“To inform and surprise”

I regret to say that I completely missed this lengthy and wonderful discussion next door. Three weeks late or not (thanks Seth!), as a so-called science writer and teacher of science writing, I am compelled to pay and call attention to it. The big question: What is the writer obligated to share/copy correct with his/her sources prior to publication?  This is an issue that still nags at me every time I send an email to or call a source. David Kroll does a great job of setting the table and the comments include all kinds of free wisdom, including these Rules for Manuscript Review by Maryn McKenna (who is both award-winning and, IMHO, totally Super Duper).

…if I am using these, I send them by email to the source/character, and ask them to reply indicating their acceptance before any text is sent.

RULES FOR MANUSCRIPT REVIEW
1. Please understand that I am sending this to you as a courtesy; the purpose of this review is fact-checking only, for maximum accuracy.
2. To respect copyright, you may not share the text with anyone other than those who are named in it, or reproduce or republish it in any way.
3. The ground rules for potential changes are:
- If something is factually incorrect — e.g., wrong date, wrong name — and you can point me to a source that confirms the correct version, I commit to changing that fact in the text.
- If a quote is correct according to a sound file or transcript, but you feel you misspoke, or feel you need to withdraw or change what you said, then I commit to having a conversation about it, but I do not guarantee that I will make a change. Allowing sources to change quotes is an extremely significant act for journalists, and so there must be a very good reason for such a change.
- If I have described your emotional state or drawn a conclusion about events or circumstances, and you think my description is inaccurate, then I commit to having a conversation about it, and invite you to present any evidence that shows my construal is incorrect, but I do not guarantee that I will make a change.
4. To respect the author’s contracted obligation to be the sole author of the text, please do not do any significant rewriting. If you feel changes are needed, your options are to:
- use Track Changes to indicate areas you feel need to be changed
- type the correct fact into the text in a different color or different font, e.g. ALL CAPS
- write/type out the changes on a separate sheet, or put them on a new page within the Word file, using a “page break” to delimit them from the main text.
5. Finally, it is important to understand that this text is a work in progress and may change further as it goes through edits. If the text changes significantly after our mutual review is done, I commit to letting you know about it, but please understand that my ability to change it back from the editor’s emendations will be limited.

And this quote from George Johnson, author of the sublime The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, offers words to live by for ink-stained wretches of all stripes:

We are not conduits, and our job is not to avoid surprises. It is to inform and to surprise.

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3 Responses to “To inform and surprise”

  1. Aww. (Blush.) Sincere thanks, for the super-duper part especially.

    I just want to add, for anyone who doesn’t track back to the original post (which has more than 100 comments and climbing and has inspired many branching posts, as Seth indicates in the post you linked to), that I use those rules only for book text. I do have a homebrewed fact-checking practice for articles, but it is a little less formal than what is above.

  2. Misha says:

    A sincere “you’re welcome.”

    So, for the uninitiated, articles require a less formal process than books why? Because they are more ephemeral? Or because presumably you will have help with fact checking from a magazine that a book publisher will not provide?

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