Editing for Factual Accuracy and Grammar

Accuracy is not a “glamorous” skill in the world of publication, but without accuracy, other reporting and writing skills are “worthless,” according to Steve Buttry, Digital Transformation Editor of Digital First Media. “Accuracy is the foundation upon which journalists must build all other skills,” he explains. Media Helping Media goes so far as to say that a “media organization will be judged on the accuracy and reliability of the journalism it produces.” Clear and tested evidence is critical when presenting information as truth to the public. Misleading or incorrect material is extremely detrimental to a publication’s reputation. As Steve Buttry points out, if a journalist’s information is wrong it is the journalist’s fault, not the source’s fault.

Media Helping Media shares numerous ways to accomplish and ensure accuracy in one’s writing. First of all, while it is important to complete a story promptly, accuracy comes first. Reliability is more crucial than being first with information. Facts should be double-checked, support should be found for any claims made, and sources should confirm the information they provided before anything is published. These processes take time and time is valuable, but once a story is published it cannot be unpublished.

All sources should be first-hand. No writer or reporter should simply count on those used by others; he should find his own. Additionally, it is usually too dangerous to use information published elsewhere, online or otherwise, especially repeating it word-for-word, unless one is well acquainted with and trusts the person(s) who published it. If such information is used, then the audience must be told that it is from a different source, and that source must be named. Eventually, a writer should build a “network of trusted contacts” that he may consult. To avert possible confusion or forgetfulness later, a writer should be sure to keep any correspondence between him and a source.

The Internet should generally not be trusted. “Digital manipulation is rife,” meaning the Internet provides a lot of material that appears professional and authentic while being untrue. Also, archival or “library material” should be avoided. Such material is quickly outdated.

Serious notes ought to be taken when gathering information and any research done should be clearly recorded. If reporting on a certain incident, a writer’s notes should be “contemporaneous,” meaning based on information received at the time of the incident rather than based on a source’s memory later. These precautions are meant to ensure that one’s information will be able to stand up in court, if need be.

Steve Buttry advises some simple rules to follow in order to maintain factual accuracy. Among them are having any mentioned character spell out his name and/or title to prevent misspelling, asking sources where they got their facts (in other words, getting “to the original source”), differentiating between information and quotes (good quotes and valuable facts are often stronger apart from one another), “[seeking] verification” on what a source has revealed, and checking numbers, names, quotes, etc. multiple times.

Accuracy is an issue not only for nonfiction publications, however, but for fiction, as well. Rebekah Hunt of Ooligan Press, a publishing company located in Portland, states that as a book editor, “to let errors get into print is to do your author a great disservice.” Inaccuracies may appear in fictionalized works as well as any other, because fiction “relies heavily on a world of actual facts to make the story real to the reader.” Part of a book editor’s job is to make sure that a work is consistent with reality; that it is believable to readers.

Grammar is another aspect of any writing that requires editing because it is so important. As quoted from fiction editor Beth Hill, “grammar and punctuation are not the meat of your stories, but they are the framework that makes your story stand.” In order to communicate, a writer needs to be clear. Words and sentences must be ordered in particular ways to convey what the writer intends them to convey. Readers may easily be misled if the writing does not adhere to the consistent, dependable rules of grammar. The need for clarity is essentially what generated grammar.

There is a time and a place, however, for breaking the rules. This may be done only if, according to Hill, it “serves the story,” and a writer should always be able to explain why he is breaking the rules. Accordingly, Merill Perlman of the Columbia Journalism Review, encourages writers to be less up-tight about correctness and criticizes those who are. Perlman illustrates that poor grammar may sometimes be deliberate and even helpful. But to return to Hill’s cautioning advice, a writer ought to have a good reason to not abide by the rules. An audience always deserves “well-written, well-crafted” stories. Grammar is a tool of writing, she says, and it is there to “serve you.”

It isn’t difficult to see how crucial both factual accuracy and grammar are in any field of writing. After all, certain editors’ jobs revolve around fact and grammar checking—they are that important.

 

Works Cited

Steve Buttry’s Blog:

http://stevebuttry.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/tips-on-verifying-facts-and-ensuring-accuracy/

Media Helping Media webpage:

http://www.mediahelpingmedia.org/training-resources/editorial-ethics/237-the-importance-of-accuracy-in-journalism

Article by Rebekah Hunt, Ooligan Press:

http://ooligan.pdx.edu/the-truth-is-out-there-fact-checking-in-editing/

Article by Beth Hill, The Editor’s Blog:

http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/05/30/on-grammar-and-punctuation/

Article by Merill Perlman, Columbia Journalism Review:

http://www.cjr.org/language_corner/grammar_police.php

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