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Writers generally like to think that the tales they’re spinning with their words are going to contribute in some positive, if small, way to the world at large.
In recent time, however, there has been growing concern about the veracity of the information shared via writers, news anchors, and other purveyors of insight and opinion.
In the current climate, perhaps more than ever before, it’s important for every writer to maintain their integrity and guard themselves against accusations of unethical behaviour or spreading misinformation, by means of their writing.
So, here are some ways you can avoid misrepresentation in your writing.
Try to present the facts without the emotional or value-judgement overlay
It’s often possible to tell within the first few lines whether an article is going to be relatively objective and neutral, or partisan, blinkered, and agenda-driven.
Perhaps the clearest sign of the latter is when the article contains emotional language and has an overlay of value-judgments. Phrases like “ridiculous”, “disgusting”, “insane”, “evil”, and all the rest, have no place in an article that purports to be a cool-headed, sober laying out of the facts.
To avoid misrepresentation, try to stick to the hard facts as much as possible, and skip the value-judgements and emotional language. Failing to condemn a person or act in your writing isn’t an endorsement of that person or act, it’s just a realisation that the role of an objective writer is to remain impartial and detached from the events.
Treating your reporting of these facts with a clinical eye is a good way to prevent your own values and biases from skewing your writing.
Try to cite original sources rather than repeating what was written elsewhere
You can often find dozens, if not hundreds, of articles online all referring to a particular study as evidence for a particular health claim — with none of the articles actually linking to the study of providing a full citation.
It’s a sad fact that many apparently “authoritative” writers just do not do their due diligence before making claims, and simply skim content from what other writers have put out into the public domain, without doing any degree of reasonable fact-checking.
Wherever possible, you should try to cite original sources rather than just citing the work of other writers. Look for studies, government reports, and so on.
Approach your writing with an attitude of humility, always assuming you probably don’t have the full picture
It can be easy for an enthusiastic writer to over-play his hand and present himself as an expert on a topic he barely has any insight on whatsoever.
But even when you are fairly confident that you do have a good degree of insight on a particular subject, it’s always a great idea to assume that you probably don’t have the full picture, and to remain humble enough that you’re willing to put disclaimers in your writing, and to make allowance for potential as-yet-unforeseen nuances.