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Procedures of Fact Checking and Proper Notation in Nonfiction Writing

Procedures of Fact Checking and Proper Notation in Nonfiction Writing
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Fact checking is an important part of responsible nonfiction writing. If you do not get your facts correct, then you lose credibility as a nonfiction writer and you soon become someone that editors and publishers are not interested in publishing. Not getting your facts correct is different than an error in your facts. Attributing the wrong author to a book or song is not getting your facts correct and is considered an inexcusable practice. Quoting the wrong page number in a book or referencing the wrong edition of a title is considered an error and forgivable.

Although errors in your facts are forgivable, they represent additional work to the editor or their staff and it behooves you to build a relationship with your editor in which the editor feels assured that your facts are accurate. Accuracy in your work helps to build good relations with your editor and editorial staff. Inaccuracy in your facts may not get you into the editor's circular file (a.k.a. the trash can), but neither will it endear you to him. From the editor's point of view, you will have labor written all over your face when the editor speaks with you in person. Do yourself a huge favor and avoid appearing to your editor as labor.

Here are some tips to help you check your content facts:

  • Your dictionary and thesaurus are still good friends to keep, use them.
  • If you quote an author, then pick up that book from the library. When you check your facts, if you find you made an error, then you can easily adjust the text or make a correction by referring to the author's book and making a direct quote or footnote.
  • If you quote an artist or a songwriter, be sure to know where to go to quickly look up his or her material to check the exact wording. A quote or reference is no good if it is not exact; it just looks sloppy.
  • If you have referred to or quoted government statistics, make sure that you include a tangible reference book, website, or government publication. Do not simply refer to "government statistics show that... blah, blah, blah" without referencing your source. If you leave off the source or if you are too lazy to look it up in the government research, then you are an unreliable nonfiction writer and the entire content of what you have written will be discounted by the reader (and, if discovered, by your editor).
  • The quickest way to check your content facts that do not come from books or other publications is to check through various facts resources online on the Internet. Some online facts resources are more reliable than others. Know which ones you can count on for accuracy.
  • Do not be afraid to use your reference desk at your local or university libraries. Your reference librarian knows how to find facts that you write about and he or she knows how to find them much quicker than you. Take a pen and paper when you visit the librarian and be sure to copy the exact information you need for properly notating the reference material.

Proper Notation

The most common notations used in nonfiction writing are footnotes and endnotes. Footnotes appear at the bottom of each page as they occur in the content of the page, and they are numbered sequentially throughout the work. Endnotes appear at the end of the article, chapter, or book and are also numbered sequentially throughout the work.

Both footnotes and endnotes can contain any type of special notation that the author wishes to convey to the reader as it relates to the contents of the sentence it notates. The most common and useful notation is a book or an article reference.

When making a simple notation in your footnotes or endnotes, it can look like this:

[1] Contrary to popular and widespread ignorance, a generation is defined by a twenty-year period rather than by who was born in pre-war or post-war periods. American marketers who want to shorten a generation actually serve to...

When creating a footnote or endnote that contains a book reference, it will look like this:

[1] The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2003: 58-59.

This is the proper sequence of information in a footnote which references a book: author's last name, author's first name, book title in italics, edition (if there is one), name of the publisher, unless the publisher is also the author, as it is above, city of publisher, year of copyright, colon, space, and page numbers quoted.

When marking a footnote that is from the same source as the previous footnote, it is not necessary to redo the entire reference. Instead, the footnote will look like this:

[1] Ibid.

The word "Ibid" denotes that the reference information is the same as the previous reference entry.

In nonfiction writing, a writer may be required to occasionally provide a bibliography. This is true especially if you are writing a book of any length. The publisher will want you to provide a bibliography of all of the books and sources that you have quoted. In general, you do not want to quote a book too heavily in nonfiction writing because it loses its appeal as fresh material and it sends up a flag to the editor. The editor may suspect that you have plagiarized since new writers tend to try to hide just how much they borrowed from their material sources.

The correct form for a bibliography entry:

Thinking Like Your Editor, by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato © 2002; W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY. ISBN 0-393-03892-0

A bibliography should be prepared on a separate page or pages from the rest of your manuscript. Your editor may not want you to include the book's ISBN number in the bibliography.When you take a writing assignment, make sure you know what your editor or client is looking for in this area and adjust accordingly.


  1. Footnote. A notation of importance or a book reference made at the bottom of the page on which it occurs, numbered and referenced in sequence.
  2. Endnote. A notation of importance or a book reference made at the end of the chapter or book in which it occurs, numbered and referenced in sequence.
  3. Bibliography. A separate page(s) listing all of the books, authors, and attending pages from each book from which you have quoted in the content of your manuscript or article.

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