How does fact checking a book work?
September 17, 2012 12:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for information on the process of fact checking a book manuscript. What are the norms in this field?

I have a lot of writing/editing experience and have done a lot of "spot checking" of sources, so I am confident in my research skills. But I've never done a full fact check on a book manuscript, and I am interested in getting into that kind of work. I would be interested in hearing some details about the process from anyone who has worked as or hired a fact checker.

What I'm curious about is the following: When an editor sends out a manuscript for fact checking, what exactly does he or she expect to get back -- an annotated copy of the manuscript (like with comments in MS word), or a separate file of some kind? Are fact checkers expected to use only/primarily the author's sources, or do they use their own sources to verify facts? For example, if the work includes a bibliography, is the fact checker expected to hunt down all of the sources in the bibliography, or is it acceptable to use an alternate source to verify facts cited in the work?

I have not had much luck Googling for this information. I do have Sarah Harrison Smith's "The Fact Checker's Bible," but she seems to assume that the actual source material will be passed on to the fact checker from the publisher, which is not the case in my field.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Lifespan of a Fact may be interesting to you.
posted by mlle valentine at 12:50 PM on September 17, 2012

So when I have done this work it was for academic publications; the folks who have given you your assignment may have different best practices.

A) I think it is important to check the author's citations directly against the works cited, because authors have been known to drastically misrepresent/take out of context/even alter citations.

B) I think it is important to check all major statements of fact against works and resources other than those cited, just in case the author has cherrypicked sources from fringe currents in a field. For instance, you could fill a bibliography with sources that suggest Cleopatra was of black African heritage, but the majority opinion in the field at this point in time is that the Ptolemaic dynasty was made up of ethnic Greeks who intermarried and, when marrying someone not a blood relative, chose ethnic Greeks as their marriage partners.

C) I think it is important to check all specific statements of quantifiable fact like dates, city populations, wages, and so on, particularly those that form foundations for arguments.

As for what the editor wants, ask them. My own experience was that the folks I worked with thought that a separate report was easier to use, but I haven't done this work in a long time; it may be that the editor you're working with prefers intertextual notes.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:08 PM on September 17, 2012

I just got my manuscript back from a copyeditor who also served as a fact checker. She did it all through comments in Word. Every name, event, date, or essential claim, she verified, mostly (and maybe exclusively) using Internet sources. Since my book is non-fiction but not academic, I didn't list my sources, and her job must have required some serious digging. In most cases, she found multiple sources.

Other random thoughts:

It looked like she had her standard sources for things, and had developed quite a routine of where to go for information.

When she couldn't verify something--my subject and some of my sources were relatively obscure from an academic perspective--she made a note of it ("NOT verified") and moved on.

She seemed rigorous and knew her shit, and more than once, made me think she should have written the book and not me.

FYI, too, the book was for a commercial publisher, but one with a strong reputation for taking this stuff seriously. Not sure how it would be at a smaller house or an academic press.
posted by vecchio at 9:49 PM on September 17, 2012

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