Sunday, 19 October 2008

#44 – Don’t credit sources when it’s unnecessary

Or Beer Theory.

Reader comment
One of this blog’s regular readers made an interesting comment at the bottom of Tip 18 – Expensive destinations on a budget. I’ve pasted it below:

“As an unexperienced published writer, but a college graduate who had to write many papers... how do you go about crediting sources. Say you find some budget information via the tourist board, and part of your article exists thanks to their help, do you acknowledge that?

“This is one area that's always perplexed me because a lot of the articles I read seems to give an impression that 100% of the article were things the writer just knew. However, I'm sure the history of the location and other tidbits had to be researched.”

Beer Theory
It’s a good point. Unfortunately, there’s no right answer. A lot depends on the publication you are working for. But I do have a general theory that I try to adhere to whenever possible. I call it Beer Theory, and it goes something like this.

Irrelevant background information
When I want a nice cold beer, the only important thing is that the beer is nice, cold and in front of me. I don’t care how that beer is made, what blend of ingredients was used to make it, what lines of supply the bar used to get it or why the label was designed in a certain way. All of that background information is largely irrelevant. And frankly, having to know all of it would really get in the way of me enjoying my nice cold beer.

Not a maths exam
The same largely applies to information in a travel article. The reader cares that Item X costs $30, that Transport Y departs at 06:45 and that Building Z was built in 1873 in a neo-classical style by Johnny Architect. They really don’t care how you obtained that information, as long as it is accurate.
This is not a maths exam – you don’t get points for showing your working out.

Horrendously clunky read
To attribute every bit of information to a source or two would make for a horrendously clunky read. As far as I’m concerned, this should be avoided wherever possible.
However, I am aware of a bit of a cultural divide on this sort of thing. North American publications tend to be sticklers for accuracy, and articles in them are more likely to attribute information to sources.

American publications
Personally, this is one reason that I often find American publications to be really dull. But if getting published and paid requires an adaptation of your preferred writing style, it’s best to adapt and grumble quietly under your breath.

Sources in footnotes
Either that, or write the article properly, then put the sources of the information in footnotes for the editor’s eyes only. Generally, though, I’ll only do that if I know the editor wants that sort of information for fact-checking purposes. Most editors will either check independently or trust that you’ve got it right.

Don’t take tourist board information as gospel
And how do you know that you’ve got it right? By checking it yourself with an alternative source – never take anything received from a tourist board as gospel. They do have a vested interest, after all.

1 comment:

Ann said...

Thank you for posting this information!!! Makes me feel better that I don't have to find a way to add unique and interesting sourcing information every time. Because that really just would have been impossible.