March 20, 2017

Mistakes are not necessarily an indicator of skill — or lack thereof. Certainly, a journalist who consistently makes factual errors is in need of training and guidance. But any of us can make a mistake at any time.

Here’s a list of useful tips and tricks for identifying and preventing mistakes in your work.

  • Start every interview by asking the person to spell their name and title. Every interview.
  • Increase the size of your text when self-editing. Bumping up your font size is a great way to make typos and other errors jump out at you.
  • Format your reporting and research files in a different font and color from your writing. This helps you stay organized and practice proper attribution. With this method, anything you copy and paste from your research file will look different from your own writing, which will remind you to add in the attribution.
  • Repeat quotes back to sources if you’re unsure of what you heard or if they say something particularly important or surprising.
  • If you have something in a story that you’re unsure of or that you had trouble with, note that for your editor. This alerts editors to possible problem areas and helps focus their attention. Don’t have an editor handy? Ask a trusted colleague to check it out.
  • Read your work out loud. This is a wonderful way to check the flow of your work.
  • Print out your copy for a final read. Get fresh eyes on your copy, be it a story, script or other work. Even better — combine this with the above tip and read it out loud.
  • Employ the two-minute rule. This is a tip from productivity guru David Allen: “If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it the first time you notice it.” The idea is to not put off finding the link for that quote, checking a spelling or performing other short tasks that crop up as you’re writing. Doing it right away means that you won’t forget later.

Taken from Getting It Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age, a self-directed course by Craig Silverman at Poynter NewsU. You can also join our Poynter NewsU webinar with Silverman, Investigating the Internet: How to Sniff Out Scams.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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