Sunday, February 1, 2009

Get your facts straight

It takes just a minute to check dates, quantities and names. But if you get a detail wrong, in mere seconds you can blow your audience’s confidence in everything you say.

If you are not sure about a fact, check it out. Proofreading is equally important. Be certain that you have transcribed all details accurately. It is easy to transpose numbers—1998 can turn into 1989 in no time, and your spell checker will never notice.

How much of a difference will a mistake like this make to your credibility? Think back to the last time you noticed a factual error in someone else’s writing. Did you skim right past it, anxious to get on to the next bit of information the writer had to offer you?

No. You stopped reading and you thought, “What kind of dolt thinks Lisbon is in Spain?" Or "How can anyone say a spider has six legs?" The next step in your thinking? — "How can I take someone's advice on how to sell a clock on eBay [or where to invest for my retirement, or how to use Twitter as a branding tool] who makes mistakes like that?”

You might have wondered whether to write a comment. Maybe you did write a comment. But even if you didn't, you were distracted and disillusioned. The writer had lost your attention, interest and confidence.

For those who do not know us personally, our writing IS us. Its flaws are our flaws. And that’s okay – that's one of the things that makes individuals unique and leads to interesting discussions. But if we make stupid basic errors that we should have caught, we can look like fools. And that is not the image most of us are hoping to project.

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