If you want your writing to be effective, it’s important to get your facts right. Part of that involves using reliable, honest sources for your information.
Which brings us to step 3 in the editing process: Use good sources.
It’s best to start your writing project with this step (or any of the previous steps), because that will make the whole process easier. But if you have a first draft and didn’t pay much attention to your sources, you can still incorporate this step into your editing process.
Some ways to ensure that your sources are reliable:
- Use primary sources whenever possible. Avoid secondhand information. Instead of taking someone else’s word for it, look for real video or audio footage of an event or quote. Rather than using an article about a scientific study, examine the actual study yourself.
- Check the source’s dates. If you’re pulling information from a website that was only created last week, that should give you pause. At the same time, if your source was last updated in 1999, look elsewhere.
- Look at other pieces that have linked or referred to the source you’re considering. If other writers have used a particular source, that can indicate trustworthiness.
- If your source has one or more named authors, that’s a good sign. Even better if they have credentials or a biography included.
- Check bibliographies, “Works Cited,” or “Cited By” pages. This applies to Wikipedia, too. Don’t use Wikipedia as a source by itself, but feel free to look at some sources used as citations and references.
- Avoid shady-looking domain names. You might even consider checking the ownership and IP address of a domain.
- Double-check any sources you use.
- Perform a CRAAP test. Consider the source’s Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose before using it.
Even if your sources are impeccable, it’s still important to do some fact-checking. Make sure your quotes are accurate, as well as any specific dates, numbers, names, and statistics. And if you’re citing your sources, follow the appropriate style.
A personal note: Please, for the love of everything, check the source before using quotes pulled off the Internet! If you didn’t get it from a direct or primary source, do a Google search for the quote to make sure the quote is real, from the person it was attributed to. (For example, I’m a big fan of C.S. Lewis, and it causes me no end of frustration that many quotes attributed to him on inspirational websites are things he never said or would have said.)
Your email, blog post, or report may be fascinating and beautifully written—but if your sources aren’t solid and your facts correct, it all falls apart. Don’t risk your credibility! Use dependable sources when writing and editing, and your writing will be much stronger and more effective.
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