Better Writing: Stop and Check

Mar 5, 2019 | Better Writing

My friend Dave had a simple little sign on the inside of his front door. It said: “Stop and check.”

When Dave started to leave his house, he saw the sign. It reminded him to check for whatever he needed before he went out. It helped him remember to take those clothes to the cleaners or plan a stop at the market during his errands. The sign helped Dave remember important things. If you’ve got a writing idea, you would do well to put a sign like Dave’s near your workspace where you can see it.

Stop and Check

A week ago, I was working on a blog for a client about the Gettysburg Address. The theme of the post was that Lincoln’s address was both simple and conciliatory. I remembered the Gettysburg Cemetery had spaces for both Union and Confederate soldiers.

Before I went any further, I checked the facts. The cemetery does have spaces for both Union and Confederate soldiers today. But on the day Lincoln rose to make his “few remarks,” the cemetery was for Union soldiers only. That quick factcheck saved me from making a big error.

One of the great things about the digital age is that so much information is readily available. One scary thing about the digital age is that a lot of misinformation is readily available, too. Fact-checking is critical.

What You can Do

You might find information that confirms your idea. Great. Go with it.

You might find information that tells you your basic idea is wrong. That’s what happened to me. I still had several choices of whether and how to use the idea and used them based on the facts.

I could have not mentioned the Union and Confederate graves at all. I could have mentioned the graves but made the point that even Lincoln wasn’t thinking of bringing the nation together in that way at that time. Or I might have used the facts to make a point about how our thinking develops and changes over time.

You’ll find conflicting “facts” on the net. You can say what you were going to say but describe the fact as “according to” some expert. Or you can describe the different “facts” that you discovered and riff on them.

Bottom Line

Before you go too far with a writing idea, stop and check the facts.

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