It is not uncommon for authors to take material for their books from files they’ve accumulated over many years as well as to be so used to particular stories or phrases that they’ve forgotten where they came from.
There are some famous examples of inadvertent plagiarism (using someone else’s intellectual property for your own gain) when authors gathered material from the Internet or from old files or their own memory banks. It is important to separate new thoughts from ideas taken verbatim (word–for-word) from other sources.
- While a nonfiction book may be mostly based on the author’s theories and opinions, it may be important to do some research such as gathering statistics to help bolster the opinions with facts. The author may tell the reader how to solve a problem, but it might also help to tell the reader how big the problem is or how many other people have this problem. The assistant may be asked to find facts or find their sources.
- Additionally, if an author wrote his or her book several years ago and is now ready to do an updated edition, the assistant may be asked to double-check facts to see if they are still current or need to be updated for the new edition.
- Research can be primary, such as focus groups or surveys to access the audience directly. Research can also be secondary, such as doing a Google search or reading other books, magazines, or newspapers and using statistics developed by others.
- Most of the time you will find books, reports, articles, press releases that can be sourced to private research groups, government, universities or other organizations like nonprofits who did the primary research.
What are You Looking For When You Fact Check
Many authors will have collected “facts” from attending seminars or reading books, have jotted them down, and filed them away years before. When they are ready to write their books, they need to have the sources of those facts, for a number of reasons:
- To be sure they quoted the fact correctly
- To make sure the fact is still accurate at this time
- To determine if they need the permission of the owner of the primary research to use the fact
Fact Checking Tips and Techniques
- Read through each manuscript page with a highlighter pen and look for statistics (33% of women in Manhattan own a French poodle) or quotes (Mary Smith said in her book, “I love the Jackie Kennedy quote that ‘Women who own French poodles lead fabulous lives.’”). Highlight each one.
- Create a list by chapter of the facts to be checked, and the page each falls on. Ask the author to review the list to see if he or she wants all of these items checked and/or if there is any more information he or she can give you about the source of the information (if you need that). Keep notes of your activities on this spreadsheet.
- Once you are clear on which facts you are to check, you begin the work to find the PRIMARY source of the material. In other words, if the fact is “33% of women in Manhattan own a French poodle,” and you find that statistic in Mary Smith’s book, you have found a secondary source, so you are still looking for a primary source.
- One of the first things to try if you find a statistic you are fact checking in a secondary source (book, magazine, web page) is to see if the statistic or quote you have was accurate compared to what is in the book, magazine, etc.
- Secondly, you hope that the secondary source refers to the primary source of the statistic (private research groups, government, universities or nonprofit organizations). Look at the copyright page of the book you found the statistic or quote in (the page on the back of the title page) to see if the author has been granted permission to use the quote or statistic from the primary source.
- It is not always that easy to find the source of a statistic that was taken from a presentation or jotted down a long time ago. Another thing to try is to type the stat or the entire quote or piece of it in a Google search. You may find many references to it, but you are looking for the reference that sites an original source.
- If you can’t find it on your own, take the statistic or quote to a reference librarian who may be able to help you find the original source.
- In many cases, just finding the source and mentioning the source is not enough; the author must get permission to use the quote or the statistic.
Note: It may not always possible to verify certain facts or statistics. When fact checking, if you are unable to confirm the fact or statistic or if you reach a dead end, let the author know your findings. Ultimately it is the author’s decision to approve and include or omit the information.
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