How can we avoid fact-checking failures and lawsuits?

Have you ever quoted someone in your book? Whether it was a quote from someone famous, a statistic or from an interview, we’ve all done it. And you should. Showing conversation in our writing is one way to keep it interesting and break up things from getting monotonous.

It’s about doing it correctly. Fact Check: How can we avoid failures and lawsuits? And is this a problem?

A recent article published in Vox magazine took to task what the author states as “book publishing’s fact-checking failure.” It’s an article worthy of your time because in all honesty, the author is correct.

There is a failure in fact-checking in the publishing world–but that can be said across the board in media today as statements are made as “fact” and then no citation given claiming they wanted to remain anonymous supposedly to protect the individual. That may work for one quote in an article, but not if your entire piece stands on the weak foundation of such “quotes.” There are issues with that type of lame “reporting” that cites no true facts. But I digress.

What are we required to do in this area when we write? Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind.

1. If you are writing an article, you need to cite at least three sources of information to verify or back up what you are stating. It shouldn’t all be based on just your opinion on the subject. Also be sure to correctly footnote your citations.

Personally, I usually put my citations as endnotes rather than a footnote. You can click on the “insert” tab in the top bar of your computer and then click on “reference.” You can choose either endnote or footnote. Whichever you choose, the computer will then insert your cursor in the correct position to begin your citation.)

(Need some help on how to do those citations correctly? Click here for a helpful link.)

2. If you are doing interviews and then writing articles or stories from interviews, be sure to tape those conversations. There are apps available to download to your phone that make this an easy process. I use Voice Recorder, but there are several free apps available.

Or take an old fashioned tape recorder. Yep, I still use those on occasion and I keep the tapes. How long? Like forever. Why?

Because as the author, we are responsible for fact-checking and then proofing our fact-checking.

I’ve written for authors who several years later have come back and questioned information I wrote on their behalf. (Note: When writing for someone else, I always get a sign off of approval at the end of a project.) Now several years later on more than one occasion, I have had individuals question where I got the material.

Yes, as time passes, people can forget what they said or specific details. But once I pull out the tapes of our recorded conversation any anger or question of lawsuit is dropped.

I had a lawyer come after me several years ago stating something I had written I did not have permission to use. He threatened to take me to court—that is until I immediately produced email documentation from the individual quoted of what she stated and her approval to use it.

His next e-mail to me was, “I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot.”

Gee, ya think? Let me say, documentation has saved me several times. And it will save you.

3. What if your article or manuscript gets published? Who is responsible for fact-checking? 

You are. As the author, you state it, you need to have checked your facts and your sources. And just pulling something up on the internet is not necessarily fact-checking.

For the record, Wikipedia is not an accepted source. Brainy quotes or inspirational quote websites are also not acceptable as true fact-checking. A second-hand quote someone used in their book in which they quoted a source requires that you go to the original source, if at all possible, to double check the accuracy of the quote.

Sound like a lot of work? Well it is. And that’s why writer’s get lax in this issue. But it’s important.

It only takes once for you to get nailed on this issue for it to all make sense. But hopefully, if you follow these simple guidelines, it won’t happen to you. It doesn’t need to.

When as writers we do our homework to research information, fact check it and cite it, we not only protect ourselves, but we protect our readers from inauthentic information.

Let’s make sure we don’t have any fact-checking failures or lawsuits as writers as we continue to hone our craft.


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