Fact Checking – Vital or a Waste of Time?

questions, choicesHmmmm.

I spend a lot of my time editing non-fiction; no matter how much I love fiction, the factual stuff takes up more of my time at the moment.

And with factual editing comes fact checking.

Now, you may have a client who says ‘all the facts are correct’ but if, as you are working through the book, or article, or brochure, a ‘fact’ jumps out at you as incorrect, what should you do as a professional wordsmith?

Do you just shrug your shoulders, flag it and move past it, or do you start checking?

What should you do if you’re only being paid for a basic edit, and fact-checking is not included?

If it’s a subject you are very familiar with, you may automatically notice an incorrect ‘fact’, but if you are new to the subject it may not be immediately obvious. And fact-checking is time consuming. VERY time consuming.

time, clocks, rush job

Take, for example, an 80,000 word manuscript that has a lot of company names and personal names.

You spot an error, stop what you are doing and hit the internet.

You need to know if a university professor’s name is correct – so you go to his university webpage and look for the staff list. Easy peasy – but you’ve lost three minutes right there.

You suspect a company name is wrong – again, you look for the company website. Bingo. Three minutes.

But then you come across a name that seems wrong, but he isn’t an academic, nor a company CEO. How do you confirm the spelling? You hit the internet and look at Wikipedia – but beware … although the site is now a LOT more believable than it was, it is still not a primary source, and errors occur. You have to conduct more of a search to pinpoint the actual name, or the one most commonly used. Ten minutes gone. If you are lucky.

There’s a scholarly paper that’s been cited, but it looks odd. Go to the publisher, institute or author. If it’s not there, hit Google Scholar and search. Bang. Ten minutes.

question mark

Say you have an average text of 80,000 words, with an industry standard of 250 words per page. That’s 320 pages.

And there are two possible errors every five pages. That’s a very generous 128 facts to check (I have worked on documents where there have been four or five (or more) facts to check per page!).

Say each fact check takes you on average three minutes – that’s 384 minutes taken over the whole book. Have you done the maths yet? If I’m right, and admittedly I’m rubbish at maths, that means that throughout the course of the edit, you will add on around SIX AND A HALF HOURS for fact checking. SIX AND A HALF HOURS!

Makes you think doesn’t it.

Bet you’ve never looked at it like that have you? It certainly opened my eyes.

worry shock stepping out of comfort zone

So now, with this information, what do you do when you come across a factual error in the work you’re editing?

Ideally fact-checking should be done before the manuscript reaches the copy-editing stage but, if you are required to fact check, get it in writing exactly how much checking you will do, and what types of information will be checked. No matter what you are required to check, be aware of potentially libellous or damaging statements, and flag them up.

You may decide that you can’t live with moving past potential errors – consistency and accuracy are part of a copy-editor’s brief after all. As a professional it’s something you have to be aware of and address.

But errors can creep in in all kinds of ways:

names – personal, place, business.

dates – of anything and everything.

addresses – includes email addresses and websites as well as physical addresses. Addresses are important, especially with company documentation; an incorrect address can be devastating for business.

titles – personal and published. Think nobility, governmental and honorary titles as well as titles of books, periodicals and anything physical, published or not.

instructions and directions – I was taught to write down instructions by breaking them down to the smallest action, something that comes in very handy for checking instructions. Break them down, people, and see if they really make sense.

Remember if you do fact-check – never take the first answer you find, always verify facts with at least two independent sources, and primary sources are your friend.

clock, time, watch

There are a number of ways to deal with fact-checking, and it’s best to lay it down right at the start:

  1. Make it quite clear to the client that fact checking is not included in the negotiated price, but consistency will be attempted and obvious errors flagged for checking.
  2. Allow for a certain, small, amount of fact-checking in your time working on the manuscript. Encompass this in your base rate and don’t charge any extra for it. Flag up any time-consuming searches that may appear – the ones where you know it’s going to be difficult to check them.
  3. Negotiate with the client for an additional flat-fee charge for fact-checking, or an increase of hours quoted for, if it becomes apparent from the editorial sample that there may be an issue with factual information (you do get a sample to look at before agreeing to take on a job, don’t you?).
  4. Negotiate with the client for an additional charge for fact-checking, with a proviso that only XX number of minutes will be spent per manuscript and if work exceeds that, you will return to the client to negotiate further.
  5. Say hell, yes! Dive in, correct all the facts, take as much time as you like, and watch your profits slowly slide away.

It may seem a difficult subject, but some people make a living from fact checking and nothing more. Don’t shy away from talking about this with your client, and don’t take it for granted that you have to fact-check as standard. Negotiate, get it in writing and remember that although a copy-editor’s job can be fascinating, you are a business owner, and must think like one.

10 Killer Confidence Tricks To Help You Succeed (And Why Girls Need Them)

believe in yourself anything is possible

We all know that confidence comes in waves. One morning you’re on top of the world, then imposter syndrome comes to bite you on the bum and makes your life a living hell.

While I expect that lack of confidence comes equally to everyone as adults, the Guide Association (Girlguiding) last year released the results of a poll of 1,627 girls and young women that shows a dramatic loss of confidence as girls get older. By the ages of 17–21 only 31% feel confident in themselves, while only 35% believe they have the same chance of succeeding in their careers as males.

This is backed up by a study in the journal Science that shows girls start to see themselves as less talented than boys by the age of six. This flows through education into their working lives, and the BBC website today notes:

Prof Andrei Cimpian, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website:

“The message that comes out of these data is that young kids are exposed to the cultural notion that genius is more likely a male than a female quality.

It’s disheartening to see these effects emerge so early. When you see them, you realise how much of an uphill battle it’s going to be.”

Self-belief slides as a girl grows older.

I see this every day. It may be a cultural thing, or not, but it’s terrifying. Confident children with the world at their feet end up settling for ‘good enough’ because their confidence has been knocked.  And I’m not discounting men from this, or myself either, my life has been an uphill struggle with confidence – despite getting a bloody good degree and only taking one year out of self-guided learning and formal training since I left university.

We saw massive women’s marches this week, and while I admire them for their guts and determination, I do wonder how many of those women will go back to settling for ‘good enough’ once their placards are resigned to the recycling bin. Will their voices actually be heard?

Mrs Dale Carnegie, How to help your husband

Back to the 50s

In 1954 a book was published that makes my toes curl – How to help your husband get ahead: in his business and social life by Mrs Dale Carnegie (her name was Dorothy, by the way). While teaching in a business school Dorothy asked her students how many expected to marry within ten years (all of them) and whether they would choose marriage over a career (again, all of them). From this conversation her book was born, to sell girls on the idea that the qualities that would make them valuable to an employer would make them ‘desirable wives’. I bought the book as a reminder of how times have changed, but really, have they?

How to help your husband contents

On face value the book is a relic of a bygone age, it’s all about promoting your husband and putting his needs first but, if you read deeper into it, I do believe (I have to believe) that she was trying to help those intelligent women who would inevitably slide into domesticity. I wonder how Dorothy felt when she saw all her smart business students admit to a career span of less than ten years?

She did have a few good ideas, though, that can be translated into something useful for our times. So let’s take those first steps towards success and use them for ourselves.

Success the Carnegie Way

Dorothy gave her readers four initial steps to success that actually still ring true … let’s just turn them into ways to help yourself rather than someone else:

  1. Decide where you are going and what you want out of life. Set up a goal and work towards it.

It’s all about objectives and confidently controlling your future. Get that business plan out. Plan your goals.

  1. When one goal is achieved, set up another; plan your future in five-year steps.

Was Dorothy the first one to think about five-year goals? I’m not sure but it works for some people, why not give it a try?

  1. Sell yourself on the value of enthusiasm. Think of what it has done for others and what it will do for you.

She’s right, if you’re not enthusiastic you’re going to get bogged down. Look at all those uber enthusiastic communication and business mavens out there – enthusiasm breeds confidence.

  1. Apply these six ways of developing enthusiasm:
    • Learn everything you can about your job
    • Have a goal and stick to it
    • Give yourself a pep talk every day
    • Think in terms of service
    • Associate with enthusiastic people
    • Act enthusiastic and you will become enthusiastic.

Seems ok to me. You may think number 4 seems pretty strange, but if you’re providing a service, as most freelancers are, think about the people you’re helping and how you go about giving them what they need. After all if you’re enthusiastic about what you’re providing, your customers or clients will feel that enthusiasm.

How to help your husband success

So we’ve survived the 1950s pep talk, and seen that it translates into the C21st, and it’s all very well to be enthusiastic, but will it actually help with your confidence?

Confidence is something built up over time and if it gets knocked it can take a while to reinstate, so here are some C21st creative confidence tricks:

  1. Fake it til you make it.

I’ve looked and I can’t find the origin of the saying, but it’s been around since at least the 1960s. It doesn’t work all the time, after all you need to have something solid to back it up (no matter how hard I try I just can’t fake being a tightrope walker so I’m not going to apply for any circus jobs soon). If you have the skills (or the skillz) fake the confidence, smile and eventually you should convince your old brain cells that the confidence is real.

  1. Try, try and try again.

Don’t let failure hold you back. Don’t let it get you down and knock what little confidence you have. Pick yourself back up and go back to 1.

  1. Ask for help.

Everyone needs help once in a while. Asking for help actually builds confidence – you’re on your first step to learning what you need to know.

  1. Watch other confident people.

Seriously. Look at those around you who are confident (not arrogant) and see how they behave and react to life. Are they doing something you can learn? It’s like being around people who are enthusiastic, it rubs off.

  1. Breathe

Ok, yes, I know. If you don’t breathe you are in trouble.

Joking aside, if you’re nervous you will have a habit of shallow breathing, which adds to anxiety. Concentrate on your breathing if you’re in a situation where your confidence is low and your anxiety levels are high. Steady, slow, deliberate breathing will help calm you down. It’s a great tip for when you have to do public speaking.

  1. Have faith in yourself.

This is the killer top tip. Confidence breeds confidence. Those people around you weren’t born with it. Everyone you see who looks confident has either come through low confidence and self-esteem or is still faking it. Seriously. Unless they’re a psychopath.

Men seem to be better at hiding it, that’s all (confidence, not being a psychopath).

motivation-1101844_1280

While studies show that girls are in massive danger of losing their confidence as they become adults, we shouldn’t forget that men have confidence problems too. Women are still shown to suffer from work related bias (whether that be in the form of low promotion prospects, lower pay than their male counterparts or being constantly expected to make the tea), but men are still fed the ‘man up and be the breadwinner’ mentality.

Freelancers have the extra burden of needing confidence to survive as freelancers.

One day we’ll all be confident enough to say ‘this is me and this is what I can do’, until then we have to do what we can to survive.

**********

So this is me – I’m a kick-ass editor and copywriter who can also design books for print or kindle. If you have a project contact me!

No Bullshit Please

cow, bull, bullshit

Last week I wrote about having a bad year.

It wasn’t a massively thought out post, it was just a ‘no bullshit’ scribbling when, being perfectly honest, I could think of nothing else to write about. But it turned into one of the most popular posts I’ve written in a while. Just like a lot of my other, similar, posts it resulted in feedback both on my website and through personal communication. It led me to the conclusion that people prefer a no bullshit approach to business and writing these days.

Colleagues and clients like honesty and authenticity.

But why be honest and open in my blog posts (attached to my business website) when it would be so much easier just to keep quiet? Isn’t it career suicide? I’d say no to that.

Reasons to be open and honest professionally:

bull head

It shows people you are real.

We are all human (mostly) so we like to do business with other humans. How many of you honestly like those auto DMs on Twitter? I’ll bet even if you use them (please don’t) you don’t like getting them. No one likes speaking to a robot unless they are in the cybernetics business (or sci-fi nerd like me). By keeping my blog real and by ‘talking’ to you I’m letting you into my world a little and we can hopefully build up a rapport.

bull head

It shows that life isn’t always rosy.

Unless we are supremely blessed in life things don’t always go the way we want. By writing an honest, no bullshit blog, I am happy to spread the love but also show things the way they are. Are people too frightened to say it like it is? Is it from fear of being seen as weak, as unprofessional or being afraid to show failure? Or is it the great British reserve? After 16 years as a freelance I know there are ups and downs and I’m not afraid to document it. Last year was bad, this year will be better.

bull head

It builds trust.

I much prefer to do business with people I know and trust, as I expect you do too. By writing honestly on my blog I can share tips and tricks with clients, help and inform fellow freelances (and learn from them too!) and show that I care about my work, my colleagues and my clients. I offer a bespoke service, and with this comes a level of professionalism that includes trust between myself and the client. So what if the client can see if I’m having a bad week (or a good one)?, they can also see that I never disclose confidential information and that I value my client list. As a genealogist I am privy to a LOT of potentially personal information, and as an editor I am allowed into my clients’ heads. If I thought for one second that my clients, or my colleagues, felt they couldn’t trust me I’d close my laptop on my work and walk away from it for good.

bull head

It helps others to feel they can share.

There is nothing worse than being a freelance, locked away from the world, with no one to talk to. Freelancing is isolating, it’s lonely as hell and it can lead to all sorts of problems – less of the ‘hey, I’ll ditch my job and live the high life’ please (yes, I’m looking at you, online journalists). I’m lucky that I found the SfEP, but before I was an editor my life as a genealogist, isolated at the top of Scotland, was a lonely one. I had no-one to talk to (this was before such things as online forums, although there were snarky email lists) and I may have been going slightly mad. Especially when armchair genealogists, spurred on by Who Do You Think You Are and the rise of internet resources, decided to stop paying for research and did it themselves because it was all ‘so easy’ (to get it wrong). If, by being honest and open, I can make just one person feel less alone then that is worth it in itself. And if I can let some fledgling editor realise that there is the SfEP, EFA (for those in the US) and others (here’s a handy links for those of you outside of the UK) who are there to offer friendship and advice, then that’s good too.

bull head

It’s just a no bullshit policy.

I’ve got a bullshit detector. I can smell it a mile off, just like I can usually tell if someone is on the level. And I know I’m not the only one. Why pretend? I really can’t stand websites that write about someone in the third person (when you just KNOW they’ve written it about themselves), or ones that say ‘aren’t I fabulous, hire me, I’m perfect’. Get over yourselves, no one is perfect. No one. Not even that gorgeous guy you idolised as a teenager who was perfect in your eyes. Perfection is a myth. I don’t ever want to offend anyone, I’m too nice for that, but I just say it as I see it. Hell, I’m in my late 40s, life’s too short kids!

blank face

Show them your face, not a professional mask

So there you go. Those are my reasons to be authentic, open and honest in business. If people judge you for being honest, that’s their problem not yours.

If you think you will lose business by being honest, ask yourself why. Ask yourself if you could work with that client anyway.

You don’t need to be brutal, and you don’t need a ‘tell all’ policy. We need to remain at least a little mysterious, and over-sharing is not cool (I really don’t need to tell everyone that I love all things paranormal and that I binge watch RuPaul’s Drag Race on Netflix).

If you are honest with yourself and with your clients, whether that’s on a blog or in your business communication, everyone can concentrate on just being themselves and you can concentrate on offering great service.