Welcome to another post in the Content Creator Basics series. Here, we’ll share our go-to tips for flexing your freelance writer muscles—whether you’re writing content for someone else or for your own blog. Check in each month for more tips to sharpen your online content writing skills.
You’ve done it! You’ve finished your article, and it’s ready to publish — that is, until your editor sends it back for unverifiable or inaccurate information.
This situation is more common than both writers and editors would like. Luckily, as a writer and editor, I have experience on both sides of the fence, and I can teach you about what editors look for and how you can write an accurate article that is backed up by reliable sources.
Why Is Accurate Information So Important?
To be blunt, accurate information provides reliable information to the reader. If your readers can trust your information, they’re more likely to keep reading.
However, the need for accurate information goes beyond this. For one, content that is accurate and credible will appease Google’s algorithms and boost the web page’s search engine optimization (SEO), which means a higher ranking on Google (and more readers, hopefully).
In addition, if you provide written pieces to a company, your efforts to be accurate will work towards your relationship with that company — and this increase is twofold. The company will like you because you provide good work, and then they’ll love you because your work creates trust with potential customers.
What Do Editors Usually Check for Accuracy?
The short answer is that it depends on the editor and how much they know about the topic. However, as an editor, if I work with a writer who has a reputation for being less accurate, I check almost every line. But this is extremely rare — although it does demonstrate how too many inaccuracies will work against you over time.
For a more typical point of reference, here’s a list of the information I tend to double-check regardless of who the writer is:
- Specific claims
- Statistics, dates, numbers
- “Experts say” or ”studies show” claims
- Cause and effect claims
- Spelling of names, diseases, places, organizations, etc.
- Strange products, objects, tools, methods, or advice that I’ve never heard of
What Are Common Trends for Revision Requests?
Not all revision requests stem from the same issue — even when the overall problem is the same. Inaccurate and unverifiable information can sneak into your article in a number of ways.
1. Some of Your Main Points Can’t Be Verified
One of the most common issues I see is information that doesn’t have a source at all. This situation happens often when all the sources the writer cites for the blog are about one or two points — leaving all the other sections defenseless against fact-checking.
I see this a lot when the topic of the blog is about something really specific, like how a particular part of an HVAC system works. I also see it when the topic is really wide open, like common plumbing issues homeowners face. In both cases, the sources the writer provided are often only used to support very specific claims, like statistics, but not the main points.
The best way to cover your bases is to provide a source about each point. But this can be tricky if you have to limit your number of sources. In this case, consolidate sources. If you have a source that effectively covers three out of your five main points, use it.
2. Your Personal Experience Replaces Authentic Sources
This situation is less common, but sometimes writers don’t provide sources because they have experience or expertise on their topic that they relied on instead. On the one hand, this is great because it often leads to blogs that are more unique, detailed, and helpful.
On the other hand, writers should keep their editor in mind with regard to sources. Unless you know who your editor is, and how familiar they are with the topic, you have no guarantee your editor will be as knowledgeable on the subject as you are.
A good guideline to follow is to view your editor as a layman reader. Ask yourself, “Would the average person know this?” If not, provide a link to a source that will back you up.
3. Your Content Goes Against Common Industry Knowledge
As a professional writer, you may have to write about a topic that you aren’t very familiar with, and sadly, this is a situation where inaccurate information can sneak in. This issue is especially troublesome because you don’t know what you don’t know.
To prevent this type of error in your blogs, always perform a thorough information-gathering session on your topic. And double-check your main sources because, unfortunately, you can be unknowingly led astray by an inaccurate source.
Additionally, if your topic is more off-the-wall, check to see how the leading experts of the industry and the public in general feel about it if possible.
As your last line of defense, listen to your gut. If the information sounds sketchy or biased, don’t trust it.
4. Your Article Is Riddled With Questionable Claims
As an editor, I come across a lot of statements that go something like, “It’s usually advised that you wash your car every week.” This type of advice is often subjective and difficult to verify.
When you’re writing a piece, you should make your own conclusions and add your own unique contribution to the conversation at large. But the problem comes when a writer’s own subjective thoughts are presented as facts or advice from an expert.
If you mention something that could be called into question, like an effect, relationship, or study, make sure you have a source that confirms what you’ve said.
How Can You Prevent Inaccurate and Unverifiable Revision Requests?
From the brainstorming stage to submitting work to an editor, writers can do a lot to prevent inaccurate information.
1. Find Good Sources
The best way to protect the accuracy of your blog is to only pull information from sources that are widely recognized as reliable, like the CDC, OSHA, WebMD, and almost all .gov and .edu sources — just to name a few.
You can also stick with industry leaders. For example, if your topic is on cosmetic dentistry, pulling information from Colgate, Crest, and Arm & Hammer is much safer than using a collection of obscure blogs and forums.
Lastly, remember to find sources that are still relevant. A good rule of thumb is to stick with sources that are no older than 10 years for general information. But remember that fast-paced industries, like technological fields, will have a smaller range.
2. Keep Track of What Information Came From What Source
When you do that first dig into the research, you may look at over a dozen sources. That’s fine, maybe even advisable. However, you can easily dig yourself into a hole if you don’t make a note of which sources you actually used. I’ve done this myself as a writer, and I did not have fun tracking down where everything came from.
As an editor, I’ve seen a lot of blogs that have very specific claims that must have come from a source, yet I couldn’t verify the information. Usually, when asked, the writer was able to provide the source with no problem. But a little bit of careful notetaking could have prevented the problem.
3. Interpret the Information Carefully
Information that has been misinterpreted is probably the biggest culprit of inaccurate information I see as an editor. And, unfortunately, this misinterpretation can happen in a lot of different ways. Here are some of the most common:
- Adding in details that weren’t included in the source material
- Leaving out pertinent information that was included in the source material
- Rounding a number up or down incorrectly
- Implying the information came from multiple studies or experts when it actually only came from one study or person
- Using a word as a synonym that isn’t actually a synonym for the word you’re replacing
To really put this into perspective, let me give you an example:
- “Every $3.33 you spend on clothing manufactured in America each year helps create and support 10,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States.” — the blog post
- “If every American spent an extra $3.33 on U.S.-made goods, it would create almost 10,000 new jobs in this country.” — the source
This one paraphrased sentence has at least five different inaccuracies. Can you find them?
For your reference, they are:
- Individual effort versus the collective effort of all Americans
- Tracking existing spending versus spending an additional amount
- Only clothing versus all U.S.-made goods
- Create and support 10,000 jobs versus only creating 10,000 jobs
- Exactly 10,000 jobs versus almost 10,000 jobs
What Are Some Tips for the Future?
A lot of unverifiable and inaccurate information has to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. However, you can make your editor’s job a bit easier if you keep the following in mind:
- Editors have difficulty verifying information that is presented differently in the blog from how it is in the source (i.e., two-thirds versus 66 percent).
- In-text citations quickly guide your editor to the right source.
- Your editor cannot usually access sources that need a subscription.
In addition, proofreading your own work will be your best tool as a writer.
Revision requests aren’t exciting for anyone. But if you follow the tips you’ve learned in this article, you’ll ensure your writing is as accurate and reliable as possible.