“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
– Mark Twain
You’ve probably read Mark Twain’s witty, apt, and often-used statement above. Too bad he never said or wrote those words. Instead, the quote belongs to 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. But if you look on many of the most popular sites for quotations, you’ll find Twain erroneously attributed.
So what? Who cares if you incorrectly reference a quote, fact, or news item?
Today’s world may seem like veracity’s gone by the wayside, given how easily people share false information without a second thought.
But, for people to take your business seriously, truth still matters. And you risk losing credibility in your readers’ eyes if your content isn’t correct. After all, if you’re careless about small details, readers may question whether your work is sloppy, too.
How to Be Sure You’re Not Sharing Fake News
Quotes, facts, and data can make your writing more compelling, in much the same way visual images do. But, if you’re representing your business or yourself and using information you found online to back up a point, you need to ensure that what you’re sharing is correct. With a wealth of information at our fingertips, knowing what online sources to trust is a tricky tightrope walk.
Below are a few simple tips to help you dig deeper and share what’s true:
- Before using a quotation: Search part of the saying online with quotation marks around it, for example “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” If you find conflicting attributions or wording, continue your search until you discover the quote’s primary source (i.e., the publication or place in which the statement was first written or spoken.). If you can’t find this information, use another quote.
- Before using a piece of hard data: Go beyond Wikipedia to correctly cite a date, fact, or historical reference you’ve found online. The safest sources for information have a commitment to objectivity and the resources to fact check their own work. Universities/colleges, respected print periodicals, and professionally published books are often reliable. Two sources to be careful with: Think tanks and lobbying groups that often have hidden agendas and cherry pick stats to support their agenda.
- Before sharing an infographic: Check its sources. Many images circulate with compelling data — and no details about where this info came from. The data could be decades old, taken out of context, or just plain made up. Without reliable sources, infographics are just pretty pictures with questionable data.
Clear, compelling communication is about more than proper grammar, structure, and word choice. When writing, you want to make sure that your message is not only well put — but also true. Cross-referencing may be a bit more time-consuming than assuming the information is accurate. But, the time it takes to fact check is nothing compared to the lasting impact an error can have on your professional reputation.
Being careful about what you share — and believing in facts — is almost an act of defiance these days. But you can help ensure that the truth lives and your credibility grows by taking these simple steps to verify information you give to the world.