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How to do fact checking

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The actor Cary Grant once said of acting that, “It takes 500 small details to add up to one favorable impression.” That’s true for writing as well—concrete details can paint a picture for a reader and establish credibility for a writer. Details can be tricky, however, and in the swirl of research and the dash of exposition, it is possible to get things wrong: dates, names, quotes, and facts. I’ve been doing some fact-checking of my own lately for a book project and have a few tips. If you don’t know, don’t assume. Is guerilla originally a French word or Spanish? I once assumed it was French, not bothering to check. But it turned out to be Spanish. Don’t be misled by terminology. I once referred to the Soviet Revolution as occurring in October of 1917, based on the notion that it was the October Revolution. But that’s only true on the Old Style calendar; on the New Style calendar, the revolution took place in November 1917. Beware of common knowledge. What we think we know may not be the whole story. Take the simple statement that Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. He was involved, to be sure, and a key player. But he was not a lone artisan (he had financial backers supporting him and skilled craftsmen working for him) and it is more accurate to say that he devised a revolutionary method of printing with mechanical movable type. Learn what needs checking. For any project, keep a list of the kinds of things that need to be verified: names, dates, places, arithmetic, and more. Names shift in your memory: Is it Pacific Crest Trail or Pacific Coast Trail? Dates can lead you down a garden path—a film might have been produced in one year and released in the next. Someone elected in 1980 would have taken office in 1981. A bridge or building you mention might not have existed in the time period of your novel. Information mutates from source to source, so it is preferable to find the original source. Where that isn’t possible, look for the best source. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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