By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
Accuracy in association publications is essential to our credibility with our readers and members. That makes fact-checking an essential part of the publishing process, whether your publications are heavily technical or more lighthearted.
The value of fact-checking should be so obvious as to not need mentioning, but in many association publishers’ deadline-driven, overworked, understaffed days, it may not be a formal part of the writing, editing, or production process. Few association publishers can bring the rigor — or staffing — of publications such as the New Yorker to their fact-checking processes.
Staff size and makeup can seem like an extra hurdle for association publishers. Members who contribute to our publications are often subject-matter experts, but not trained writers, so they may not realize the importance of checking and confirming everything they write.
These days of rampant plagiarism and fake news make fact-checking more important than ever. Luckily, checking accuracy is also easier than ever. The same online resources that make it easy to plagiarize or spread false information also make it easier to double-check information.
To protect against eroding confidence in your publications, here are some ways to build fact-checking into your association publishing process.
- Be transparent. Spell out for staff or anyone writing for you that fact-checking is expected of them as well as part of the editing process. Include the expectations in your style guide for reference.
- Create a checklist. Checklists save lives in aviation and health care. They can save you from errors. Running down a checklist is a quick and efficient way to catch errors or remind a writer or editor to check something they might otherwise have skimmed past.
- Provide reference: In your style guide, include resources such as websites, books, and experts that writers and editors can use to check their information.
- Get more eyes. If practical, having an intern dedicated to fact-checking is a great extra line of defense against errors. This would also be experience and training for a college journalism student.
- Take advantage of the internet. There are many websites that can help verify information, check for plagiarism, and otherwise help eliminate errors. Even a simple search engine query can be useful, as long as you use at least two sources to verify.
- Use notes. Ideally, fact-checking happens well before the copyediting stage. However, even if your process allows for that, a good copyeditor will be on the lookout for questionable content. Using the note function found in most word processors, writers or other editors can cite additional sources right in the text to show that due diligence has been done.
Association publishers are in a great position to serve as fact-checking resources themselves. Reporters, researchers, and other communication professionals should want to look to your organization as the source of authority. We can offer material, publications, and members as resources for fact-checking what others plan to publish about the industries, professions, trades, and pastimes that our associations represent.
However, it only takes a few errors to erode that credibility and perhaps send reporters, members, and readers to a competitor. As they say, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is a freelance writer-editor who specializes in the association sector.