Writing can be an exciting job. It can be an excellent stress reducer. When you have so much inside of you that you just want to release, writing can be a good outlet. The gift of free writing has no boundaries, no rules or regulations, and it is almost never wrong. Structured writing, on the other hand, has its limits. There are specific rules that need to be adhered to, and you can be wrong, sometimes dangerously wrong.
We have discussed the importance of not engaging in any form of plagiarism. I have called it on numerous occasions a slap in the face of the original author. There are other aspects of taking someone’s ideas and conveying them to your audience. If you fail in any of these areas, you will be taken less seriously as a writer, and you could even find yourself in some hot water if you are not careful.
I’m going to say this only once. Wikipedia is NOT your friend. It is not the end all when you are required to give facts about a particular topic. In case you did not know, Wikipedia functions on an open source platform. That means that anyone can add to it, take away from it, or make changes to what is already there. It has gotten better over the years by adding features that make it harder to submit false information, but would you want to take that risk?
When you are checking facts, it is always to your benefit to locate more than one source for the point you are trying to make. For instance. The Reverend Billy Graham recently passed away. The internet memes toting quotes from the famous evangelist were everywhere. One of the quotes attributed to Reverend Graham was derived from a quote by Reverend Dwight L Moody who lived about 120 years ago. Both said it, and I am sure that Rev. Graham used his quote because Dwight L. Moody was one of his heroes. It would be easy for an uneducated writer to attribute something to someone and inadvertently report misleading facts.
Another meme that makes me laugh is one that shows President Lincoln. The quote attributed to him says, “The problem with quotes on the internet is that they are often untrue.”
And yet another one shows Patrick Stewart, and the quote says “Use the Force, Harry. –Gandalf” Yes, it is meant as a joke to offend Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and LOTR fans all at once. But there are writers out there who choose to include in their prose untrue, misleading, or ignorant information.
I am not saying you should never use Wikipedia. The site is very informative and can be a good beginning. With the information you find, it is imperative you find other sites that corroborate your fact. Often Wikipedia will have a linked source, but not always. This is what is dangerous about using it as your only source.
It also goes without saying that you need to understand the difference between fact and opinion. It is a fact that pumpkin pie is a pie. It is an opinion that it is the best flavor of pie ever. Facts are concrete and unchanging. All opinions are subjective; they can change in a heartbeat.
Just because you think you are familiar with a subject does not give you license to say whatever you want about an issue. It is essential to do your part and conduct a bit of research on the topic you are writing about. If only to confirm what you know, especially when you need to know if you should cut the red or blue wire. Going with a gut feeling can keep the bomb from detonating this time, but eventually, you are going to get burned.
A prime example: In the novel I am writing there is a fire. The fire department is called out, but the fire is not one that can be fought with water. It would require a specific type of chemical to help the firefighters extinguish the blaze. Now, if I had only gone with what I know about fire trucks, then I would have the fighters put out the burning structure with a plain old fire truck. Through research, I discovered that water could not be used on a fire fed by grease and oil.
It doesn’t have to be about explosives or Class A vs. Class B extinguishants. It could be about a baker or a ballerina. Research can tell you what pains they went through to get to where they are. Research can tell you the difference between sterling silver and white gold. Without research, you would be out a lot of money.
Without solid research, you could lose a reader quickly if they know something you thought you knew. You don’t want a reader to get to that part in your article or book where you describe the process of changing the oil in a car only to miss a step, and they catch it with a, “No, that’s not what you do. That’s wrong.” You lose all credibility with your reader and anyone who they tell that you don’t know what you are talking about.
We talked about tools of the trade a few weeks ago. Fact checking and doing thorough research is more important than all of those combined. You can have perfect spelling, immaculate grammar, and not an iota of plagiarism, but without accurate information, your work is worthless. You will lose readers, you will lose clients, and you will lose any respect you may have gained in the writing world.
Yes, it takes time, but it is time well spent. Like one of my mentors says, “Freelance writers are a jack of all trades, but master of none.” We learn, and we learn, and we write. A writer is, in my opinion, is more educated than many people with degrees. We spend the majority of our time studying subjects so that we can efficiently write about them. I am convinced that I spend more time researching a topic than writing about it. That is one thing that they do not tell you when you sign up to be a writer…but then again with a little bit of research, you would already know that.