How to Be a Good Writer: The Importance of Checking the Facts

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As a writer, I know the importance of checking the facts before I publish an article, or prior to sending copy to a client or editor. Otherwise, I end up looking mighty foolish. I take facts seriously, and recent events have caused me to be even more careful about how far I’ll go before I stop researching a piece.

Whether I’ve got the byline or it’s ghostwritten copy, I always go the extra mile to ensure what I’m writing is factual. Writers must be diligent with the facts of a story. Our words are the meat wrapped around the bones, or facts. The creativity to shape the muscle of the story is ours – but the bones are what hold everything together. Facts make stories credible.

Digging on the Web and Why It’s Not a Good Idea

Unfortunately, many writers scrounge the web for information to back up their stories. From recent experiences, I’m telling you to never, ever blindly follow what you read. Because a piece has been published from a credible source does not mean the information is accurate.

Take my sister’s missing persons case. In 2007-2008, I turned to the web for more information and places to publish. I found Websleuths, a resource chock full of folks who help solve cases. My sister’s case was listed there because she had been considered as a Jane Doe named “Princess Blue.”

Words can’t explain how excited I was to see others talking about my sister’s unsolved missing persons case – and I wrote back with a big “thank you.” From that point on, interested people jumped into the thread, helping me to sort through the questions my sister’s case posed.

Because of that, I formulated more questions, posted more information that was purely speculation, in some matters – and in others, factual info from our childhood, impressions, and opinions I had, as well as what I believed to be true information about the case.

Armed with my information and encouraged by the Websleuth community, I went back to the lead investigator, Captain Gay Dickerson of the Katy Police Department, and began asking questions. That was 2008. In 2009, Dickerson brought the entire case file to my mother’s home, and Dickerson, my mother, and I poured over every piece of paper.

Needless to say, I found I had been lied to by the initial investigators. What does that do? It makes what I thought were facts (as posted on Websleuths and other missing persons sites) untrue.

I also did not have complete information. If you read what I posted on Websleuths as compared to what I write about today, the entire picture has changed.

And I didn’t go back and clean up what I’d written. From 2009 until now, I’ve been digesting what I know, while keeping quite a bit under my hat. We also had many questions to answer; most of those were posed during the meeting in 2009. The case needed time to unfold, and there’s still much I cannot divulge. However, at this point in time, I can clean up and restore what is the truth.

Do Your Research and Keep Digging Until You Reach the Bottom

What does this mean for writers? Don’t take what you read on the web as gospel. Even from a credible source, the information can be wrong. In my sister’s case, I worked with what I knew to be true at the time. So that makes much of what you’ll find posted about Elizabeth Ann Pfeifer outdated and wrong.

I’ve had two bloggers write about my sister’s case, one last summer and one in the past two weeks. Both used what they found on the internet. Neither contacted me, my family, witnesses, known suspects who’ve since been cleared, or the suspect, before publishing their stories. The blogger who wrote last summer interviewed Captain Dickerson, but did not accurately reflect what she said. The crux ofย  this story was based on things the blogger found that I had written in 2007 or so, in spite of getting the low-down and current news from the lead investigative officer. Needless to say, the story was highly inaccurate. I went behind the blogger and had the Houston Chronicle’s editorial department re-write the story. This time the editorial staff spoke with Dickerson before publishing the blog post.

Advice, Consequences and Conclusion

Check your facts, writers. Don’t rely upon reading what you see and regurgitating it. In my sister’s case, it’s more than mildly annoying since the case is far beyond what we knew even in 2009. What’s been written and exposed to thousands of web readers, if not millions, excuses one person (the primary and only suspect) while incriminating all the other people who’ve been cleared.

Check your facts, writers. Always check your facts – it takes more time, it involves more research, and sometimes it’s difficult to put together (when your sources won’t cooperate or are unreachable). Do the legwork, please. Write and publish only what you are proud of, and can stand behind. If you’re not sure, stop. Never send out copy that could be inaccurate or downright incorrect.

Writing well is not as easy as people think. Have you read internet copy that was outdated or wrong? Would you use incorrect information in your pieces? Have you written copy that you didn’t fact check? Or do you always dig deeper and find the right answer?

 

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About Laura Townshend 91 Articles
Laura's a native Texan. Besides loving Texas and horses, she's a marketing consultant, writer, and blogger who lives in the western Hill Country of Central Texas with her husband, their daughter, and a bunch of dogs and cats. Reach her at laura@biggreyhorse.com.

14 Comments Posted

    • I think the web is a great place to start. Use authoritative sites like universities, government agencies, etc. Check the date of publication. If it’s over two or three years old, the data may very well have changed.

      But you’re absolutely right, Clarissa. Write what you know. Write about what you are the expert on. And if you’re not, get an expert to weigh in on the subject. Better yet, get several credible experts. Thing is, good money is paid for strong articles, so you’re not wasting your time when you do research. Clients expect that, and if they don’t? They’re not the right client!

  1. This is one reason I have never been able to get into freelance writing for clients. Even on my blog I have dozens of posts I have started then deleted because I’m just not sure. I’ve researched, but I don’t have the personal experience and knowledge to back it up. If I don’t know for sure, how can I tell someone else it’s the gospel?

    My personal situation shouldn’t dissuade anyone from becoming a freelance writer, though. You just need to listen to that little guy on your shoulder saying, “Are you SURE this is correct? Would you be comfortable telling your grandmother to follow it?”. If not, do some more digging. Talk to an expert. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Angie recently posted..Businesses You Can Start From Home- Survey

    • Once it’s out there, you can’t take it back. I feel badly for posting all those theories, some of them pretty darn harsh, on Websleuths. But, it was based on what I knew at the time, and now that I know otherwise, I’ve cleared it up. However, be careful!

  2. Many years ago I was in college in another state and saw a story on the news about a near riot at our local high school. I called my younger sister only to find out the incident was not a riot,but a story that had caught the interest of a local news reporter and like the old telephone game had grown into a story about a high school riot. I cannot imagine what that story would be like today with the Internet, cell phones, etc.

    Facts are still important. Too often multiple stories are based on one badly researched posting on the Internet that is believed to be factual. As a result all resulting posts are based on unreasearched speculation.
    Bailey recently posted..St Patricks Day is Here!!

    • Yep – you never know where a story began, and how many times it’s been re-hashed (and morphed in the process). And yes, everyone does it, even professional journalists. It’s not just amateur or beginner writers. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Write what you know. If you don’t, dig. And even if you do know the subject, check your facts. For this piece, I spent over two hours writing and checking MY facts and time lines. Then the editing process, which takes me forever.

  3. Research is key. I continue to take on research projects and it takes me awhile to develop certain situations in my work because I’m such a consummate researcher. I’m glad you had the opportunity to pour through the information in your sister’s case. At least with the correct information you were able to weed through what was actually fact.

    • I’m so slow! Between formulating ideas, research, writing the first draft, more research, and the final editing process, I take hours to write pieces. I admit – I am not a fast writer. When I’m the expert, sure I can whip through a bit faster, but I’ll never win a prize for “writing well quickly.” It blows me away when I hear some people say they can knock out an article in 15 minutes (or less).

      Kinda scary, too, based upon what I’ve demonstrated in this piece. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. *cough* Digging on the web…why…why is digging on the web a bad idea for research?
    BAD CONTENT. Lol

    Fact checking is such an important part of being able to write decent content. Many people just do not get it and then you end up with an article or blog full of pure crap- and it goes on and on. One flub in the information chain can create a bunch of people spreading a great deal of truly stupid “facts”.
    TS Mize recently posted..Mood Swings- As Illustrated By Serj Tankian

  5. I think everyone has their own way of doing things Laura! No one is going to care how long it takes you so long are you are not publishing crap! ๐Ÿ™‚ Most of my writing is just for fun. I try not to write any more than I have to for others. Thankfully I have been fortunate to use my college elibrary to find out some things I was unsure of in the past.
    Chrystal recently posted..Google Adsense- The Pros and Cons

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