Divas on Writing:
Wikipedia Is Not the Bible
Freelance and independent editors aren’t fact checkers. In fact, we prefer not to fact check. There is a certain liability that isn’t the responsibility of the editor, but rather the author. You can pay your editor to specifically fact check, but it’s a touchy area. Editors at publishing houses are a different story, though. They are paid to fact check to the nth degree. The liability is then on the author, the publishing house, and most importantly the editor. They have to have a keen eye since editors are usually the people who will work on a manuscript. The publishing house trusts the editor to make sure legally the book is safe for publication.
When I edit I don’t research for an author, but certain things will jump out at me and I will fact check to an extent and let the author know that I found a certain bit of info here or there but to make sure their facts are inline before they deliver a finished product to their readers.
So what am I getting at? When you’re an independent author, you can’t rely on editors and websites like Wikipedia as your sole research source for fact checking. Independent publishing is such a different animal than the traditional route. Independent authors don’t have the legal backbone of a publishing house if their facts are wrong and it backfires on the author. They are in it by themselves. It could be a scary thing. But what can you do about it to verify that your facts are indeed facts?
While I stress that Wikipedia isn’t the Bible, it can be a good starting point. Many authors and editors alike will fact check this site first to get a general idea, but it shouldn’t be the end-all to be-all for your information. There are plenty of websites and outlets to gather information from. The Internet is a wonderful thing and libraries are pretty handy—not to mention a good old phone call. The problem with Wikipedia is that its content can be changed at any time by users. Although there are plenty of worthwhile facts, there are also many facts that are outdated or false.
What do you do then when you’re not sure Wikipedia has the answer for you? Double check, triple check, quadruple check your facts outside of Wikipedia. And do it yourself, not your editor, beta, prereader, or writing buddy. Even though you and your team can and will check Wikipedia from time to time, I can’t stress enough that it shouldn’t be your only research medium. I have stressed this to all the authors I have worked with. I will point out the information but it’s ultimately up to the author to fact check at info.
Say for example you’re writing about a non-fictional landmark. Wikipedia says that Mount Rushmore has four presidents chiseled in its mountainside: Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Franklin. But something is a little off about the information. What could it be? Double check the facts if you’re not sure. An easy Google search of Mount Rushmore National State Park will quickly yield a correct answer. (Psst, It’s Jefferson, not Franklin, looking stoic and serene.)
Wikipedia can have a wealth of information, but it’s tainted. I like to think it’s a tip of an iceberg approach to research, you can acquire tiny buds of factual information, but following up your facts is strongly recommended.