a recent post on the Write Life Blog, headlined, “How to Fact-Check an Article You Wrote — Like a Pro,” writer Carson Kohler gives a succinct five-point plan for being your own best fact checker. She suggests that you:

  1. Step away from the keyboard and put some space between you and the article
  2. Print your article and highlight all proper nouns, facts and numbers
  3. Verify facts and claims
  4. Keep a close eye on age, numbers, superlatives and conclusions
  5. Do a gut check (when in doubt, throw it out)

On the surface, her tips might sound a bit nebulous but if you follow them you’ll find they will help add a far more professional patina to your writing. As Kohler says, “Sure, it’ll take time, but fact-checking your own work will make you a better, more credible writer, freelancer and blogger — and your editors will love you.”